Simon Ponsonby, from St. Aldates Church in Oxford is leading the Main Bible Teaching at Spring Harvest this week, and he’s speaking this morning on the Holy Spirit:
Thinking this morning about the Holy Spirit. It was almost prophetic that we got the video wrong, he blows where he wants to be! It is often how it is with the Holy Spirit. But if you seek me you will find the Holy Spirit says.
Often work in a coffee shop – there is one argument in the development of science, that the enlightenment came from the setting up of the coffee shops in the 17th and 18th centuries. The water was poor so they used to drink beer which is a depressant, caffeine is a stimulator. Brains started working together in a much quicker way. People often leave something behind in a coffee shop. Often running behind people saying haven’t you left something, forgotten something. Want to say it to the noble church fathers who just say “I believe in the Holy Spirit” in the Creed – it isn’t enough. It’s almost as though they are saying that they believe in the Spirit.
No mention of the Spirit incubating over creation, operation in the world, in the ministry of Jesus, in the conviction of sin, the focus of regeneration, that constitutes the church, equips and ordains us for service, inspires the scripture, brings new life, brings breath to all life. The Creed is almost embarrassingly silent on the Creed.
The Church is similar, we believe in the Creed. Gregory named the Spirit, “the God that no one writes about”; Karl Rahner called the Spirit the Cinderella of the Spirit. Why is it that there is such a paucity of thought.
The absence may be due to the context of where the Creeds are formed – often focussed on hammering out Christological issues in their churches. The lack of presentation may be more fundamental and reflects the nature of the Spirit who always spotlights Jesus and puts Jesus centre stage. The whole point of the Spirit is that He points to Jesus. It may have been a concern of church leaders damping down excesses in cults, which were often linked to proclamation of the Spirit.
Already by the 4th and 5th century the church had become so institutionalised and liturgically restricted that the freedom of the Spirit had been subdued. They are writing out of their lack of experience. Ever since the church has carried on, we have lost something of His immediacy, agency, power, presence in our lives. Would want to say humbly, haven’t you forgotten something, there’s more to say, to know, to experience. Spring Harvest have you forgotten something.
Schweitzer wrote “long before the Holy Spirit was an article in the creed he was an experience of the primitive church.” Much of the things that go by the name of the Holy Spirit today has nothing to do with Him, it is often just human sprit sadly manufacturing.
Billy Graham says “everywhere I go I find God’s people lack something”. Interesting as most evangelists don’t care about the church, they care about those outside of the church. He worked with some of the best of God’s people but he still felt they lacked something, they were hungry. Their Christian experience is something they didn’t expect, a sense of disappointment with Christian life, a dislocation with the Scriptures, songs and sermons and what you see in your life. “The greatest need of the world today is that many who profess Christ’s name get filled with the Holy Spirit”.
James Stuart Stuart, the great Scottish preacher said, “we expected more”. God gave us everything so it is the problem of our reception. If there is disappointment it isn’t because God is withholding himself or the Holy Spirit is mean, but is that we haven’t filled enough, we haven’t drunk deeply enough with God.
One of the things that marks Paul was that he always desired more for him and the churches he looked after. Philippians 3:10-14, if we’d been Paul in jail, about to be beheaded by Nero, we would have been moaning, I deserve better, but here is Paul awaiting death, a man who is achieved more than any other bar Christ, saying he wants to know Him more, yet he’s just written a book in Philippians 2. Want to know the power of the Spirit pulsing through me. You need communion, intimacy with God. Some of us Anglicans calm down, you’re too cool for school, where is the fire? Paul wants to know Christ, to be joined with him, and fulfil every call and mandate on my life.
Paul wants it for his community, Colossians 1:8-11 – what a church we would be if we would live that. They already had the Spirit, they had been saved, but he wants them to receive more. He prayed it for the church in Romans 1:11, he wants the church to facilitate his mission to Spain, writing to reconcile and resolve the Jews and Greeks, laying down a theology of the cross – where we meet God regardless of Gentile or Jew. Romans 15:29 has more.
1 Corinthians 12:31 – the problem in the Corinthian church was numerous, and Paul was trying to troubleshoot. In 1 Corinthians 1:7 we know they had the Spiritual Gifts. Some say that the charismatic stuff had gone a bit overboard and needed to calm down and live a life of love. You don’t need any gifts, but then he says eagerly desire them. When was the last time you asked for a new gift and exercised that gift. When was the last time you were burning to be anointed by God. Often we’re so weary we can’t be bothered, life is so hard. We need to ask God to put a fire in our heart.
In Ephesians 1 we have an introduction (v. 1-2), and then in v. 3-14 he’s speaking about their role in Jesus Christ. We would look so much different if we did this. In v. 15 he prays for them – did you know you have eyes in your heart, you can see what you feel. Some of you haven’t received much in the Lord since receiving the Spirit in 1982. Have you pressed on, have you learnt more, have you experienced more. God always has more to give.
Ephesians 1:19 – the power of God was what marked the Early Church, you will receive power when the Spirit comes upon you, without the power there is not much witness. Power is a dirty word in our culture because often is has been misused and abused. But power wrapped in love brings transformation. This is for all the saints, not just the vicars and pastors, don’t rule yourself out, count yourself into the text. Writing I want to be known what can’t be known would fail you in an essay at Oxford! But it is true, words run out and we speak in tongues because we can’t describe it.
How do we get there
It is one thing for Paul to desire it for them, it is quite another thing to desire it for themselves. We can read scripture, listen to the preacher, but unless we desire it it won’t happen. If we leave the lid on the kettle when trying to fill it up it just goes everywhere. The Church is the same. Some of us have lost our appetite for God, we’ve become anorexic, you’ve shutdown, stopped receiving a long time ago, disappointment with God came your way, God wants to turn up the desire, put a hunger in us. “This longing is like the umbilical cord of life” Soren Kierkegaard. Oswald Chambers said “I am hungry with a vast desire for him”. Some are hungry and God wants to satisfy that desire, others God wants to put a desire into us. Whatever you’re around can stir your affections for it, e.g. food, women or God. Get those spiritual juices flowing. “I want, don’t get!” we all become our parents don’t we! God is the table laying God!
We need to be like Jacob, I will not let you go unless you bless me. Jacob was a nasty piece of work, manipulated his brother, deceiving his father to get a blessing, but one day he finds himself in the desert, wrestling with an angel, he wouldn’t let go until he receives a blessing. Blessing comes from the greater to the lesser, Jacob no more he becomes Israel, and from that is the line of Jesus, you grabbed hold of your birthright. Some of us don’t grab hold of it, let go of it too soon. There must be desire, and we need God to raise that in us.
Georgie Whitfield one of the great awakening leaders wanted more of God, he sought him day and night with fasting, prayer, got frost bite from lying on the ground too much. He records in his journal I resolved to die or conquer. He was so ill that he couldn’t do more than read his greek New Testament for 2 hours a day. The Spirit of the Lord met him under a tree in the park. France had a revelation, we had a revival, men filled with the Spirit. Why? Because one man was willing to die to everything for Christ. Where are his like today? Maybe some of you will say enough is enough I want more of God. There must be a dying. A sense of resolution to go flat out for God.
What does it look like
Two things we see throughout Scripture: love and power. The Spirit always brings greater intimacy with Christ, the overwhelming affection of and for God. We are filled with love, not just duty, but love and duty. In the time of the Puritans, more commentaries on the book of the Song of Songs were written during their time than any other book as they were looking for a language of love. These aren’t just propositions like “God so loved the world” – love historical becomes love existential. The Puritans created journalling, to read out their thoughts to each other in church. God so loved the world, when you are filled with the Spirit you underline so because you understand his love.
Paul is often going on about power. The church is often going on about hot air, we’re need the power of the Spirit. The power to transform us and equip us for works of service. To live such an amazing life for Jesus. There is immeasurably more, he can do, he can give, you can be immeasurably more – it comes from the Spirit, and looks like love and power