Motivated by the Spirit

At their first church convention, the earliest disciples made a policy decision. They announced it in a letter to the rest of the church with this phrase: “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us . . . “

Have you ever seen or heard of a church today that announces a decision with that phrase, “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us that . . .”?  I haven’t.  I suspect you haven’t either.

Why not?

I think traditional Protestant churches today no longer think of the Third Person of the Trinity as a vital part of our spiritual life. Yes, he was important in Bible times. But we don’t expect much from him today.

Thoroughly trained in traditional Lutheran church culture, I recall learning lots of Bible stories and digging ever deeper into church teachings. But I also retain the impression that we were basically on our own to apply this knowledge in daily living. Duty was ever before us, and motivation was by guilt. Salvation was for the next life. There we would have direct encounters with God.

Only in recent decades have I fully appreciated Jesus’ explanation that he has come so that his sheep may have life abundantly overflowing now in this life. Figuring out what that means has been especially difficult for someone with my background. Thank God the Spirit has an easier time producing his fruit with other believers who learned to expect him.

I don’t remember church leaders ever expecting dramatic interventions. Fundraising goals were set rationally (2-3 times annual giving), but campaigns relied on the techniques of group dynamics. We prayed for healings, but no one really expected a supernatural miracle, because that (we thought) does not happen anymore.

Traditional, rational mainline churches have grown and served God well over the centuries with barely a passing reference to the Third Person of the Trinity, who nonetheless had been productive in the background. But most of those traditional mainline church bodies seem to be withering in the 21st century. Where the Gospel is spreading now is among churches that emphasize direct encounters with God.

About fifteen years ago, the church I serve had to decide how much debt to take on for a building project. How much more growth could we expect? We all recognized that borrowing for the full project was not prudent. After many discussions, an alternative emerged to build just the shell of a second wing and finish it later when more dollars were available. The time came for a vote. The tension was high. To everyone’s surprise and relief, the vote was unanimous to borrow a half million more dollars to add the shell. I think everyone in that room realized something special had happened. But unfortunately, we had no name for it.

The Holy Spirit was truly present in a special way. If a photo had been made of that moment, I would photoshop in the image of a dove over our heads. We could have (and should have) announced to the congregation for their approval that “It seems good to the Holy Spirit and this board that we enter into contracts for 3.5 million dollars of construction with a new loan for $2 million.”

Was the Holy Spirit really there hovering over our heads? In future writings like this, I will share what to look for to be sure, drawing from my 2017 book on How to Spot the Spirit’s Work in Your Life.

In the decision on how much to construct and to borrow, we can be confident of the Spirit’s movement that evening because the results were so good. We hit our fundraising goal. We did finish the shell over the next ten years, and the building is packed with activity. Most basic is that the decision did build up our fellowship.

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