Waiting on the Spirit

When Jesus ascended he told his disciples to “wait for the power from on high.” The Spirit came in a dramatic way 50 days later at Pentecost.

Does the Spirit come today? Many traditional and evangelical churches don’t act like it, beyond perhaps an annual Pentecost church birthday party. That was then. How does he come now? Other essays discuss how to recognize the Spirit’s subtle movements. How can we wait upon his blessings today?

Think like Zacchaeus. He’s the short guy who climbed a sycamore tree so he could see Jesus coming. Jesus then saw him and shared dinner fellowship with him. Jesus comes to us now through the Spirit he and his Father send. Like climbing a tree, we can deliberately put ourselves in the Spirit’s workplace.

What will you wait for the Spirit to do in your life? His specialty is changing hearts and transforming the innermost being of those who follow Christ.  What he produces there is greater love, joy, peace, patience and other fruit described by Paul, including kindness, trust. Think of these as motivations out of which will flow God-pleasing behaviors.

Six practices will put you in the Spirit’s workplace: They can be remembered in the acronym GROWTH. Go to God in worship and prayer. Receive his word for you, Opt for self-denial, give Witness to your experiences. Trust God in a new venture. Humble yourself before God.

Three of the six are Basic Practices. The other three are Stretch Practices.

The Basic Practices are: Go to God in worship and prayer, Receive his word for you, and Humble yourself before God. The Spirit always works through people of God gathered around his Word. Regularly join them in congregational worship. Jesus promises that as earthly fathers know how to give good things to their children, so the heavenly Father will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask. In your prayers, ask for whichever fruit of the Spirit you desire more of. Humbling yourself before God is basic. He usually can’t do much with you when you are full of yourself.

The Stretch Practices are: Opt for self-denial, give Witness to your experiences, and Trust God in a new venture. The O could also stand for Obey. But motivation by duty does not work well in a grace-oriented church. When Jesus told the rich young man to sell all he owned, he was giving a stretch challenge, not a command.

Jesus challenged his disciples to deny themselves and take up their cross. He gave this riddle: “Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.” Paul told the Ephesians to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Self-denial and submission could become a lifestyle. But start with one deliberate act of self-denial or submission at least once a week.

Trusting God in a new venture will test your trust in God’s providence. A new venture could be as simple as offering to care for a neighbor’s children for an afternoon. Or it could be as challenging as helping to plant a new church. I came to Cleveland to plant a new congregation. Early on when it looked like a failure, I spent some intense time in prayer about where to go next. This was a breakthrough in my prayer life. Twenty-eight years later that church plant dedicated their large new sanctuary in a choice location.

Giving witness to your personal experiences of the Holy Spirit would be a big stretch for most traditional Christians. Stories of what God has done in your life are much more persuasive than citing Bible passages to people who no longer believe the authority of Scriptures. Almost everyone will be willing to hear personal stories told in the right setting.

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