The Trinity of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is one of the great mysteries – but then do we really think we can understand God? The Trinity is the best explanation available as it describes three ways of thinking of God as a person – God the father / creator, Jesus the redeemer / human sign of God’s love and Holy Spirit as life-giver / sanctifier. The Bible and the church year in liturgical churches generally begins with God as father and the Holy Spirit as witness and helper in the Old Testament and moves to the birth and teaching / healing work of Jesus in the New Testament. Jesus promises to sent the Holy Spirit after His sacrificial death and resurrection have created a new way for people to be forgiven and come into a right relationship with God. The church season of Pentecost which begins 40 days after the Ascension celebrates the dramatic outpouring of the Holy Spirit on all Christian believers. This season is the longest, and possibly most important time in the church year as it continues from June to the end of the church year in October. The Holy Spirit plays a central part in the growth and expansion of the church in Acts and the letters of Paul as teacher, life - giver / sanctifier, guide in decision making and helper / healer. We will examine what the Bible says about:
· Who is the Holy Spirit?
· What are the gifts of the Holy Spirit?
· How can I experience the Holy Spirit?
1. Who is the Holy Spirit?
In order to answer this question in a biblically correct, rather than denominationally correct way, we need to go to the source document. I used Bible Gateway to identify 563 references to the word “spirit”. From this I selected 89 references which were clearly about the work of the Holy Spirit . As a librarian I then tried to develop a simple classification system to identify different functions or aspects of the Holy Spirit. The results are thus denominationally neutral and challenge us all to re-think the priority we give the Holy Spirit in church leadership and ministry:
1.1 Life–giver / Sanctifier/ Healer (31+ references)
The most common function of the Holy Spirit is as life-giver – sanctifier – healer. There were 39 references in my sample which did not include the dozens of references to healing miracles. The Holy Spirit is created by God before the creation of the world (Gen.1.2 & Proverbs 8.23,24). The Holy Spirit is first described as the breath of God:
“Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” (Gen. 2.7)
The Holy Spirit is the source of our spiritual life or our right-relationship with God. Jesus promised to send this gift to all believers. The Holy Spirit comes and lives in our personal spirit and connects us intuitively to the divine and other Christians. In trying to explain the body-spirit–soul relationship for by book Going Spiritual I developed a diagram with two overlapping circles to show the overlap of the body and personal spirit as our soul. Most people experience the Holy Spirit as their conscience or inner voice that guides them in self-examination prior to going for confession and absolution. The other side of sanctification is spiritual protection (see below) and praying on the spiritual armour of God.
My research revealed four more specific ways in which the Holy Spirit strengthens and nourishes us in our relationship with Jesus:
1.2 Sign of who God has chosen(28 references)
There is a dramatic consistency in both Old and New Testaments that those who God has chosen have been visibly anointed or gifted by the Holy Spirit. This includes Moses, the Prophets, Apostles and all believers in the New Testament. All Christians receive the Holy Spirit at baptism but for many of us we are not aware of it until our faith becomes real or we have a dramatic healing experience.. This finding should be a serious challenge to church leaders who are often more political than Holy Spirit filled.
1.3 Teacher of truth and wisdom (20 references)
In the assigned readings in the Common Lectionary for Trinity Sunday (Sunday after Pentecost) (John 16.12-15) Jesus is assuring the Disciples that the spirit of truth will guide them after He Ascends. This is the same Spirit that guided and spoke through the Gospel writers and prophets.
1.3 Guide in decision making (7 references)
The Great Commission to go and make disciples of all men, baptizing them in my name is an example of this. The Spirit also guides Paul in his travels. We ignore the Holy Spirit to our peril in making important decisions.
1.4 Helper in difficulty
In the Old Testament Sampson is given supernatural powers to tear a lion apart and escape from being bound. In Acts and the letters of Paul we see numerous examples (which I have not counted) of miraculous healings and escapes from jail.
In summary the Holy Spirit is the one who helps us develop a holy spiritual life that connects us to God and guides us into an eternal love relationship with God. I like to think of the Holy Spirit as the continuing presence of Jesus in the world.
2.0 What Are the Gifts of the Holy Spirit?
In his First letter to the Corinthians Paul describes these as “…
a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 10 to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues,and to still another the interpretation of tongues. (12.8-12) All of these gifts help us develop and heal our spiritual life. There are other lists and gifts mentioned in the Bible so let me share my own explanation from “Going Spiritual:
2.1 The Gift of messages of knowledge and wisdom
Some people just know intuitively that something is true, for example in reading a Bible passage. This helps in preparing sermons. I had a very practical dream that showed me how to get a heavy sailboat up into a car-top rack by myself. People with this gift should be in teaching or leadership ministries.
2.2 Gift of Faith
Many people struggle to believe in the supernatural miracles, healing and resurrection of Jesus. People doing outreach may need to pray for this gift as faith is more caught than taught.
2.3 Gift of Healing
The healing energy of the Holy Spirit flows through some (mostly lay) people's hands and brings physical, emotional and spiritual healing to people. Often they feel love, joy and peace - the fruit of the Holy Spirit. This gift points to a ministry of visiting the sick and pastoral care.
Spectacular miracles are rare but we need to give thanks for smaller miracles such as love, forgiveness, grace and finding your car keys and things that seem to be co-incidences.
This is similar to receiving a word of knowledge except it is to be shared and sometimes about the future. For example, after an Anglican Church Synod that had just affirmed the sanctity and integrity of same-sex marriage, a friend had the prophecy: "I will no longer listen to the prayers of this church." Clergy need this gift (and courage) to preach effectively.
3.6 Distinguishing between spirits
Spirits are the little voices discerned in our heads, that prompt us to do good or evil. A spirit of joy or love (From Holy Spirit) will make us feel good. A spirit of anger or confusion (from Satan) will lead us in a destructive direction. Daily Bible reading is critical because evil spirits will always tempt us to do things contrary to the Bible. This is the gift of discernment that has helped me in healing ministry.
3.7 Speaking in tongues / Interpreting Tongues
This gift was the norm for leaders in the early church but has long faded from many mainline churches as it can easily become divisive. I recently received this gift but use it for healing prayer only in churches that are comfortable with tongues. Because tongues is controversial and open to misuse; people are generally not to speak aloud in tongues unless there is someone present to give the interpretation. It is wonderful for private devotions.
3.8 Leading, Teaching, Encouraging, Giving, Serving and Mercy
Paul suggests some more practical gifts of the Holy Spirit in Romans 12.6. It is very important that we recover our inheritance as Christians and learn to ask for these gifts and depend on the Holy Spirit to give us the gifts we need to find success and joy in whatever work God has given us.
3.0 How Can I Experience the Gifts of the Holy Spirit?
There is a vast difference between knowing about the Holy Spirit and having a personal experience of the Holy Spirit. Experiences of the Holy Spirit are often life – changing. For many people this is when Christianity and Jesus become real. Some people have been spiritually blinded by Satan and simply do not get it. This is why we have such differences in belief in all churches. This is why churches get into conflict. Since many Christians are either not aware of the Holy Spirit in them or have not had much teaching on the Holy Spirit we will go through the Four steps of preparing, inviting, nourishing and protecting ourselves in experiencing the Holy Spirit. My own experience was to have what John Sandford calls a “slumbering spirit” that needed to be called to life by the warm love of another person.
3.1 Preparing Ourselves for the Holy Spirit
The first step is often to develop a discipline of daily Bible reading and prayer. This is essential for ensuring we are getting reliable teaching – as opposed to depending on a priest, pastor or friend. This leads naturally to understanding that God is holy and that the Holy Spirit cannot live on a spiritual garbage dump. If our personal spirit (our heart) is full of un-forgiveness, anger, bitterness, jealousy, lust or any serious sin-guilt; we need to conduct a self-examination and go to a priest or pastor for confession and absolution. (Note to evangelicals – it has to be someone else because this breaks the secrecy that is what binds you).
3.2 Inviting the Holy Spirit into Your Life
Since God could not have a genuine love relationship with us without giving us complete freedom to reject His love, we have to take the initiative in specifically inviting the Holy Spirit you’re our life. Since you we not be in a church or fellowship that is comfortable with personal experiences of the Holy Spirit, we may need to find such a community or attend a conference where we will get reliable teaching and have an opportunity to invite the Holy Spirit into our life. Healing conferences are often the safest environment in which to do this.
3.3 Nourishing the Holy Spirit
The Holy Spirit is your connection to God. He is the continuing presence of Jesus in the world and the continuing word of God as recorded in the Bible. Daily Bible reading, thanksgiving and prayer strengthen this bond and you will experience the love, joy and peace of the Holy Spirit in you. Regular Sunday worship, particularly participation in Holy Communion is essential to keeping your baptismal promise to “continue in the fellowship and breaking of bread”. This is one place where traditional churches are right and some “Bible fellowships” may be starving people. Spiritually nourishing church communities balance the four priorities of orthodoxy, community, outreach and relevance (see Chapter 8 of Going Spiritual).
3.4 Protecting the Holy Spirit in You
Au contraire to some teachers, believers are not exempt from inheriting or picking up evil spirits or demons. We need to remember that we live in a pagan post-truth culture on a demon-infested planet surrounded by lying spirits. Regular self-examination, specific repentance, confession to a priest or pastor and acceptance of pardon are essential. It is like changing the oil in your car. My own daily practice also includes praying on the armour of spiritual protection:
· Helmet of salvation to protect my mind from deception
· Breastplate of righteousness to protect my heart from deception
· Belt of truth to hold me together in this confusing time
· Shoes of the Gospel of peace to stand firm in the Faith
· Sword of the Holy Spirit of Truth to beat back the lies of the enemy
· Shield of Faith to be able to withstand the attacks of Satan
· Mantle of praise to be a sign of God’s glory in the world
In conclusion the Holy Spirit is our spiritual connection to the divine and other Christians. People who have the Holy Spirit just know and love intuitively other Christians who have this gift. The work of the Holy Spirit is to give us an eternal love relationship of joy and peace with God. This relationship comforts, heals and strengthens us and enriches all our relationships with other people and gives us a life of joy and peace.