Getting Ready for The Gift

Today's selection in my morning devotional, Christ Triumphant is about the Holy Spirit. There are a number of things that caught my attention and exposed lies inside of me about this subject.

First of all, I noticed quite explicitly that the gift of the Holy Spirit is all about honoring Jesus and nothing about coming as some sort of reward for believers who finally get their act together. And while it is very true that it was necessary for the believers who experienced Pentecost to wait, pray, humble themselves and put away their differences to be prepared to receive this gift, the gift was not given as a reward for doing those things.

I know that might seem self-evident logically speaking, but deep inside I have always felt that to receive this gift we had to somehow achieve some elevated level of holiness before God would entrust us with this power. Which then brings up another subtle addiction that has infused itself into this issue, that of our obsession for power itself. Most people have the assumption that what we need most in our lives to be successful Christians is more power. But the kind of power we often have in mind is generally different than the effectiveness or power that is brought about by the presence of the Holy Spirit in the life.

We think that we need power to overcome evil in our life. And the kind of power we are thinking about is more along the lines of force and compulsion. We somehow believe that if we could just force ourselves and/or those around us to “be good” and stop doing bad things that we would then be righteous. This is the general definition of perfection that I grew up with – an elimination of the things I thought of as “sin” in my life which generally centered around behavior and an absence of bad thoughts in my mind.

Thus I have always felt that if God refused to give me this exciting power called the Holy
Spirit that was full of fire and noise and shaking and demonstrations of glossolalia, that evidently I was not yet good enough to be entrusted with this privilege. I had not yet gotten enough sin out of my life with God's help; maybe there was still some hidden cherished sin somewhere in my mind that I could not uncover but was still being used by God as an excuse to withhold this wonderful gift that would make me more fully enhanced as a powerful Christian.

I am flushing out these feelings today, not because I believe they are true from God's viewpoint but because I want to bring as many of them as possible into the light so they can be exposed, examined and replaced with the real truth about this most important aspect of being a Christian. Part of what is urgently needed is to expose the many lies that our hearts believe about many subjects involving our relationship with God and allowing the light of His presence and truth to dissolve them and replace them with the far more effective truths that He has been trying to get us to see for so long. For the real truths of God are far more powerful to transform the life and produce the natural fruits of righteousness than any imitation or counterfeit that the enemy has invented to derail us and distort our ideas of how God feels toward us.

The one thing that really surprised me today was how much the focus is on glorifying Jesus instead of on empowering disciples and making them look good. All through this reading much attention was given to the fact that Jesus wanted to give His followers a gift worthy of His own greatness to bring honor to His name. Mention was made of a jubilee in heaven and the strong implication seemed to be that this was the main reason Jesus wanted to give a gift of some kind to His believers on earth.

Unfortunately I know very little about the customs and practices involved in the idea of jubilee. I am afraid that quite possibly very few people know much about this partly because the Jews failed to practice this principle the way God had instructed them to do in the laws of Moses. There seems to be almost no record of the nation of Israel actually following through on this instruction and that is quite possibly because the pressure of economics quickly obscured this obligation that God had placed on His people. They may have felt that this practice given by God would simply be too much of a burden for them and would upset their whole social structure too radically so they either ignored it or possibly implemented only parts of it.

Whatever happened, we find no rich traditions of this concept of jubilee in the stories in the Old Testament. There are a few hints of it here and there, but by the time the Jews were taken away to Babylon for seventy years it is implied that part of the reason was because they had failed to give the land its Jubilee Sabbaths as God had instructed them to do centuries before. As a result He declared that the land would finally get its rest all at once by their forcible removal from it for this extended period of time.

But according to what I read this morning it looks like this idea of jubilee also involved the giving of gifts, and these gifts apparently were to come from those of highest importance and influence to those who had less and were more in need. But the purpose and value of these gifts evidently was intended to convey some very important messages. One of them had to do with the social standing and importance of the one sending the gift, but it would also seem very likely that the feelings of the gift-giver about their relationship with those receiving the gifts would also be a major factor as well. The gift would send a strong message about how the giver felt about their relationship with the receiver and the degree to which they cared about that relationship. This would all be reflected in the nature and intrinsic value of the gift.

I really don't yet see the connection between these factors and the subject of jubilee, but it must be closely linked somehow according to what I am seeing here. And evidently the sending of a gift and the acceptance of this gift by the receiver all had a deep impact on strengthening the relationship between the two parties. I am sure there is much we could deduce about this by examining our own motives about why we give and receive gifts. On the other hand, using our own experiences to analyze and learn why God does things might also prove to be quite hazardous as it has been in many other areas of spirituality. It is always very risky to use ourselves as the reference for measurement to understand why God does things because we have so many selfish and deception-based emotions and motives embedded into everything we do, especially when it comes to religion.

What I am starting to perceive is that my assumptions and the popular beliefs taught in our churches most of the time about the Holy Spirit might need much careful reexamination and challenging if we are to prepare ourselves to receive this gift again in our day. I suspect that we well may have been trying for years to align ourselves with the wrong standards and as a result have focused on the wrong things in our attempts to “get” the Holy Spirit for ourselves. In the process our internal picture of God has become even more distorted, both in the assumptions we make about this issue and the assumptions that our hearts make when we don't receive this gift the way we think we are supposed to get it.

This has led some to become deceived by many counterfeits that seem to closely match what our confused ideas about the Holy Spirit have led us to believe. Because we have been fascinated with the outward evidences described in the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost but have failed to grasp the much more important issues involved there, we have fallen into the same trap as Elijah found himself in when God had to take him back to school and retrain him as to where his focus was supposed to be. God made it explicitly clear to Elijah that he was not to get distracted with what gets most of our attention the most – the outward demonstrations of power, the exciting and the highly emotionally stimulating. God reminded Elijah that the real power of the Spirit of God is in the inner voice that is so quiet it is all too easy to miss if we get caught up too much in the externals.

So, how does this relate to the seemingly opposite demonstration of the Holy Spirit in the experience of the disciples on the day of Pentecost? Why did God spend so much effort getting Elijah to avoid being distracted by the fire and shaking and noise and external demonstrations of physical and emotional power while using all those very things during the outpouring of the Spirit in the lives of His disciples?
That is, I think, a very good question and I am reluctant to try to spin out a quick or glib answer to that right now. It is one of those kinds of questions that I prefer to leave hanging and open for God to answer with His timing and in His way. I have found that He is very good about addressing open questions if I am willing to have an open mind and not become dogmatic about some issue.

I have been learning that the methods people too often use to answer spiritual questions often do more to shut-down the heart of the questioner than to bring more light and peace and joy into the life. Some questions are much better handled by joining in with the seeker, exploring the question instead of attempting to offer a pat answer that tends to devalue the importance the question has for the person asking it. Far too many questions are simply repressed by glib answers and the much deeper issues behind the questions go unresolved because we fail to explore the real issues and hungers that hide behind many questions. I know from my own experience that sometimes I ask a question, not to get an answer directly to that question but because I deeply crave for someone to use that opportunity to search for what is behind the question and take time to listen to what is really disturbing me much deeper inside. That is when avoiding a quick answer is the very best thing a person can do to find access to the deeper levels in the heart that prompted questions in the first place.

But I have digressed much here. I am posing some questions because I really do want to know how to align myself properly in order to be a recipient of this most wonderful gift from God. I realize I have many confused and distorted notions about the Holy Spirit that are starting to get exposed. But I also want to know the real truth about this so I can get away from the false counterfeits and get in line to enjoy the kind of relationship with God that those early believers apparently had in the days soon after this most wonderful event in history.

When I read descriptions of the relationship that believers had with each other and with God during those early days of Christianity my own heart longs to experience the same kind of love and transformation of life that they experienced. I am reminded often that this cannot happen in isolation and that I must be willing to humble myself and allow God to integrate me into His body somehow and somewhere. How that is going to happen is still quite vague to me, so I have to trust Him to continue to reveal it to me and convict me of where I am holding out and resisting His ways in my life. I want to be willing to put away ALL my differences with others so that they will not be an obstacle for me to receiving the gift of His Spirit when it is poured out on His body.


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