Receive the Holy Spirit
And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit." (John 20:22)
This verse has been rolling around in my head for a few days for some reason. I suppose it might be because of some of the teachings I have been listening to that have both enlightened and fascinated me but at the same time has disturbed my spirit a bit much. They are not disturbing me so much because of conviction of error in my thinking. What disturbs me is the similarity of the spirit I sense in these teachers to the rigid ways in which I was raised in religion that nearly suffocated all hope, joy and life out of me for many years.
At the same time I do not want to make the mistake of following a knee-jerk reaction by going to another equally dangerous extreme as it is so easy to do. Most of my life I have tried to discover the real truth instead of just following what people around me insisted was correct or popular or comfortable. That has gotten me crosswise to the status quo most of the time but has also brought me many rewarding discoveries of truth that have brought much peace and light into my soul.
One thing I have learned is the truth about maturity and some of the needed tasks to grow through the various stages of development. In the very first stage of infant maturity we are supposed to learn to receive without reservation from others. That prepares us to be able to later learn to give without reservation, to have the capacity to give generously and cheerfully. As I look back on my life I realize the glaring vacuum created by my inability to receive freely and all of the problems that has caused in subsequent stages of development.
But I realize that I am not that much different than many others have been. This verse tells me that after His resurrection Jesus appeared to His disciples and breathed on them. The original word for the Holy Spirit is literally breath or wind. It would appear that if Jesus intentionally breathed on His disciples at this point that He was offering them the Holy Spirit right then. After He breathed on them He then asked them to receive the Holy Spirit, which in my mind seems to be saying the same thing as the message conveyed by what He had just physically done.
But interestingly I see no record whatsoever of any indication that they took Him up on His offer of the Holy Spirit at this point. They certainly felt overwhelmed, overjoyed and impressed in many ways by the demonstrations of His divinity and power over death at that time. But as far as entering into the experience of having the Holy Spirit in their lives in the way Jesus desired for them, I do not see evidence for some time yet that they actually grasped the significance of what Jesus had just done and said to them. Even though Jesus invited them to receive it, they did not actually go ahead and choose to receive. They still had such distorted views about God that their hearts were prevented from appreciating His offer at this point in their lives.
It was nearly a month and a half later before they finally came to the point of synchronizing with the mind of God sufficiently so that they were prepared to actually be in a state of mind where they were willing and ready to take up Jesus on His amazing offer to them. God knew that would be the case ahead of time and so it was predicted that way in prophecy. But I don't believe Jesus really wanted them to wait that long, they were just to dull of perception and heart to enter into that greater intimacy with Him quite yet.
And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance. (Acts 2:3-4)
One thing that I find myself facing all the time is the tension between two opposing belief systems that battle to get my attention. One side, the one I am more familiar with because I grew up in it, insists that we must have a system of religion based almost exclusively on study of the Word of God alone. It warns me that there is fatal danger in allowing my emotions to get very involved in my religion and that any system of belief involving emotions or feelings is to be shunned for a 'faith' based solely on taking the Word of God for what it says.
There is a lot of truth in what this side is saying and I don't want to discard that truth because of some of the inherent problems I find in that thinking. But what bothers me is the continuing insistence by people of this persuasion that emotions are somehow cheap, dangerous and misleading and need to be marginalized at best or ignored or suppressed. They seem to promote a lot of fear in their teachings which alerts me that there is something wrong here. This kind of religion demands that my faith be some sort of sterile intellectual belief in a religious interpretation hammered out by predecessors and provable by arguments and texts and quotations unaffected by anything going on at the heart level.
But this kind of religion though very familiar carries with it many flaws as I have seen them emerge in my own study and experience over the years. While I certainly don't endorse indulging in a religion based primarily on emotions and feelings or believe that supernatural manifestations should preempt belief in the Word of God, I also believe that trying to live a religion divorced from a living, dynamic, emotion-filled relationship with a real person in heaven in the form of Jesus Christ is to miss the main point of Jesus' teachings in the New Testament. If I become so worried that my emotions are going to lead me astray that I refuse to allow them to become engaged in my relationship with my God, then I become very much like the unbelieving Jews who also knew the Scriptures backwards and forwards but could not recognize God when He showed up right in front of them in person.
I realize that my working through these issues in this way likely will have no effect on those who insist on this type of sterile religion of the mind. That is not my intention here. This is simply a personal processing for myself to figure out more clearly what my own obligation is before God to follow His leading in my life. I sense that God's true plan involves far more than just knowing the Scriptures intimately, though I would never discount the extreme importance of having that foundation. A religion or view of reality missing this factor is in extreme danger of being misled by all sorts of schemes of the enemy. Making the Word of God in the Bible the foundation of all faith and belief is vital if one is to arrive at a correct understanding of reality and God.
But that same Word has a lot to say about the other aspect of my makeup. My heart is the seat of all my emotions and the heart is the control center of my whole life. My mind – my left brain – is certainly an important contributor to my understanding of religion and my relationship with God. The facts and beliefs I choose to embrace have an enormous effect on how my heart is going to act and react in various circumstances and relationships. But to try to marginalize feelings and emotions and discredit their importance in my relationship with God is to deny the very design with which God created us.
For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, "Abba! Father!" The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God. (Romans 8:14-16)
The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit. (John 3:8)
There is a mysterious aspect to both my relationship with God and even my relationships with others that involves emotions and feelings that is vital to bonding us into proper connections with each other. Why do I keep mentioning emotions and feelings in relationship to the heart? Because to engage the heart in a relationship is impossible without also allowing our emotions to become involved in a very powerful way. To try to divorce emotions and feelings from religion (or any relationship for that matter) only produces a dead, external, lifeless form of relationship that faintly resembles the real thing. I believe that Satan is delighted when we present powerful truths about religion and God while at the same time attempting to keep our affections and emotions out of the picture. This produces the condemnation we often feel from such quarters about outward expressions of the emotions in our relationships.
Does that mean that our emotions and feelings should guide us or drive us? Again, there is both truth and danger in this. Feelings can seldom be trusted to take the lead in a search for truth. But trying to marginalize them creates an even greater danger of shutting down the very part of our being that God intended to use to communicate with us through by the means of His Spirit. While emotions cannot be trusted to lead us safely to truth, our emotions are so closely and intricately intertwined with our spirit and our heart that to suppress them unnecessarily is to damage the very equipment we most need to communicate and respond to the promptings of the Spirit of God.
I believe that this problem is one of the most successful schemes of the enemy to keep people on both sides of the issue away from the kind of life and joy and stability that God wants us to experience in our relationship with Him. He has given us His Word as an objective text by which to safeguard us from the deceptions of the enemy and the massive onslaughts of false religions. Our emotions are never a safe guide if they start to rationalize our desires against clear teachings of the Word of God.
But on the other hand, what many call clear teachings from the Bible are not as clear as they insist they are. I have observed that many of what are called 'pillars of truth' based on proof-texts and long-repeated arguments are sometimes riddled with tradition and prejudices passed down through many generations. What I am finding is that the Word is telling me that I need a higher wisdom that can enlighten me personally as to the true meaning of this Word without doing damage to the whole. Without the personal involvement of the wisdom of the Holy Spirit in my study of the Word I am very vulnerable to errors from both the left and from the right.
Elijah is a classic example of allowing his emotions to compel him to make serious errors in judgment and subsequently God had to remind him of the important aspect of staying tuned to that 'silent voice' inside of him in addition to basing his life on the previous revelations of God through His prophets and teachers from Scripture. The Bible is full of examples of how people veered to one extreme or the other and the tragic results of not correcting those mistakes in a timely manner. It is the role of the Holy Spirit to guide our hearts into all truth, and since our hearts are the seat of our emotions that guidance will affect our emotions or we are not really listening with our heart at all.
This is an area of my life that I will likely always struggle with until heaven. I feel uneasy as I feel the guilt trips imposed by those who insist that emotions and feelings should be marginalized. I feel just as uneasy around those who put undue importance on emotional expressions at the expense of accountability to the teachings from the Word. Maybe that explains why I feel so uneasy nearly all of the time. What I am seeking is the peace that can be experienced when I come to Jesus who never pushes me in either of these extremes. He is the perfect example of living in complete truth, dependence on the written Word of God while allowing His emotions be freely engaged and connected first with God and then with others around Him from that context.
I highly suspect that if many conservatives today were to see the expressiveness of Jesus' worship style that they would feel scandalized. Likewise, those who put much emphasis on expressive worship styles but fail to listen to the warnings and convictions of the Spirit of God and the Bible would feel very uncomfortable in His holy presence. They may believe they are experiencing the presence of God many times, but they may well be only experiencing emotional highs from stimulating music, art forms and exciting preaching.
I am convinced that most people are in the habit of worshiping their worship services more than they are truly worshiping God Himself. These may closely resemble each other externally, but in the heart can be discovered many more counterfeit gods than any of us can ever imagine. They come in all forms and shapes and preferences, but anything or anyone that detracts from a personal, intimate, ongoing and thriving relationship with God based both on an immersion in His Word and a vibrant connection with His Spirit is going to be exposed as being a false god, an idol that draws our affections away from the One we were designed to mesh with for all eternity.
Father, You promised to have me hear a voice behind me when I turn to the right or to the left to tell me the right way to go. Help me to hear that voice clearly and obey it. Train me in Your ways. Grow me in maturity and teach me to allow my feelings to be more accessible to You. Show me the truth about Yourself and the way You relate to sinners like me. Remove my fears of You and heal me so I can more freely receive what You have already breathed over me.