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What Are We Waiting For?

"The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you"(John 14:17-18, TNIV).

"On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, "Peace be with you." When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you." And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld" (John 20:19-23, ESV).

"When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance" (Acts 2:1-4, ESV).

These three paragraphs describe occasions of waiting. The first situation describes anticipatory waiting, waiting for the familiar. Jesus is telling his friends that when the Spirit comes they will recognize him because of prior Spirit-inspired experiences. They’ve seen Jesus operate from the Spirit’s power; they’ve witnessed the effects of Jesus’ Spirit-anointing and authority; they’ve been amazed by Jesus’ powerful acts of liberation on behalf of the poor and imprisoned. John says that this familiarity will tip off the disciples to how the Spirit will work in the future. You’ve had a taste of the Spirit that will help you identify her when she comes in power.

The second instance of waiting is focussed on how to recognize the ministry of the Spirit when the Spirit comes to them anew. The Spirit will highlight and extend the life of Christ through them and their communities. The Spirit enables Jesus’ disciples to continue his ministry of forgiveness and healing. The Spirit assures them of the reality of the resurrection. They are given the confidence that when Jesus breathes the Spirit’s vitality on them, they will become his representatives and mediators for others. As in Creation herself, the disciples have the breath of the Spirit blowing over and through them.

With the taste of the Spirit on their tongues and the mission of forgiveness in their hearts, the third instance of waiting reveals how the Spirit reverses the curse of confusion through communicating, to each person in their own way, what the resurrection of Christ implies. Packer elaborates:

...at nine o’clock that morning the Holy Spirit’s new covenant ministry began, giving each disciple a clear understanding of Jesus’ place in God’s plan, a robust sense of identity and authority as Jesus’ person in this world, and an unlimited boldness in proclaiming Jesus’ power from his throne... And he means for us to understand that this new covenant "gift of  the Holy Spirit", in other words, experiential enjoyment of the new ministry whereby the Spirit glorifies Jesus to, in, and through his people, is promised to all who repent and are baptized, from the moment their discipleship starts.

These teachings enlighten and encourage us but without an actual experience of them a sad distance yearns to be overcome by direct encounter with the Spirit. All this took place in the lives of the disciples but does it take place in our lives? Can we test it? Can we be assured?

We are always coming up with the emphatic facts of history in our private experience, and verifying them here. All history becomes subjective; in other words, there is properly no history; only biography. Every mind must know the whole lesson for itself, — must go over the whole ground. What it does not see, what it does not live, it will not know.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson

When the Gospel writers wrote their fabulous accounts of Spirit-inspired moments, they often conflated them; after all, the experience of the Spirit was not an entirely rational or sequential affair. Their lives came tumbling out of the resurrected tomb of their friend Jesus in no particular order. Any order that we see is likely a product of later rearranging and trying to make sense of what had happened to them. All they knew is that they were given assurance that the Spirit tasted much the same as when Jesus was with them, that they could forgive and thereby transform the lives of others, and that the message and meaning of Christ was clearly expressed in their preaching and teaching.

This got me thinking. Would I know a Spirit experience if it up and bit me on the nose? Do I have the confidence to forgive those who are broken-hearted and expect that they will be made whole from that forgiveness in Jesus’ name. Does the Spirit work in me as if I were a floodlight shining on Jesus alive today? I grumble, "well sorta, I guess..." all the while regretting that these experiences seem far and few between in my mud-day life.

These feelings of spiritual inadequacy get me into trouble. J. I. Packer tells me that asking the question, "Do I have or know the Spirit?" is wrongheaded. The question: "Do you know the Holy Spirit?" should be corrected to read: "Do you know Jesus Christ?"

Questions about the Holy Spirit that are not forms and facets of the basic question, How may I and all Christians, and indeed all the world, come to know Jesus Christ and know him better? ought not to be asked. This is a basic mental discipline that the Bible imposes upon us. In golf it would be described as keeping your eye on the ball.

Nor should I, says Packer, wonder if I have the Spirit. All of us receive the Spirit by receiving Christ. A more pertinent question asks, "Does the Spirit have me?"

Do you revere his work within you and cooperate with it or obstruct it by thoughtlessness and carelessness, indiscipline and self indulgence? 

Scripture tells us that the Spirit assures, anoints, and seals us so that we know we are in Christ.

"We were baptized into one body in a single Spirit, Jews as well as Greeks, slaves as well as free men, and we were all given the same Spirit to drink" (1 Corinthians 12:13, NJB).

"And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us" (Romans 5:5, TNIV).

"..set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come" (2 Corinthians 1:22, TNIV).

We can, however, obscure or muddy our spirit perception through the way we live.

If it has not worked out that way for any of us (that we experientially become aware of the Spirit’s presence in our lives), the reason is not that God never meant it to, but rather that somehow, whether we realize it or not, we have been quenching God’s Spirit (1Thessalonians 5:19:  Do not put out the Spirit’s fire) which is a state of affairs that has to be changed.

Rather than anxiously awaiting the "second blessing" or the "full baptism" of the Spirit it is more in keeping with Scriptural trust to believe that God is working in us. The question I am left with has more to do with how I grieve the Spirit and obscure the Spirit’s floodlight on Jesus Christ.

I believe that I grieve the Spirit when I don’t obey what I know of God’s revelation to me. If I know something that God has instructed me to do and don’t follow through, why should I expect further revelation? Like in any relationship, trust comes by walking together and learning mutual dependability. Andrew Murray’s teaching on surrender comes in at this point. When I surrender my will to the will of God, I will be willing to do what he instructs. When I am obedient my assurance and the sense of the Spirit’s accompaniment will become surer.

"We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands. Those who say, "I know him," but do not do what he commands are liars, and the truth is not in them. But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did" (1 John 2:3-6, TNIV).

Another indicate of the Spirit’s presence in my life is love. Do I allow myself to sense and express love for others, the love that God himself has poured into me assuring me that I am his son?

"God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because he first loved us. If we say we love God yet hate a brother or sister, we are liars. For if we do not love a fellow believer, whom we have seen, we cannot love God, whom we have not seen. And he has given us this command: Those who love God must also love one another" (1 John 4:16-21, TNIV).

Obedience and the expression of love open up the doors of perception so we can appreciate the Spirit in our lives. Where does the strength and trust to adopt these habits come from? Ironically it is through the Spirit that comes the ability to trust, obey and love. The answer to the question I started with, "What are we waiting for?" is "We are waiting for the Spirit." We are not waiting for the Spirit to save us or even purify or baptize us. That has happened. Rather we prayerfully wait for God to breathe into our personalities the desire to love and obey. Waiting, however, is not passive but has the sense of "waiting on" (as in waiter) -- to start being responsive in service, to the extent of our knowledge, and ever be listening for what more is to come. We actively wait and keep praying the ancient Christian prayer maranatha, Come Lord Jesus.

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