The Spirit Reassures

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During the month of November, we’re taking a look at 21 essential activities of the Holy Spirit, who represents God’s presence in and through every follower of Jesus.
There aren’t many movies in which the hero is a pig.
Babe is that wonderful exception. 
In Chris Noonan’s 1995 feature film, a humble pig who lives on the Hoggett family farm yearns to be useful.  Having narrowly escaped becoming the main course for Christmas dinner, Babe impresses Farmer Hoggett with his ability to sort the brown hens from the white ones.  Could a pig possibly learn how to herd sheep?
Babe does just that, even though seemingly everyone around him – from sheep to dogs to humans – thinks the whole idea is ridiculous, even insulting.  Only Farmer Hoggett believes in Babe without reservation. 
In the film’s climactic scene, Farmer Hoggett enters Babe in a national sheepherding competition.  His wife is mortified.  The assembled crowd laughs.  The uptight judges want nothing to do such a spectacle, only to discover there’s nothing in the rulebook that expressly forbids a pig from playing the role usually reserved for a border collie.  
In a magical moment, Babe is entrusted with the sacred password that, when spoken to sheep, always wins their trust.  He puts them in perfect order and is acclaimed as grand champion.  In the movie’s final frames, Babe looks up at Famer Hoggett, who looks down with a smile at his extraordinary sheep-pig and says, with gentleness and affection, “That’ll do, Pig. That’ll do.”
Those are the words all of us long to hear.
Well, maybe not precisely those words.  But as author and professor Kevin DeYoung puts it, all of us long for our Father in heaven to look down upon us with a smile, then hear him say, “That’ll do, my child.  That’ll do.”  We yearn to hear again that we are the treasured children of a Parent who will never abandon us, and who loves us without reservation. 
Such reassurance is central to the work of the Holy Spirit.
Paul writes to the young believers at Rome, “For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God.  The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship.  And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children” (Romans 8:14-16).
It’s impossible to overstate the significance of those statements.
It’s entirely understandable that people who surrender their lives to an invisible God may have doubts and misgivings from time to time – not to mention doubts and misgivings that last a very long time.  The Spirit is the inner voice that whispers, “Remember God’s Word.  You can trust that you are loved, chosen, forgiven, and blessed.  No matter what you’re feeling right now, you’re entirely safe in God’s care.” 
As our month-long spotlight on the Holy Spirit comes to an end, it’s fair to ask: Is there an “experience of the Spirit” that we’re supposed to be seeking?
Charismatic and Pentecostal Christians have traditionally said, “Yes!  Everyone should seek the baptism of the Holy Spirit” – something that might be accompanied by the receipt of a special supernatural gift, like speaking in tongues.
But the New Testament authors tell us, unequivocally, that the baptism of the Spirit is not a “second blessing” that needs to be sought.  Instead, it’s the universal experience of all those who become followers of Jesus.  If you have opened your heart to Christ, the Spirit now lives within you (John 7:37-39). 
That’s the Spirit’s baptism.  If you have Jesus, you also have the Spirit.  Period. 
That being said, there are two ongoing “experiences of the Spirit” that should indeed capture our attention.
One is a warning.  “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit” (Ephesians 4:30), along with, “Do not quench the Spirit” (I Thessalonians 5:19).  These are Paul’s reminders that just as children have the power to break their parents’ hearts by their attitudes and decisions, our words and actions can bring sadness to our Father in heaven.  We don’t cease to be his kids, but we should always remember we’re called to higher things. 
The other Spirit-experience is a positive command.  Paul asserts in Ephesians 5:18:  “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery.  Instead, be filled with the Spirit.”
There’s a reason that alcoholic drinks are called “spirits.”  When they enter our bloodstream, they can take momentary command of our lives.  Paul recommends yielding to a different Spirit.  We can glean at least four worthy insights from the Greek verb plerousthe (“be filled”):

  1. It’s in the imperative mood, which means “this is a command, not a recommendation.”
  2. It’s in the plural form, which means “this command is for everyone.”
  3. It’s in the passive voice, which means “this filling happens to you; you don’t fill yourself.”
  4. It’s in the present tense, which means “keep on doing this.”

There are untranslatable treasures in the Greek language that simply don’t emerge in English.  When a Greek verb is in what is known as the “aorist” tense, it usually denotes a one-time action.  For example, a statement like, “You should put up your Christmas tree this week” would be in the aorist tense.  Your tree only goes up once. 

But if the verb “put up” happens to be in the present tense, a Greek-speaking person might hear, “You should put up your Christmas tree 52 times this year” – that is, every single week.  

Paul is telling us, “Be filled with the Spirit – that is, invite the Spirit once again to rule in your heart – and choose to do this again and again and again.” 

Why does this matter?

Life’s ultimate goal is that we might live every moment in a joyful awareness of God’s presence, so that God himself might be glorified, and that his work in us might bless others.  My life goes best when I am filled with the Spirit and my thoughts are preoccupied with him.

What I find, unfortunately, is that I am constantly thinking about myself.  That takes no effort whatsoever.

When I wake up in the morning, I immediately begin to think about me – my appointments for the day, my aches and pains, my worries about money, my need to hear the weather forecast and last night’s basketball scores, and my fear that I won’t have anything compelling to share the next time I try to write.  Me, me, me.  Apart from a specific plan to set my mind on the things of God, all I think about are the things of Me – which means I am defeating the very purpose for which God brought me into the world.

But when I am filled (and then refilled) with the Holy Spirit, I experience a different kind of life – one that draws me, slowly but surely, back under the canopy of God’s grace. 

How do we experience this?

It’s not complicated. 

Choose to be still.  Calm your mind as best you can.  Pray simply, perhaps with palms upturned: “Lord, please fill me again with your Holy Spirit.  And help me walk in the power of your Spirit all day long.”

Or you might quietly sing the simple revival hymn that’s now almost 100 years old:

Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me
Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me
Melt me, mold me, fill me, use me
Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me

We can never open ourselves like that often enough.

Nor will any of us ever grow tired of hearing the life-giving words that reassure us of our Father’s love:

“That’ll do, my child.  That’ll do.”