It must be a conspiracy. As I spent my two day “spiritual retreat” with a combination of Bible reading, sermon listening, and a couple other selected books, they all started saying pretty much the same thing. Don’t you hate it when God puts something in front of your face so plainly that you just can’t ignore it?!
One of the books I brought along was “Taking Hold of God: Reformed and Puritan Perspectives on Prayer.” Essentially it is just what it says. It’s a collection of essays written about various Puritan pastors and writers and their view of the centrality of prayer in the Christian life. Sounded like a good book to take along on a prayer retreat, right?
What I wasn’t prepared for was the fact that the emphasis over and over in this book was the necessity of the Holy Spirit’s work in our hearts and lives in order for our prayer to be effective. Not that I didn’t know that, but it kept coming up again and again.
For example, Thomas Manton pointed out that Spirit-less prayer is as good as “a little cold prattle and spiritless talk.” Ouch! Why don’t you just way what you mean, Mr. Manton? William Fenner was equally as subtle, describing prayer without the Spirit’s help as being no better than “the lowing of oxen, or the grunting of hogs.” And John Bunyan simply pointed out the praying without the Holy Spirit’s assistance could not possibly be “according to the will of God.”
From Luther and Calvin, to Knox and Edwards, there was a common theme not only of the absolutely necessity of prayer in the Christian’s life, but of the Trinitarian nature of such prayer. For the most part, we know to go to God the Father, and we know to go to Him through God the Son, but often we neglect to realize that we need to go in the power of God the Holy Spirit. He teaches us the mind of Christ. He motivates us to purity and holiness. He even “helps us in our weakness” as Paul says in Romans 8. Romans 8... Hmmm… Just where I happened to be reading in my Bible at the time!
And to top it off, I was listening to a series of messages from Art Azurdia which he preached at the beginning of Trinity Church in Portland: Distinguishing Features of a Gospel Congregation. And the first sermon I happened to listen to was “Radical Dependence.” It’s about, you guessed it, radical dependence of the Holy Spirit.
Less face it. Us non-Charismatic types are so anti-Charismatic sometimes that we don’t even like to talk about the Holy Spirit. We’re afraid people will think we’re going to start running around the room and barking like dogs (don’t laugh, folks, it happens all the time in some of these pseudo-churches). But ignoring the work of God’s Spirit is dangerous.
What I came to realize from these multiple messages was that our church may be stagnant because we are not living in total dependence on God’s Spirit. This preacher may be stagnant because he’s not living in total dependence on God’s Spirit. The old cliché question came to mind: what is your church doing now that if God’s Spirit were removed, you would keep on doing without even noticing a major change?” I don’t think I like the honest answer to that.
Along those lines, another of message from Pastor Azurdia spoke of “Passionate Expectancy." Essentially he asked: what is our church asking God to do that only God can do so when He does it, only He gets the glory.” Not the biggest Blackaby fan, but he may have gotten that part right.
Are we living, truly, each and every day in total dependence of God’s Spirit? Honestly, I have to say “no.” I live way too much in the flesh. I depend way too much on my own wisdom and strength. I trust far too much in my own ideas, my own agenda, and my own power to accomplish it. No wonder I’m running in circles sometimes.
It’s been said many times that the spiritual temperature of any church can be measured in its prayer meetings. So how’s it going for you? Remember, Jesus said He would rather us be hot or cold, because being lukewarm makes Him sick.
Again, this is stuff we know. But is it stuff we live out? Is our prayer, our preaching, our ministry, our very lives being lived out daily in the power of God’s Spirit? I don’t know about you, but I think I want to see what things might be like if I could answer “yes.”
So, lesson number three: I/we need a radical dependence on the Holy Spirit.
My response: I will focus more on prayer, and in that prayer focus more consciously on trusting in/leaning on God’s Spirit; and I will encourage our church to do the same. Won’t you join me?