As I study the passages in the Word about the Holy Spirit, I wonder where the balance is between study and experience. My Bible training was all academic: interpretation, dissection, exegesis. If I only have the written Word and no Holy Spirit inside to interpret them, I simply have a collection of symbols on a page, lifeless and meaningless. But if I didn’t have the written Word, how would I know what my experience meant? But Jesus IS the Word—the Living Word. He brings the symbols to life and gives them meaning. I need both.
I wonder why God chose to use words to communicate with us. Why not comic-book pictures? Or is the world itself and its experience a visual? A picture would not be reproducible in certain countries or eras. But words endure, can be passed down through the generations. Can be heard. But for those who are visual . . . I guess God gives each of us the visuals in our minds that meet our needs the best. But then, so do words.
A 2023 Update. After praying with people for the past 22 years, I’ve come to realize how important both words and visuals are. Clients will say, “I know the truth in my head, but I don’t feel it in my heart.” What they are describing is left-brain (words, logic) vs. right-brain (pictures, emotion). Our experience comes first, followed by interpretation of the event. When I read Scripture, I’m engaging my left brain. When the Holy Spirit speaks directly to my heart (emotions), I experience the truth and it gets correctly interpreted.
I’ve been working through how to recognize the difference between God’s standard and men’s standard of conduct. For example, I came out of a system that taught it was a sin for a woman to wear pants, and though I threw that false belief out years ago, I wonder about wearing skimpy clothing. A judgmental attitude (which I’m prone to have) is a self-righteous attitude about how others conduct themselves—usually because I don’t do it myself. And often the item or “sin” in question reflects a tradition of man rather than breaking a direct command of Scripture. Discernment, on the other hand, involves understanding the intent of a command in Scripture and applying it to myself.
One’s choice of dress falls on a continuum: from a Middle Eastern burka all the way to public nudity. What’s modest for one culture may be immoral for another.* I’m sure my upbringing in an African village impacts my confusion. Does God’s Word dictate standards of dress, or does God look only on the heart? (I can dress like a Puritan and not have a pure heart.) The other end of the continuum is harder for me to gauge. At what point does my dress choice cross into sin? Can the discussion focus on the amount of material, or should the focus be 100% on the heart?
Or what about my media viewing choices? Is there a point at which what I watch becomes sin? Or is it all about the condition of the heart? I cannot judge another’s motives, but personally, I’d prefer wholesome rather than on-the-edge. Better to hug the mountain side than the cliff side in these gray areas.
*Funny story from Stormy Omartian’s book The Power of the Praying Woman. Seems an offended missionary decided he should supply the topless natives with t-shirts. The next day the ladies showed up at church proudly wearing their new garb—with holes cut out for their breasts (so they could nurse of course). Made perfect sense to me!
2023 Update. I must have worked through these questions sufficiently as I have no emotion today when the subject comes up. I know now that I am not responsible for anyone’s heart but my own, and I can trust God to convict me when needed and guide me into all truth.
Jesus said, “Were not ten healed? Where are the nine? Can none be found to come back and give glory to God except this outsider?” Then he said to him, “Get up. On your way. Your faith has healed and saved you” (Luke17: 17-19 The Message).
Jesus healed ten lepers, but only one thanked Him. The Samaritan had faith; I don’t know if the other nine had it or not. Did Jesus heal certain people out of compassion or because of their faith? He raised the dead—and that’s not because of their faith! In this case, the one leper demonstrated that he “got it.” I suspect God does a lot of things for us that go unacknowledged.
Maybe faith is like a promised Christmas present, an unopened box. Jesus hands it to me and says, “I’ve made you a promise. It’s in the box. But it’s not time to open it yet.” And faith says, “I believe You, Lord. And I will patiently wait till You say it’s time.”
Abraham was given a box. Inside was the promise of a son. But I think he got impatient waiting—or perhaps he thought God had handed him the wrong box, and so he set it aside and opened a different gift under the tree. But even with his mistake, God still handed him the right one and he still got to open it.
I have so many precious promise boxes under my tree I can’t even count them all! What box am I holding that I’m ignoring, substituting, not waiting for, anxious about?
When Jesus handed the one leper his gift, he remembered to write the thank you note. The other nine got their gift, too, but were so excited they forgot where it came from. We must pause, notice, respond in gratitude, and recognize the source of our healing, our salvation.
I’m not sure where or when in my spiritual journey (from the pulpit?) I picked up the notion that we were supposed to strive to do the list of Fruits of the Spirit. “Look over this list,” they’d say. “Which one do you lack? Work at this one today. Be more (“more” is unquantifiable) loving, put on a joyful countenance, exercise patience or self-control.” Shame for failing in any area became a natural by-product of this teaching.
But one day I began to ponder the nature of fruit, and then, thankfully, I heard (from the pulpit?) a correct interpretation of this verse. Spiritual fruit is not a to-do list but rather a by-product, a result of abiding in the Spirit, of being attached to the vine, of mind renewal. I can choose to exhibit the fruits by determination and self-effort, and that is not a bad thing. I can choose not to punch my friend in the face if I’m mad at her. But how much easier and freeing to have these qualities flow out of me naturally, graciously, without effort as a result of inner healing prayer and mind renewal. Even “abiding in the vine” is no longer a grit-my-teeth, work-at-it endeavor. Rather, it is a natural by-product of connecting all parts of my heart to the Lord.
When people and things disrupt my workflow, how can I tell if an interruption is a distraction or a God-event? Is it like a child’s bumper lane in a bowling alley, meant to keep me out of the gutter? Or is it a snare, a stick-pile in the river?
The rapids are the events over which I have no control, and I’m glad I have an experienced Guide with me Who knows where the hazards are. He expects me to use my paddle as I’m able and engage in the fight to stay upright, but He’s strong enough to keep me on an even keel.
Sometimes, when I’m about to be dumped into the river, I just hang onto the sides for dear life. But I’m not going to drown (unless it’s my time to go Home). When He comes to rescue me, I must relax and not struggle against Him. He has the lifeline in His hands. Thankfully, not all of life is rapids. Sometimes it’s okay to drift and to rest.
So, whether I encounter shallows, a stick-pile, or the rapids, I don’t have to figure out its source. I just need to navigate what comes with patience, faith, and grace.
From my 2009 Journal. Do we have any rules we need to abide by as believers? Moses’ Law says “Don’t murder.” Jesus says it’s what’s in your heart that’s important. Is “don’t hate” a rule? I suppose you could say that. Rules generally govern actions, and hatred is not an action (unless it’s acted upon). But if you take care of the attitude (hatred) in your heart, you’ll have no temptation to do the action (murder).
We usually judge a person’s actions, though I have to say I’m guilty of judging a person’s heart based on their actions. I wouldn’t know what’s in their heart if I didn’t see their action.
Romans 14 refers to religious activity: eating meat offered to idols and special observances of days. I have freedom, Paul says, to eat meat or not eat meat, to observe a day “unto the Lord” or not. It’s not the action that pleases God, but the attitude of the heart. Are you doing it out of obedience to your conscience or out of disobedience? Are you doing it with a grateful heart? If you do it but aren’t thankful, what good is it?
Bottom line: don’t judge someone else’s religious activities (assuming they are believers) and don’t put an obstacle or stumbling block in another person’s way. Verse 14 says food offered to idols in and of itself is not unclean. But if in your heart you believe it’s unclean, then to you it is. Don’t do it!
At my missionary boarding school, I was taught it was a sin to hate. Therefore, if we hated someone, we’d piously say, “Oh, I don’t hate her; I just strongly dislike her!” As if we didn’t say the words, we were not guilty of the deed.
This week the Spirit of God confronted my self-righteousness with a memory where I carried hatred in my heart. As I released that emotion, years of bondage slipped away, and I felt free. Nobody but Jesus knew that sin was there. And nobody but Jesus and the person who prayed with me for deliverance knows it’s gone. But will others sense a change in me? I don’t know. I feel the change, and I know that something is different.
Sometimes I learn more truth through other people’s processing than I do through my own. Yesterday, while praying with a client over the phone, God answered a question for her that answered a question for me: If we have the Holy Spirit, why do we need the Bible? And if we have the Bible, why do we need the Holy Spirit?
Now, I could have given her a plausible explanation that would have satisfied me. However, it made the most sense to her when she visualized a classroom. We need both the Teacher and the textbook. A student gets information from the text—facts, history, stories, and even poetry, but she has a relationship with the Teacher. The Teacher asks and answers questions about the text; He explains, expands, and embellishes it. And how does He know so much about the textbook? He’s the author!
Lynda Graybeal, administrator of Renovare (www.renovare.org) suggests we need a “balanced vision” of 6 streams or dimensions of the Christian life (Conversations, Vol 3:1, p. 52). Though I was reared in one particular stream, I have dipped my toes in each of these tributaries and found grace in each of them. All make up the body of Christ. All have partial truth. All can learn from the others.
Contemplative – The prayer-filled life
Holiness – The virtuous life
Charismatic – The Spirit-empowered life
Social Justice – The compassionate life
Evangelical – The Word-centered life
Incarnational – The sacramental life
Which stream refreshes you the most? Which one challenges you?