An Introduction to
Studies on The Holy Spirit
One way of thinking about spirit is of non-physical power impacting on our receptive consciousness. For example, we are moved by what we see. It might be a billabong with eucalypts growing alongside. It gives a pleasant feeling. Maybe it reawakens memories of our childhood when we lived beside a lagoon rather like that one. Maybe it is associated with Waltzing Matilda and feelings of patriotism. Maybe it’s the colours – the blue of the sky, the grey-green of the leaves, the red-brown earth, the waterlilies, and the gloomy shadows under the far bank. Maybe it resembles a scene from a novel or a film. If you could add to that the knowledge that you were born beside this billabong, that you have, from teenage years, hears stories about this place, you might understand a little of the feelings that this place evokes for your Aboriginal friend. But both of you say there is a special feeling about the place.
It is as though the place reaches out to touch you, the observer. That is spirit. Spirit is the go-between that reaches out from the observed object to link it with the observer. You can see how people all over the world must have come to recognize spirits inhabiting places, objects, persons, constellations, etc. Even manufactured objects like idols can become vehicles for spirit.
It’s not only objects or scenes that can move us. A word, a symbol, a speech, or an idea can move us. Something mysterious reaches out from the spoken or written word, the book, the poem, the song, the concept, the vision, the thought to move us emotionally, to challenge our understanding, to evoke a decision, to call to a commitment. People can have this affect on us, so can things that happen – events, either in the past or in the present, or anticipated in the future. All of these bring us an awareness of spirit.
Think of all the terms we use to describe the experience: it grabbed me, seized my attention, moved me, touched me deeply, just hit me, struck me, confronted me, unsettled me, shook me, rocked me, knocked me down, enveloped me, uplifted me, depressed me (i.e.: pushed me down).
The Christian experience of the Holy Spirit, as Vincent Taylor points out in The Go-Between God, is of a go-between power reaching out from God to us human beings. It is God having an affect upon us. It can only be recognized by the receptive consciousness. It is all about reception of this go-between power. It cannot be captured, invented, discovered, manufactured or reached by the initiatory consciousness. It comes as gift, or, in theological language, by the grace of God. There is nothing that we can do to get it apart from giving space to our receptive consciousness. All we can do is to let go and let it happen.
From the reported experience of many people, we can say that anything can become a vehicle for God’s Spirit, but the Christian church has come to recognize certain channels through which the Spirit is most likely to come. These have been called means of grace. The Bible and the Church; sacraments, worship and prayer; other people, particularly people of faith; the world of nature; events – all of these are recognized as ways in which the go-between Spirit of God may touch us. The Spirit of God was present in Jesus, motivating and directing him, but, because of his close link with God the Father, the Spirit is given to others through Jesus Christ. Indeed the Scriptures point to a fresh and special outpouring of the Holy Spirit among his followers after his death and resurrection. The Go-between God reaches us in a different and dynamic manner through Jesus Christ.
The threefold experience of God – (1) as Creator, Parent, Ground of Being; (2) as given in expression, as the Word become flesh, as the embodiment of the Beyond; (3) as the go-between power grasping hold of us, motivating, shaping, directing, inspiring, convicting and convincing us – gave rise to the Christian doctrine of the Trinity whereby God is described as three persona in one godhead – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
1. Inspirational Stuff
- Share inspirational moments in your life.
- Among the people in your life, who has inspired you most?
- Have you been baptized? When and where?
- Have you had to overcome a disability or do you know someone else who has done so?
I see a paraplegic man in his wheelchair coming along a ribbon of bitumen. Red soil on the side of the road supports rhodes grass and brigalow. Behind him comes his support vehicle, a Ford Transit van. The road stretches back behind him without a bend almost to the horizon. His arms are straining for he is on a long, steady, uphill gradient. The flap on the back of his legionnaire’s cap moves a little indicating that there is a gentle breeze to alleviate the heat beating down from the sun which is compounded by that which is rising up from the bitumen surface. In spite of liberal doses of sunblock cream his face is red and covered with perspiration, but he continues to work those wheels with the well-developed muscles of his strong arms.
After a while they pull in to the side of the road for a lunch break. Some of his team have travelled ahead to set up a shadecloth shelter and to set out food and drink on a folding table. He has difficulty negotiating the dust and uneven ground at the side of the roadway, but he knows that he can’t relax just yet. A television crew is waiting for him. Although it has been widely advertised that he is doing it to raise money for muscular dystrophy research the interviewer asks him why he is doing this long distance ride. Asked further about what motivates him, he speaks about his friend the Para Olympian.
‘He has been such an inspiration to me,’ he says. ‘When I was first told that I would never walk again, I went into depression. I cursed everyone and everything. Then I met him, and it was as though something of his courage and determination rubbed off onto me. His spirit jumped like a spark across the gap between us and I knew that I could not mope around any longer. I had to do what I could for myself and for others. I’m not real fast in my trusty chariot, but I can keep going for a long time, so I thought I’d try travelling from place to place talking to disabled people with the hope that some of the spark might jump across to them as well. I hope I can be an inspiration to others, especially kids in wheelchairs and show them that they can do something for their communities. In hospital I met up with patients suffering from muscular dystrophy and I decided that I could do something to help them, so this trip is to raise money for that cause. I’m looking for sponsors in every town I visit. I want to thank the people in the towns that I have already passed through. They have been very generous. Although many are still suffering the effects of the drought, they threw their bit in to help the cause.’
The television reporter finishes off by making some remark about how inspirational it is to find a person with so much spirit in him. He pays tribute to both the long-distance traveller and the Para Olympian whose spirit, he says, is still somehow present here way out in the backblocks.
Jesus was inspired by God whom he called ‘Father’. Similarly inspiration sparks across from him to others. This inspiration has been described as an outpouring of God’s Spirit on Jesus who then becomes the catalyst for an outpouring of that same Spirit into the lives of others.
John 20:22 Romans 8: 9-11 Galatians 4:6
- Does this story of the Para Olympian help you to understand John 1:32-34?
- What inspires you most about Jesus?
- What does the image of the dove say to you about the nature of the Holy Spirit?
- What is meant by baptism with the Holy Spirit?
- Pray that you will share in Christ’s baptism with the Holy Spirit.
2. A Re-patterning is Required
- List the places were the members of your group were born.
- Talk about do-it-yourself jobs that you have attempted. Were you successful? Did you get outside assistance? Were you satisfied with the result?
- Have you experienced anything like a new beginning in your life? Would you share?
- What have been the most significant life-changing experiences in your life?
The window opens on two men crossing the step which leads from the back doorway of a house onto a wide paved area decorated with plants in pots and with crowsnests and staghorns attached to posts. There is a barbecue stove over to one side. It is shaded under the covered area, but already the sun is shining brightly out beyond it so that the back yard looks rather faded. Terry explains to his mate that all the moveable plants have to be taken around to the shady side of the house and the pavers taken up.
‘See how uneven they are,’ he says. ‘Whoever did it, made a shocking job of it. They all have to come up. The sand has arrived. See the heap out there! We’ll have to re-bed all of the tiles. And see, Brian, I’ve sketched out here a design. That’s how I want it to look when its finished. I’ve redesigned the whole area. The pavers under the covered area will look like this, and then I’ve reshaped the paths out the back. It’s a big job. Thanks for giving up your golf to give me a hand.’
‘That’s OK, mate,’ he responds. ‘It’s what my golf needs – a complete reorganization. The pro told me I have to unlearn a few things before I can make much progress.. But that can wait. Let’s get stuck into this job now!”
It’s hard for adults to re-lay patterns of thought and behaviour which have been laid down over the years. It takes a major upheaval to do it, but to live by the pattern of God’s realm the old patterns have to be uprooted. Outlook, attitude, values, thought-patterns have to be replaced.
The insipient presence of sin means that it is impossible for anyone to make the change without assistance. No matter how hard they try people will always end up with a basic self-centredness. To have the outlook, attitude, values and thought-patterns that are consistent with those of God’s kingdom, one needs the assistance of God as the power of Spirit in one’s life. Without that outside assistance no one can live in God’s realm. To live outside of God’s realm is to live in isolation from God. Irrespective of one’s religion, if a person does not have the supernatural assistance of God’s Spirit one cannot know communion or fellowship with God.
Titus3:5 2 Corinthians 5: 16-18 1 Peter 1: 23
- How do you feel about this saying of Jesus: ‘No one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above’
- Share with one another your experiences of conversion, becoming a Christian or the ways in which Christ has changed your attitudes.
- Why is it necessary for people to undergo such a complete re-patterning as Jesus suggested to Nicodemus?
- There is something mysterious and inexplicable about the Spirit’s working in a person’s life, but how have you experienced the Spirit’s working in your life?
- Pray that you might be thoroughly re-make by the action of God’s Spirit upon you.
3. The Divine Magnetism
- What were or are the occupations of your parents?
- Describe the sort of person that you are drawn to and the sort of person that repels you.
- Are there any celebrities that you knew as a child or have some personal acquaintance with?
- What bumper stickers, if any, do you carry on your car? What slogan would you like to carry?
It’s simply a kitchen fridge. A two-door, white, electrical refrigerator and freezer, but it carries, what, maybe forty fridge magnets on it. Obviously the owner is a collector and likes to display them on her kitchen fridge. They are there in various shapes and sizes, some blatantly commercial, others humourous. Some are religious; others are political. Some are rude; others promote tourist destinations. Some are used to hold notes, business cards or messages from school behind them, but all cling to the fridge walls or to the door as if drawn by an irresistible force, which, of course, they are.
The word magnetic might have its origins in physics, but it is used in many situations of great drawing power. We speak of a magnetic personality, one that draws others to it, and when we think of magnetic personalities we should not overlook Jesus. He has exerted that sort of power over many. He acts like a magnet, but his drawing power is more than mere animal magnetism, indeed more than a purely human magnetism. He understood it to be the drawing power of God so that people who are drawn to put their faith in him are really being drawn by the power of God to do so.
The fact that a piece of plastic without the magnetic backing will not adhere to the surface of the fridge might remind us that no one can be drawn to Jesus unless it be by the drawing power of God. It might not be too fanciful to think of God as the refrigerator and people as the fridge magnets. There is something within us that draws us to God. But it is possible for us to cover that responsive part of ourselves with dirt and grime so that the magnetism does not work on us any more. The magnetic part of our lives designed to draw us to God may become damaged or torn right off through the experiences and encounters of life. But we really can only come to God when we feel that Godward pull, so it is by God’s grace that we are saved. That grace received by faith.
James 4:7-10 Ephesians 1:7-10 Luke 13:34
- Have you experienced anything that could be called a godward pull in your life? What did it mean to you? Which image best represents the godward pull in your life: the force of gravity, the upward trust of a thermal air spiral, magnetism, a moth drawn toward the electric light, a sunflower opening toward the sun?
- Do you believe that God’s Spirit is at work: (a) in all people some of the time, (b) in all people all of the time, (c) in some people some of the time, (d) in some people all of the time?
- What sort of things prevent us from responding to God’s drawing power?
- In his own time, Jesus found that people found it easier to see him as the son of Joseph than to see him as the Son of God. Why do think this was so?
- Pray for people who have turned away from the Church but still know something of the drawing power of God. Pray for the church’s ministry to such people.
4. Bringing the Water of Life to Those Who Need It
- Tell us a funny story.
- Have you ever lived, even temporally, in a situation where you were without pure running water? How did you cope?
- Do some research and find out what percentage of the world’s population do not have clean water to drink. What organizations are trying to do something about this?
- How many in the group make a practice of buying bottled water?
The sight of coconut palms tells me that I am looking at a South Sea Island scene. Two young girls, maybe twelve or thirteen years of age, are walking across the closely cut green grass toward a freestanding tap. Actually there are two outlets for the water, one, a proper tap around waist high, the other simply the end of a bent piece of pipe, high enough for a person to stand under, but they are both attached to the same pipe which emerges from the ground out in the middle of the malae around which the houses of the village are clustered. Close by, other girls, squatting on their haunches, are washing clothes in buckets of water. There is some laughter and a light-hearted exchange in a language that I cannot follow. Then the new arrivals proceed to adjust their lavalavas so that their brown bodies remain discretely hidden under the wrapping while, one after the other, they let the water rush over them as they apply the soap and rub their skins with coconut fibre. One girl, while under the torrent, tilts her head back and opens her mouth so that she can drink from the gushing water while she conducts her ablutions.
I guess the water for this communal tap is piped from a stream somewhere up in the hills. Without that pipeline the girls would be spending several hours each day walking to and from the watercourse to do the family washing, to bathe and to get water for drinking.
If things worked out the way Jesus wanted them to, every one of his followers would be like that pipeline, bringing his cleansing, refreshing, thirst-quenching Spirit into the communities where they live. These pipelines get rusty, corrode and leak, they get blocked and ineffective, but sometimes they do actually act as conduits for the water of life. The Spirit of Christ gets through to affect the lives of others. Christian disciples become the pipeline for Christ’s life-giving power.
Matthew 5:14-16 Revelation 22:17 John 4: 13-15
- Read Exodus 17: 1-7. In what way does this passage throw light on John 7:37-39?
- How do you feel about being likened to a pipeline bringing the refreshing and life-giving power of Christ into the lives of people around you?
- What blockages are there in your life that prevent the Spirit of Christ flowing through you? Share to the extent that you feel comfortable doing so in the group, but make up your own mind what you are going to do about it anyway.
- What do you think Jesus meant by saying ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water’?
- Pray for each other, particularly that God would help each remove the blockages, which prevent God’s Spirit flowing through them into the lives of others.
5. A Real Support
(John 14: 15-31)
- Read a good book lately? What was it?
- When was the last time you had to call a breakdown service to a roadside emergency? What was wrong with the car and where was it?
- What quality more than any other do you look for in a friend?
- The church of Jesus Christ can be likened to a building. Think of your own congregation. What part of a building best represents the part you play in it: roofing tile, sheet of iron, chimney, rafter, framework, internal wall, exterior wall, window, door, floor, foundations?
‘I think I’ve bitten off more than I can chew,’ Richard says.
‘No,’ his older companion reassures him. ‘You can do it. I’ve told you I’ll give you all the help you need. You’ve done the course. We’ve drawn up plans and had them approved. I’ve told you my equipment is available. There’s no reason at all why you can’t build it as an owner-builder.’
‘But I’m a clerk. I don’t have any experience at building. It was a silly idea. It seemed good at the time. I’m only working half time, so I thought maybe I’ll have the time to put into it.’
‘You do want to get into your own home, don’t you?’ Jack the builder challenges. ‘Well, there’s no way you’ll be able to afford it unless you go the owner-builder road.’
‘I know,’ Richard acknowledges. ‘I can’t afford anything else. But it all seems so complicated.’
‘One step at a time,’ the older man advises him. ‘The biggest job can be handled if it is broken down into its constituent parts.’
The two of them are underneath Jack the builder’s high-set house standing amid stacks of timber, lengths of steel, ladders, trestles and several sheets of Colorbond sheeting. Raymond has come over from the house next door that he and his pregnant wife are renting.
‘I’ve never done anything like this before,’ Raymond says with a grimace.
‘Look,’ Jack says in a firm but husky voice. ‘I’m doing this because you’re my friend. I like you two kids, and I’d like to see you get into your own place. Especially now you’ve got a little-ee on the way. I’ve built houses all my working life. I know the trade backwards. And I’m prepared to put all my experience at your service. I tell you, you don’t have to worry. I’ll oversee the job. I’ll order your materials. I’ll make sure you’re not charged too much. I’ll put you onto good subbies. You can consult with me anytime you like. And if you forget something, I’ll remind you quick enough. I can’t actually build it for you. I have too many of my own jobs on the go. But I’ve told you I’ll stand by you. I won’t see you stuck. With my back-up, you can do it. So no more of this shilly-shallying about. Get on with it. I’ll be with you all the way.’
‘But there’s no way I can pay you.’
‘Who said anything about being paid? I tell you, I’m doing this as a friend. It’s something I want to do. I just want to see you get into your own home.’
The Spirit of God is like. Or, at least, that is the offer open to Christ’s disciples. You build: I’ll stand by you. Another image comes from the law courts. This is the one used by John in his Gospel:the Holy Spirit portrayed as the solicitor who helps the lay person through the minefield of legal proceedings, the barrister who represents that person in court, the friend who sticks by the defendant when everyone else has deserted him, the counsellor who helps him cope – all of these.
This support is for those devoted to Jesus and to his way set out in the great commandments about love to God and to neighbour. Those who want to live that way of love are urged to get on with life, to stop worrying about it, and to tackle each issue as it arises with full confidence in the Spirit of God to help them through.
Psalm 121: 1-8 Deuteronomy 31: 8 Hebrews 13: 5-6
- In John 14:16 Jesus says that God the Father will give another …………By consulting a number of different versions make a list of the differentwords that you find here all trying to translate the same Greek wordparacleton.
- Share experiences of support and assistance you have received from God.
- How can it be that the Spirit can play such an important part in the on-going life of the Christian yet be neither seen nor known by the world?
- Pray for each other and the enabling support of God’s Spirit in each one.
6. Readiness for Learning
- Where did you go to school?
- How have you changed over the years? Think back ten, twenty, thirty years, whatever, and ask how have my attitudes and my thinking changed since then.
- How has your small group changed since you first started meeting together?
- Share with the group an experience or a teaching, which you could not understand at the time but the meaning of it has become clear to you since.
A family is playing cricket in the backyard. The fifteen-year-old, after a ferocious run up, bowls a fast ball at the little fellow at the crease. It passes him and hits the cardboard carton substituting for stumps sending it spinning backwards to be stopped by Dad-the Wicketkeeper’s bare legs. The ball bangs into the garden shed with a clang, which produces from Dad a, “Go easy, son!”
Attention passes to the indignant batsman who throws down the junior cricket bat and runs to his mother fielding at silly mid-on with tears and complaints that Philip bowls too fast.
She reprimands her older son, a reprimand repeated with added emotion by his sister who tells him not to bowl like that to Nicholas. He is reminded that Nicholas has only just turned four. The return throw from Dad goes astray and is taken by Susan who refuses to pass the worn tennis ball on to her brother because she says he has no idea how to bowl to a pre-schooler. She stomps over to the bent stick that marks the bowling crease and, when Mum persuades Nicholas to resume his stance in front of the returned carton, bowls, with a howl of derision from Philip, a gentle underarm bowl which barely reaches the diminutive batsman. Only when the ball has stopped rolling does he swing at it with the bat so that, together with a clump of garden turf, he send the ball heading back toward the bowler.
The time may well come when Nicholas is able to return a fast ball from Philip, but not at this age. Give him a few years and some practice and he’ll bat and bowl as well as his older brother can now, but at this age his co-ordination is not yet developed. His mother cheers him when he hits a stationary ball. She knows that six months ago he couldn’t even have done that at his first attempt.
Jesus gave such teaching to his disciples, as they were able to absorb. He stretched them. He frequently left them puzzled, asking questions, but he was restricted by their ability to take in what he wanted them to learn. If he had been restricted to what he could get across during his lifetime he might well have felt that his mission was forever going to be incomplete, but he spoke of the Holy Spirit, which would continue this work of uncovering the truth after his death. In fact he saw that it was necessary for him physically to leave them, for without that the Spirit would not be released to do this on-going work in the thorough-going manner in which he knew it needed to be done.
The Spirit, he assured them, would open up a deeper understanding of the things he had been saying to them. Some things would only become clear after his death and resurrection. In the light of later events and the insight given by the Holy Spirit they would remember things that they had seen and heard. Only then would they come to make sense.
The educational principle of readiness for learning is demonstrated in this. It applies to sport as to reading and maths and all other areas of learning. It applies to religion, to the human relationship with God. God can disclose to us only what we are ready to take in. This applies to cultures and to religions as well as to individuals. Some cultural settings, some religious outlooks, restrict the revelation that God otherwise would make.
Song of Solomon 2:7 1 Corinthians 3:2 John 20:9
- What childish ideas of God have you now outgrown?
- What childish ideas of God do you find that adults still have?
- What have been the great learning experiences of your life and faith?
- Discuss this sentence: “Some cultural settings, some religious outlooks, restrict the revelation that God otherwise would make.”
- Pray that the Holy Spirit will guide you into more of God’s truth. Pray this also for your friends and family.
7. The Enduring Power of Attorney
(John 20: 19-23)
- What is the most interesting piece of news you have heard today?
- Have you ever been asked to act on behalf of another as an agent or representative? What is required of a person called upon to act in such a way?
- In two minutes write down as many commonly used phrases containing the word “mission” as you can.
- Sporting teams adopt names like Magpies, Broncos, Firebirds, Wallabies, etc. Choose a name that would describe your group or its intentions.
Two men are seated on one side of the lawyer’s desk while the solicitor types away on a keyboard. The title at the top of the computer screen reads Enduring Power of Attorney. When the solicitor is satisfied that he has made all the appropriate additions or alterations to the form document he presses a button and sits back.
‘In just a minute Alicia will bring the document in.’ he says. ‘Read it through and then you can sign it.’
You don’t have to be told that Thomas and Timothy are brothers. The family likeness is unmistakable. Tim is taller and has more hair than Tom. There might be one or two grey hairs in his fine head of hair whereas his older brother displays a distinct bald patch surrounded by hair that has turned decidedly grey. Both are well dressed in dark suits suggesting that they have interrupted busy business or professional schedules to keep this appointment with their solicitor.
Their eyes turn toward the doorway as the neat, slim, young woman walks briskly into the room and places three copies of a document on Geoff’s desk.
After handing each of them a copy to read and giving them time to peruse the document, the solicitor says to Tom, ‘You understand what you are doing of course? You are empowering your brother here to act on your behalf, and that includes acting in all matters relating to your parents’ estate. You are the executor. This does not alter that, but it does give Timothy the power to act on your behalf. He can buy and sell, invest or withdraw investments, and make any other decisions which are your responsibility to make.’
‘As I explained, I have to go overseas next week.’ He said, ‘Millions of dollars depend on this trip. I can’t delay it. Tim is prepared to take over these duties while I am away. We’ll be in phone and e-mail contact as much as we can, but I need someone here to sign documents on my behalf. For some of the time I’ll be away up in the jungle where it may not be possible to contact me, and I may need someone here to make quick decisions on my behalf. I can trust Tim to act on my behalf.’
‘If you’re both satisfied with what is in front of you, please sign.’ He indicated with his forefinger exactly where each one was to sign.
They do so, and Geoff, the solicitor, invites them to have coffee, but, pleading pressure of business they both ask to be excused, rise, shake hands, and make their way out through the reception area where the say goodbye to Alicia and hurry out from the office suite into the corridor.
Jesus entrusted to his disciples the responsibility of acting as his representatives or agents: ‘As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ This Power of Attorney is given to the community of faith, the Christian Church, and all members have a share in it. But he not only commissioned the faithful, he empowered them. The authority that he had, the authority of God’s Holy Spirit at work in his life, he handed on to them. And he continues to hand on this spiritual authority today so that those who, in any given situation, can be recognized as representing the Church, the Body of Christ, can even act on his behalf announcing God’s forgiveness of sins, or if, because of hardness of heart, declaring that a person still needs to come to that repentance which opens them up to the forgiveness that God is ready and waiting to give.
That’s a tremendous responsibility that Christ lays upon his Church, a responsibility that has not always been exercised properly. However that is what he calls his Church to – to faithfully represent him. When we fail, he calls us to acknowledge our failure, but he does not remove from us the responsibility of acting on his behalf in continuing his mission in the world.
Matthew 10:40-42 Matthew 28:16-20 2 Corinthians 5:18-21
- Which of the following best describes your understanding of the church: (a) one of the organizations in our society, (b) the visible body of the unseen Christ, (c) agents of God’s kingdom, (d) partners with Christ in his on-going ministry, (e) a religious club? Or is it none of the above?
- What would it mean for you personally to see yourself as one of Christ’s representatives in the world?
- One only has the right to act on behalf of Christ if one does so in the Spirit of Christ. Give examples of occasions when the Church or its members claimed to act in the name of Christ but did so without the Spirit of Christ.
- As God sent the Son into the world, so Christ sends his Church into the world. What does it mean for you to be one of those whom he sends into the world?