Has any­one heard from the Spirit?”

I remem­ber the morn­ing well. It was a glo­ri­ous Eng­lish sum­mer day in the ear­ly 1990s. Hun­dreds of peo­ple had gath­ered from all across the Unit­ed King­dom for New Wine,” a Chris­t­ian con­fer­ence which had been born out of the charis­mat­ic renew­al then sweep­ing through the British church­es. One of the cler­gy at the church where I had recent­ly come to faith had been keen to attend the con­fer­ence with some of our youth group, and I had been round­ed up as a vol­un­teer” to help keep an eye on them. And so, one morn­ing, I found myself sit­ting on a fold­ing chair under the canopy of a spa­cious white mar­quee, erect­ed in the mid­dle of a Som­er­set farmer’s field, lis­ten­ing to John Mum­ford talk about healing.

John was noth­ing like I had expect­ed. Walk­ing to the ses­sion half an hour ear­li­er, I had pic­tured in my mind some flam­boy­ant, wild-haired revival­ist who would rouse and enter­tain us with unbe­liev­able tales of crip­ples toss­ing away their crutch­es, lep­ers being cleansed, and the dead ris­ing from their graves. I was pret­ty skep­ti­cal about the whole con­cept of divine heal­ing — just accept­ing the exis­tence of God, and the idea that he might have claims on my life, had tak­en an age of patient work­ing through only months before. But I was curi­ous, and assumed that, if noth­ing else, I would come away with some good yarns about the crazy healer.

So I was some­what star­tled to find that John, who I lat­er dis­cov­ered was a Vine­yard pas­tor in Lon­don, was very qui­et and unas­sum­ing, soft­ly spo­ken and clear­ly very eru­dite. Dressed in noth­ing more flashy than dark slacks and a knit­ted sweater, he spent a fas­ci­nat­ing half hour tak­ing us through the innu­mer­able times the heal­ing min­istry fea­tured in the life of Jesus and the ear­ly church, pick­ing out the impor­tant details about how Jesus spoke with peo­ple, how he touched them, the kind of ques­tions he asked, and how he prayed. Occa­sion­al­ly adjust­ing his glass­es to read from the pages of his worn Bible, he drew on the New Tes­ta­ment nar­ra­tives to con­struct a mod­el for the Chris­t­ian heal­ing min­istry today. Despite my mis­giv­ings, I found myself being drawn in by his warmth and gentleness.

As he drew his pre­sen­ta­tion to a close, he looked up at us and smiled. Well,” he said, speak­ing slow­ly and thought­ful­ly, I sup­pose there’s not much point talk­ing about all this unless we also do it, is there?” He explained that he was going to invite the Holy Spir­it to move among us and speak to peo­ple in the room, high­light­ing the areas in our lives which need­ed God’s heal­ing touch. He invit­ed us to stand. Clos­ing his eyes, he said, Let’s pray togeth­er.” There was silence for a sec­ond or two. Again, very soft­ly, he prayed, Come, Holy Spir­it.” And then almost imme­di­ate­ly he opened his eyes again, smiled at us all, and sug­gest­ed that we sit down again. Has any­one heard from the Spir­it?,” he asked hopefully.

I remem­ber very clear­ly think­ing: you’re doing it wrong. There had been no emo­tion­al appeal, no long ver­bose prayers, no excit­ed procla­ma­tions, no music, no fan­fares. Just a sim­ple three word prayer. It didn’t seem like enough.

And then a woman a few seats along from me hes­i­tant­ly stood. John smiled even more broad­ly and encour­aged her to share what she had heard. This is very strange for me,” she began. I’ve nev­er expe­ri­enced any­thing like this before. But I saw some­thing so very clear­ly, and I feel I have to share it.” Then she began to describe a med­ical con­di­tion in the most extra­or­di­nary detail. This was no bad back” or sprained wrist.” She sound­ed like a char­ac­ter on a med­ical dra­ma as she talked about a very par­tic­u­lar pain between spe­cif­ic ver­te­brae over a def­i­nite peri­od of time. You could almost imag­ine she had the x‑rays in front of her. But what real­ly caught my atten­tion was some­thing this woman couldn’t see — the face of the young lady sat right in front of her. I swear if her eyes had bulged any big­ger they’d have popped right out of her head. As the woman behind con­tin­ued to speak, the lady in front sat thun­der­struck, her jaw drop­ping. But a few sec­onds lat­er she came to her sens­es, turned abrupt­ly and said incred­u­lous­ly, But that’s me! You’ve just described exact­ly what I’ve been going through these last three years!” The first woman stopped speak­ing and gaped back, look­ing amazed. John sim­ply smiled. Per­haps you need to pray togeth­er,” he said qui­et­ly, unas­sum­ing­ly, as though this hap­pened every day. And then he turned to the rest of us. Did the Holy Spir­it speak to any­one else?”

I caught my breath. It was that morn­ing that I real­ized that the Holy Spir­it might be more than just a char­ac­ter in a book.

Encoun­ter­ing the Spir­it Today

In this series of Explo­rations we’re tak­ing a look at each of the six Ren­o­varé tra­di­tions (con­tem­pla­tive, holi­ness, charis­mat­ic, social jus­tice, evan­gel­i­cal, and incar­na­tion­al) in the life of Jesus. And as we turn in this third issue to the Charis­mat­ic stream, or the Spir­it-Empow­ered Life, it is more impor­tant than ever to look to Jesus as our exam­ple and teacher — because this par­tic­u­lar expres­sion of Chris­t­ian dis­ci­ple­ship has caused so much con­tro­ver­sy, divi­sion, and mis­un­der­stand­ing through­out the his­to­ry of the Church.

From the out­set we need to con­sid­er one of those con­tro­ver­sies head on. There is a strand of Chris­t­ian the­ol­o­gy known as ces­sa­tion­ism” which teach­es that the super­nat­ur­al gifts of the Holy Spir­it ceased with the con­clu­sion of the Apos­tolic era; that once the final pages of the New Tes­ta­ment were penned, there was no longer any need for the con­firm­ing wit­ness of signs and won­ders in the life of the Church. This view leans heav­i­ly on a par­tic­u­lar inter­pre­ta­tion of 1 Corinthi­ans 13:8 – 10:

Love nev­er ends. But as for prophe­cies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowl­edge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we proph­esy only in part; but when the com­plete comes, the par­tial will come to an end.”

Most inter­preters under­stand Paul to be com­ment­ing here on the tran­si­to­ry nature of spir­i­tu­al gifts in the light of eter­ni­ty, or at least of human exis­tence: when the Lord returns, or when we see him face to face in glo­ry after death, we will no longer have any need for prophe­cies or words of knowl­edge. But ces­sa­tion­ism inter­prets this verse as a ref­er­ence to the writ­ing of Scrip­ture. Once the New Tes­ta­ment was fin­ished (“when the com­plete comes”) the spir­i­tu­al gifts (“the par­tial”) fad­ed away.

For my part, I have to say that I both under­stand and respect such a view, but find it unten­able in the light of both Scrip­ture and his­to­ry. It seems to me that there is no clear teach­ing in the Bible that the gifts of the Holy Spir­it were intend­ed only for the short peri­od of the New Tes­ta­ment church — there is cer­tain­ly no impli­ca­tion to that effect either in the book of Acts, nor else­where in any of the epis­tles. And the his­to­ry of the Church is filled with exam­ples of church­es and move­ments which have expect­ed and exer­cised spir­i­tu­al gifts as a nat­ur­al part of their Chris­t­ian dis­ci­ple­ship. A third cen­tu­ry bish­op of Neo-Cae­sarea in Asia Minor had a min­istry so cen­tered on heal­ing and mir­a­cles that he acquired the nick­name Thau­matur­gus,” the Won­der-Work­er.” The Desert Fathers and Moth­ers, liv­ing in the Egypt­ian wilder­ness dur­ing the fourth and fifth cen­tu­ry, fre­quent­ly had visions, spoke prophet­ic words, and relied heav­i­ly on the gift of dis­cern­ment of spir­its” (which they under­stood to mean the abil­i­ty to dis­cern what was stir­ring in anoth­er person’s heart). The biogra­phies of medieval saints are lit­tered with ref­er­ences to mirac­u­lous heal­ings, dreams, and visions; although many of these prob­a­bly reflect the lit­er­ary and social con­ven­tions of the time, it is hard to believe that there is no ker­nel of truth any­where in them — unless we are pre­pared to dis­count, for exam­ple, the visions of Julian of Nor­wich, or the reput­ed heal­ings of Fran­cis of Assisi. In the sev­en­teenth cen­tu­ry the ear­ly Quak­ers empha­sized the min­istry of the Holy Spir­it, see­ing evi­dence of both mir­a­cles and prophet­ic words in their meet­ings. The ear­ly twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry saw the birth of mod­ern Pen­te­costal­ism, which in turn laid the foun­da­tions for the charis­mat­ic renew­al expe­ri­enced by many church­es in our own day.

We may wish to cri­tique these indi­vid­u­als and move­ments for excess­es and wrong turns. Cer­tain­ly there have been charis­mat­ic move­ments through­out the last twen­ty cen­turies that have been derailed by pecu­liar doc­trines, strange prac­tices, or delud­ed lead­ers. The sec­ond cen­tu­ry Mon­tanist move­ment, to give one exam­ple, began as a Pen­te­costal” revival and end­ed as a hereti­cal sect after the lead­er­ship became con­vinced that their rev­e­la­tions held greater weight than Scrip­ture. But we must not let the Charis­mat­ic stream be defined by the abus­es com­mit­ted in its name.

It seems to me inar­guable that the New Tes­ta­ment plain­ly describes the min­istry of the Holy Spir­it in the life of Jesus and of the ear­ly Church with the full expec­ta­tion that this would also be the expe­ri­ence of the Church through­out the ages. I have yet to find evi­dence that the Holy Spir­it has absent­ed him­self from the Church, or that he is unable or unwill­ing to min­is­ter to his peo­ple in a wide vari­ety of ways, both nat­ur­al and super­nat­ur­al. And I do all I can to embrace that min­istry, because Jesus embraced that min­istry — and the great goal and desire of my life is, by the grace of God, to become more and more like Jesus.

A Life Soaked in the Spirit

The Bible shows us very clear­ly that Jesus lived a life entire­ly soaked in the Spir­it from begin­ning to end. The pres­ence of the Spir­it is con­spic­u­ous, for exam­ple, in the nativ­i­ty sto­ry. Mary, we read, was found to be with child from the Holy Spir­it” (Matthew 1:18), con­sis­tent with the announce­ment made by the archangel Gabriel: You will con­ceive in your womb and bear a son … the Holy Spir­it will come upon you, and the pow­er of the Most High will over­shad­ow you” (Luke 1:31, 35). When Mary vis­it­ed her rel­a­tive Eliz­a­beth in the Judean hill coun­try, Eliz­a­beth was filled with the Holy Spir­it and exclaimed with a loud cry” (Luke 1:41). Mean­while, Elizabeth’s hus­band Zachari­ah also expe­ri­enced the Spirit’s touch; when John the Bap­tist was born, Zachari­ah was filled with the Holy Spir­it and spoke this prophe­cy: Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favor­ably on his peo­ple and redeemed them’” (Luke 1:67 – 68). And after the birth of Jesus, Mary and Joseph trav­el to the tem­ple in Jerusalem where they meet the old man Sime­on who, guid­ed by the Spir­it,” rec­og­nizes the infant Jesus as the long hoped-for Mes­si­ah of Israel (Luke 2:27 – 32).

The Spir­it con­tin­ued to play a key role through­out the min­istry of Jesus. At his bap­tism the heav­ens opened over him and the Spir­it vis­i­bly descend­ed upon him in bod­i­ly form like a dove” (Luke 3:22). Imme­di­ate­ly after this, Matthew tells us, Jesus was led up by the Spir­it into the wilder­ness to be tempt­ed by the dev­il” (Matthew 4:1). After forty day of wrestling with temp­ta­tion he returns to Nazareth to preach in the syn­a­gogue; he reads the words of the prophet Isa­iah— The Spir­it of the Lord is upon me” — and pro­claims to the con­gre­ga­tion, Today this scrip­ture has been ful­filled in your hear­ing” (Luke 4:16 – 21).

The gospel accounts are filled with sto­ries of Jesus per­form­ing aston­ish­ing heal­ings, breath­tak­ing mir­a­cles over nature, and dra­mat­ic exor­cisms of evil spir­its. Jesus him­self is very clear about the crit­i­cal role the Spir­it plays in these acts of pow­er; it is filled with the pow­er of the Spir­it” that he returns from the wilder­ness to teach and heal (Luke 4:14), and by the Spir­it of God” that he is able to cast out demons and per­form oth­er mir­a­cles (Matthew 12:18). As he reflects on the wis­dom of Jesus’ teach­ing and the signs and won­ders he per­forms, Matthew is remind­ed of anoth­er prophe­cy of Isa­iah: Here is my ser­vant, whom I have cho­sen; my beloved, with whom my soul is well pleased. I will put my Spir­it upon him …” (Matthew 12:18, quot­ing Isa­iah 42:1).

On the night of the last sup­per, as Jesus found him­self under the shad­ow of the cross, he spoke more freely with his dis­ci­ples about the Spir­it, promis­ing to send them anoth­er Advo­cate, to be with you for­ev­er” (John 14:16). He had already assured them that the Spir­it would be with them dur­ing the per­se­cu­tions to come, promis­ing that when they found them­selves on tri­al the Holy Spir­it will teach you at that very hour what you ought to say” (Luke 12:12). But now he went fur­ther, reveal­ing that the Spir­it would come and dwell with them, to remind them of his teach­ing and to guide you into all the truth” (John 16:13).

And, of course, after his pas­sion and res­ur­rec­tion, Jesus gave one great and last­ing gift to his dis­ci­ples: the very same Spir­it that had ani­mat­ed and empow­ered his own life and min­istry. Jesus came and stood among them and said, Peace be with you … As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, Receive the Holy Spir­it’” (John 20:19- 23). This gift of the Spir­it was, only a few weeks lat­er, to be con­firmed and
rein­forced in the most amaz­ing way in the upper room at Pen­te­cost (Acts 2:1 – 4). And in his Great Com­mis­sion, Jesus sent his apos­tles out to all nations to bap­tize them into the life and pow­er of the Trin­i­ty: Father, Son, and Holy Spir­it. To become a dis­ci­ple of Christ is to become a par­tic­i­pant in the ongo­ing min­istry and work of the Spir­it in this world.

The Avail­abil­i­ty of the Spirit

Just as Jesus lived his life utter­ly immersed in the pres­ence of the Holy Spir­it, so he longs for us to expe­ri­ence a sim­i­lar­ly Spir­it-empow­ered life. But here we run into a ques­tion which for many has become par­a­lyz­ing: How can I receive the Holy Spir­it into my life?

Unfor­tu­nate­ly many well-mean­ing Chris­t­ian folk have con­sid­er­ably mud­died the waters around this ques­tion. In try­ing to describe our expe­ri­ences of the Holy Spir­it (which is often attempt­ing to express the inex­press­ible) we have leaned into the bib­li­cal texts some­what hard­er than we should, and cre­at­ed a com­plex and impen­e­tra­ble the­o­log­i­cal for­est with­in which oth­ers have lost them­selves in despair. We have dis­put­ed the dis­tinc­tion between being filled” with the Spir­it or bap­tized” in the Spir­it. We have insist­ed on cer­tain signs of the Spirit’s pres­ence: the gift of tongues, or falling to the floor under the Spirit’s influ­ence, or shak­ing and trem­bling. We have fine-tuned def­i­n­i­tions of each of the spir­i­tu­al gifts draw­ing on the scant­i­est evi­dence from the New Tes­ta­ment itself. And we have been depress­ing­ly quick to den­i­grate those whose under­stand­ing dif­fers in even the small­est aspect from our own.

It might be valu­able, then, to step back for a moment and turn back to Jesus in the Gospels as we ask again: How can I receive the Holy Spir­it into my life? You see, it turns out that Christ’s answer is sur­pris­ing­ly sim­ple, straight­for­ward, and direct.

Ask.

That’s it: noth­ing more eso­teric or com­plex than sim­ply ask­ing. Jesus speaks very plain­ly of the avail­abil­i­ty of the Holy Spir­it in Luke’s gospel:

Ask, and it will be giv­en you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For every­one who asks receives, and every­one who search­es finds, and for every­one who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there any­one among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scor­pi­on? If you, then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your chil­dren, how much more will the heav­en­ly Father give the Holy Spir­it to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:9 – 13, empha­sis added).

And as he invites us sim­ply to ask God for the gift of the Holy Spir­it, Jesus also reminds us of some­thing vital­ly impor­tant: God is safe. If we ask God to give us the gift of the Spir­it, we can­not know what will result. How will we be touched and changed? How will our lives be affect­ed? Will the Spir­it come qui­et­ly, like the gen­tle whis­per heard by Eli­jah on the moun­tain, or dra­mat­i­cal­ly like at Pen­te­cost? What gifts will the Spir­it bring, and what will he call us to be and do? We have no way of know­ing, no way of con­trol­ling the Spir­it or deter­min­ing how the Spir­it will deal with us. But this we do know: God can be trust­ed. Our heav­en­ly Father loves us more than we can ever imag­ine, and will only ever give us what is good, what will bring heal­ing and whole­ness into our lives. What­ev­er the Spir­it brings into our lives — how­ev­er unex­pect­ed, how­ev­er uncom­fort­able — we can be sure it will be good.

In ask­ing for the gift of the Spir­it, though, we should be very clear that we are not imply­ing that the Holy Spir­it is not already present to us, already at work in our lives. The New Tes­ta­ment is very clear: the Holy Spir­it is the gift of God to all who believe. As Richard Fos­ter is fond of say­ing, There are no non-charis­mat­ic’ Chris­tians.” Paul writes in 1 Corinthi­ans 3:16, Do you not know that you are God’s tem­ple and that God’s Spir­it dwells in you?” As else­where in his let­ters, Paul shows no sign of equiv­o­ca­tion here; there is no indi­ca­tion that there are two class­es of Chris­t­ian, those who have the Spir­it and those who do not. When we come to faith, when we are joined to Christ, when we respond to Christ’s call on our lives, the Spir­it is giv­en to us as the seal of God’s love and redemp­tion. You, who fol­low Christ, already have the gift of God’s Spirit.

And yet Jesus invites us to ask for the Spir­it. It seems to me that we are being encour­aged, not to ask for the absent Spir­it to come, but for the present Spir­it to come more com­plete­ly. We are seek­ing a deep­er and rich­er expe­ri­ence of the Holy Spir­it. I have many peo­ple who are already in my life: friends, col­leagues, fam­i­ly. Some of these peo­ple I care for very deeply, and I want a fuller and stronger rela­tion­ship with them. So I ask for them, I seek them, I knock at their door. I ask them for more of their time, their sto­ry, their mem­o­ries, their thoughts, their feel­ings, their life.

So it is, I believe, with the Spir­it. The Holy Spir­it is already present to us, but often as a stranger, or at most a dis­tant friend. I think Jesus encour­ages us to ask for more than this. If you, like me, are more at home” in some of the oth­er Ren­o­varé tra­di­tions, and are seek­ing to take a few ten­ta­tive steps into expe­ri­enc­ing the Spir­it-empow­ered life, I would encour­age you to begin in prayer, sim­ply by ask­ing the Spir­it to come more ful­ly into your life. Don’t come seek­ing the gifts, nor the vivid spir­i­tu­al expe­ri­ences. Don’t come hop­ing for an emo­tion­al rush, or a spec­tac­u­lar mir­a­cle. Seek instead just the com­pan­ion­ship of God’s Spir­it. Ask to be drawn more deeply into his life, his thought, his feel­ings, his love. Get to know the Holy Spir­it. The exer­cise of the spir­i­tu­al gifts can wait a lit­tle while.

Bear­ing Last­ing Fruit

The key work of the Holy Spir­it in our lives is the form­ing of Christ­like char­ac­ter in us. Paul writes in 2 Corinthi­ans 3:17 – 18: Now the Lord is the Spir­it, and where the Spir­it of the Lord is, there is free­dom. And all of us, with unveiled faces, see­ing the glo­ry of the Lord as though reflect­ed in a mir­ror, are being trans­formed into the same image from one degree of glo­ry to anoth­er; for this comes from the Lord, the Spir­it.” Paul seems inten­tion­al­ly to blur the dis­tinc­tion between Jesus and the Holy Spir­it as he affirms the role the Spir­it plays in trans­form­ing us, step by step, into the like­ness of Christ.

We see this same pur­pose thread­ed through the teach­ing of Jesus about the work of the Holy Spir­it amongst his dis­ci­ples. He pro­claimed that it is because the Spir­it was upon him that he brought good news to the poor and pro­claimed release to cap­tives (Luke 4:18). When he dis­cov­ered that his dis­ci­ples had the humil­i­ty of heart to grasp the idea of the upside­down king­dom in which spir­i­tu­al pover­ty is wealth and to lose ones life is to gain it, he rejoiced in the Holy Spir­it” (Luke 10:21). See­ing their thirst for inti­ma­cy with God, he encour­aged them to come to him and drink, offer­ing them water that would sat­is­fy that thirst eter­nal­ly; John com­ments that he said this about the Spir­it, which believ­ers in him were to receive” (John 7:39). At the Last Sup­per, he promised that the Spir­it would come and guide you into all the truth” (John 16:13). Over and again we see that the Spir­it leads the dis­ci­ples more deeply into Christ­like life: cul­ti­vat­ing com­pas­sion, deep­en­ing humil­i­ty, draw­ing them into inti­ma­cy with God, and strength­en­ing their under­stand­ing of the truth.

We often remind our­selves of this, of course, teach­ing that although the gifts of the Spir­it are to be wel­comed and exer­cised it is the fruit of the Spir­it which real­ly mat­ters: love, joy, peace, patience, kind­ness, gen­eros­i­ty, faith­ful­ness, gen­tle­ness, and self-con­trol” (Gala­tians 6:22 – 23). But at the same time we often seem to for­get just how fruit is grown. It is easy to fall into the trap of think­ing that these Christ­like char­ac­ter­is­tics are qual­i­ties we have to man­u­fac­ture with­in our­selves, the gifts we will cre­ate and offer back to the Spir­it for his approval. How can I be more lov­ing?,” we ask our­selves. In what ways can I be peace­ful? What would patience look like in my life? How will I show kindness?”

But this is to for­get the nature of fruit. A tree can­not decide to grow fruit through its own efforts. It will not pro­duce bet­ter fruit — in fact, it will not pro­duce fruit at all — sim­ply by con­cen­trat­ing hard and will­ing fruit to grow. Instead, the tree sim­ply has to root itself in good soil and fresh water … and fruit will grow nat­u­ral­ly. It is the same for us. Like the wise dis­ci­ple in Psalm 1, we need to plant our­selves beside the fresh flow­ing streams of the Spir­it, drink­ing in his pres­ence and life, and allow the fruit of Christ­like char­ac­ter to grow nat­u­ral­ly in us.

What might that look like? Imag­ine this scene: it’s ear­ly evening, and a man is arriv­ing home tired from work. The house is in uproar. The eldest son is prepar­ing din­ner mess­i­ly and slow­ly, while the younger kids are run­ning around yelling and throw­ing cush­ions around the liv­ing room. Their moth­er has just got off a long phone call to a friend whose mar­riage is falling apart, and is hur­ry­ing to be ready to go out to the soup kitchen where she vol­un­teers on Wednes­days. The mail sits on the table; a final demand is con­spic­u­ous on top of the pile. We might be tempt­ed to ask: how can the hus­band show kind­ness and patience? How could the chil­dren be more lov­ing? How might the wife express joy and self-con­trol? But we know very well that ask­ing them to show such char­ac­ter under stress may well be ask­ing for a miracle …!

What if, instead, we were sim­ply to ask for a mir­a­cle? Per­haps the hus­band might pause just long enough to pray: Spir­it of God, I don’t have it in me to be Christ­like here this evening. But I know you are here some­where. I know you dwell in me. Where are you, Lord? Help me be atten­tive to you, and open to your grace.” And with that prayer, he plunges in. It may change every­thing. It may not. But if he (or his wife, or his chil­dren) slow­ly devel­op the habit of pray­ing that way, over time they will immerse them­selves less in the tur­moil of stress and emo­tion, and more into the pres­ence of the Spir­it in their midst. And the result is fruit— fruit slow­ly grown, to be sure, but fruit nonethe­less. It won’t hap­pen overnight, but it will hap­pen. Peace, love, joy, and the rest, will begin to flour­ish. The Spir­it will bring about a miracle.

The Eter­nal Gift

But what about the real” mir­a­cles? What about the spir­i­tu­al gifts — the heal­ings, the prophe­cies, the words of pow­er and knowl­edge, the signs and won­ders? Cer­tain­ly these are part of the Church’s expe­ri­ence of life in the Spir­it, although they seem to be more evi­dent in some church­es than oth­ers, and in some peri­ods of Church his­to­ry than oth­ers. As Jesus remind­ed us, the wind [and the Spir­it — the word is the same in Greek] blows where it choos­es” (John 3:8). Sad­ly we don’t have the space to ful­ly explore such mirac­u­lous gifts here, about which (for­tu­nate­ly) oth­ers have writ­ten at tremen­dous length, and with such expertise.

But we can remind our­selves that behind every spir­i­tu­al gift — the astound­ing and mirac­u­lous gifts, and the less dra­mat­ic gifts such as teach­ing, preach­ing, admin­is­tra­tion, com­pas­sion­ate care of oth­ers — lies a greater and eter­nal gift, the one gift which above all the Spir­it seeks to give: love. One of the most strik­ing aspects of the way the Spir­it gives gifts to God’s peo­ple is that the spir­i­tu­al gifts are always giv­en in order to be giv­en again. If the Holy Spir­it wish­es to give a gift of heal­ing, he rarely gives it to the one suf­fer­ing from ill­ness or dis­abil­i­ty. The Spir­it gives the gift of heal­ing to anoth­er, so that oth­er will have the oppor­tu­ni­ty to show love to the one who suf­fers. And so it is with almost every gift: God gives prophe­cy to one to share with all; he gives insight to this woman to help her coun­sel this man; he gives wis­dom to a child to enrich an adult.

Behind this lies God’s great pas­sion: giv­ing us ever more oppor­tu­ni­ties to grow in love for him and for one anoth­er. And this, in the end, is the tru­ly Spir­it-empow­ered life: the life immersed in love, grow­ing in love, ever more deeply root­ed in love. I real­ized, many years lat­er, that the tru­ly mirac­u­lous moment at that Chris­t­ian heal­ing con­fer­ence was not when one woman clear­ly iden­ti­fied the ill­ness of anoth­er. It was the moment when the speak­er very wise­ly said to them, Per­haps you need to pray togeth­er.” He under­stood very well that love, not mir­a­cles, was the Spirit’s pur­pose. It wasn’t about won­ders and mar­vels. God longs above all for us to be formed togeth­er into the lov­ing char­ac­ter of Christ. It was all about becom­ing like Jesus.

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Originally published December 2010