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.


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.

Pho­to by Jan Tin­neberg on Unsplash

Text First Published March 2017

📚 The 2022 – 23 Ren­o­varé Book Club

This year’s nine-month, soul-shap­ing jour­ney fea­tures four books, old and new, prayer­ful­ly curat­ed by Ren­o­varé. Now under­way and there’s still time to join.

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