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