In the third and final session of a recent young adults’ retreat, I tried to move our discussion from the “sacred” to the “secular” by talking about the ways in which communion with God’s Spirit would work in the everyday. A typical stereotype of those who value deep spiritual experiences is that they are rather otherworldly and can fail to take any action in the outside world. Yet, rightly considered, this is not the purpose or direction intended for a life lived in the Spirit.
I think here of Grant Wacker’s landmark study of early Pentecostal belief and practice, Heaven Below. Within, he notes that Spirit-filled believers exhibited both piety and pragmatism in their Christian lives. Piety in the sense that they were deeply attuned to the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives. Pragmatism in that they knew how the world worked and the demands of the present day. They might be up all night at a prayer meeting speaking in tongues…but when 9am came they’d be on time for work.
Though I’m not sure it is what Wacker intends, my personal derivation of this combination of piety and pragmatism is helpful for understanding the role the Holy Spirit ought to play in our daily lives. The powerful experiences that come with God’s presence are therefore to be valued, but not merely by themselves. Instead, they are integral and foundational: by definition, the very base of all we do. Being in communion with God does not keep such experience all for itself in disconnected contemplation, but rather exists in activated Christian living.
I cannot help but think here of the “fruit of Spirit” (Galatians 5: 22-23): love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. I recall the gifts of the Spirit listed in the Scripture, both the profound and seemingly mundane. I recognize as well that these lists need not be exhaustive but are perhaps illustrative of the various ways that God’s Spirit can motivate us and work through us.
Practical Christian living in communion with the Spirit of God that is in Christ means maintaining a heart disciplined to listening and willing to act. It is a Christian life that takes serious the words of Christ in Luke 4 at least as much as the tongues of fire in Acts 2. Perhaps even more.
Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.
He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.
(Luke 4:14-21, NIV)