From: Forgotten God
You might think that calling the Holy Spirit the “forgotten God” is a bit extreme. Maybe you agree that the church has focused too much attention elsewhere but feel it is an exaggeration to say we have forgotten about the Spirit. I don’t think so.
From my perspective, the Holy Spirit is tragically neglected and, for all practical purposes, forgotten. While no evangelical would deny his existence, I’m willing to bet there are millions of churchgoers across America who cannot confidently say they have experienced his presence or action in their lives over the past year. And many of them do not believe they can.
The benchmark of success in church services has become more about attendance than the movement of the Holy Spirit. The “entertainment” model of church was largely adopted in the 1980s and ‘90s, and while it alleviated some of our boredom for a couple of hours a week, it filled our churches with self-focused consumers rather than self-sacrificing servants attuned to the Holy Spirit.
Perhaps we’re too familiar and comfortable with the current state of the church to feel the weight of the problem. But what if you grew up on a desert island with nothing but the Bible to read? Imagine being rescued after twenty years and then attending a typical evangelical church. Chances are you’d be shocked (for a whole lot of reasons, but that is another story). Having read the scriptures outside the context of contemporary church culture, you would be convinced that the Holy Spirit is as essential to a believer’s existence as air is to staying alive. You would know that the Spirit led the first Christians to do unexplainable things, to live lives that didn’t make sense to the culture around them, and ultimately to spread the story of God’s grace around the world.
There is a big gap between what we read in scripture about the Holy Spirit and how most believers and churches operate today. In many modern churches, you would be stunned by the apparent absence of the Spirit in any manifest way. And this, I believe, is the crux of the problem.
If I were Satan and my ultimate goal was to thwart God’s kingdom and purposes, one of my main strategies would be to get churchgoers to ignore the Holy Spirit. The degree to which this has happened (and I would argue that it is a prolific disease in the body of Christ) is directly connected to the dissatisfaction most of us feel with and in the church. We understand something very important is missing. The feeling is so strong that some have run away from the church and God’s Word completely.
I believe that this missing something is actually a missing Someone – namely, the Holy Spirit. Without him, people operate in their own strength and only accomplish human-size results. The world is not moved by love or actions that are of human creation. And the church is not empowered to live differently from any other gathering of people without the Holy Spirit. But when believers live in the power of the Spirit, the evidence in their lives is supernatural. The church cannot help but be different, and the world cannot help but notice.
As I wrote this book, the question that kept burning in my mind was how can any human being write well on the sacred topic of the Holy Spirit of God? No subject intimidates me more, yet I can’t think of anything more essential for God’s church everywhere, and especially in the western hemisphere where it seems that the Holy Spirit is all but missing from most of our churches. I am most definitely writing from a western context, and I know that the body of Christ is vibrant and growing and the Holy Spirit active on continents like Africa, South America, and Asia. I also know that God works uniquely in various places and times, and I do think this explains part of the difference between here and there. However, I also believe that the Spirit is more obviously active in places where people are desperate for him, humbled before him, and not distracted by their pursuit of wealth or comforts (like we are).
The light of the American church is flickering and nearly extinguished, having largely sold out to the kingdoms and values of this world. While most people see that there is a problem, few do anything about it, and most of those who do, run toward the wrong solutions. Instead of speaking meaningfully and insightfully into the culture, we have capitulated and in many cases look no different from the world. I’m not sure if it is a calling or a sense of pure urgency that leads me to write this. Maybe both. The fact is, I don’t have the “right” to write this book, but I believe it is a book that needs to be written, so I have written it, trusting that God will use it for his glory.
The Holy Spirit is absolutely vital to our situation today. Of course, he is always vital; but perhaps especially now. After all, if the Holy Spirit moves, nothing can stop him. If he doesn’t move, we will not produce genuine fruit – no matter how much effort or money we expend. The church becomes irrelevant when it becomes purely a human creation. We are not all we were made to be when everything in our lives and churches can be explained apart from the work and presence of the Spirit of God.
Perhaps it’s not theology we’re missing, but rather theological integrity. Many have the knowledge but lack the courage to admit the discrepancy between what we know and how we live. Hundreds of scholarly theological books have been written on the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, the doctrine of the Trinity, et cetera. This book is not one of those. Obvious, neglected, and crucial are the adjectives I would use to describe the truths I will present.
In the following chapters, I will explore the fundamental knowledge most of us have about the Holy Spirit. We will delve into some key scriptures about the Holy Spirit and look at our own abuses, misconceptions, and even fears of him. By journeying honestly, I hope we can go beyond our current understanding of the Holy Spirit and begin to commune openly – that our experience with him would be day-by-day, even moment-by-moment. That by keeping in step with the Spirit, we might regularly fellowship over what he’s doing rather than what he did months or years ago. We’ll be reminded of the strength and wisdom available to us in the Spirit and earnestly pray for more. As we trust in the promises of the Spirit, we will be led away from discouragement and into lives marked by confidence, power in the midst of our weakness, and the fruit of the Spirit.
My prayer is that your changed life would produce this kind of astonishment: “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.” (Acts 4:13)
Reading this book probably won’t be easy. No matter what religious tradition you come from, you likely carry baggage and harbor stereotypes when it comes to the Holy Spirit. It’s going to require laying aside your baggage and stereotypes so you can be open to what God wants to teach you. Are you willing to do that?
Some of you hear the term Holy Spirit and automatically worry that I am going to get wildly charismatic on you. Others think of extreme conservatives who never acknowledge the Holy Spirit in word or deed and hope I’m not going there. There are a lot of stereotypes (some of which are true) and a lot of abuses, and they don’t come from just one side of this issue.
Some people talk a lot about – even boast of – the Spirit, but their lives do not bear his fruit. Others speak of the Holy Spirit in theoretical or scholarly terms, yet do not experience him at work. Still others ignore him for all practical purposes and, as you might expect, rarely experience relationship or intimacy with the Spirit. And then there is that rare person who doesn’t talk frequently about the Spirt, yet whose life is a powerful display of his presence and activity.
Some of you would like it if I said we were going to find a healthy balance between unhealthy extremes. That’s not what we’re going to do. When we are referring to God, balance is a huge mistake. God is not just one thing we add to the mix called life. He wants an invitation from us to permeate everything and every part of us. In the same way, seeking a “healthy balance” of the Holy Spirit assumes that there are some who have too much Holy Spirit and others who have too little. I have yet to meet anyone with too much Holy Spirit. Granted, I’ve met many who talk about him too much, but none who are actually overfilled with his presence.
Is it possible to get enough or even too much God? Is there a point when a person can be satisfied with the amount of intimacy, knowledge, and power of God he or she experiences? I don’t see how there can be, because doesn’t every encounter with God only cause us to thirst for him more?
Let me be clear. This is not a call to misinformed extremism, but an acknowledgement that as believers we can never be “done” with God. He is infinite and we are finite; there will always be more of his character to discover, more of his love to experience, and more of his power to use for his purposes.
I can’t say exactly what will happen when you admit that you can never fully know or experience enough of the Holy Spirit yet choose to seek him regardless. I know only that when you surrender fully to the Spirit, Christ will be magnified, not you, (John 16:14).
And perhaps the core issue is really about our holding back from giving ourselves to God, rather than our getting “too much” of him. Perhaps when a person says, “I’d just like a little God, thank you very much,” she or he is really saying, “I’d rather not give the parts of my life that I really care about over to God, so I’ll just hold on to this, that, oh, and that, too….”
It doesn’t work that way. When I read scripture, I see the truth and necessity of a life wholly surrendered to and dependent upon the Holy Spirit.
Paul wrote to the Corinthians that his words were not “wise and persuasive” but rather a “demonstration of the Spirit’s power” in order that their faith “might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power,” (1 Corinthians 2:4-5). Later in the same letter he reiterates that “the Kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power.” (v. 4:20)
In most churches today I hear a lot of talk and the façade of human wisdom, but I don’t see much of God’s presence and power. Do you?
I am tired of merely talking about God. I want to see God move through me, through my church, and through the worldwide body of Christ. I know there’s more. We all know there’s more. That’s why I wrote this book – to explore with you how God has called us to more, through the presence and strength of the Holy Spirit.
I refuse to live the remainder of my life where I am right now, stagnating at this point. Don’t get me wrong: God has already done so much in my life, and I am grateful for it. I’m just convinced there’s more. There’s more of the Spirit and more of God than any of us is experiencing. I want to go there – not just intellectually, but in life, with everything that I am.
As we begin this book, may our desire to experience more of the Holy Spirit be our starting point. And may we open our hearts and lives to his presence and action more fully than we have ever done before. By the power and presence of the Holy Spirit, may we be different people when we finish from when we started.