Are You Doing Someone Else’s Quiet Time?

This is the second post in a five-part series on the problems with keeping a personal, daily “quiet time.”

We started doing something at my church recently that I think is incredibly important.

No, not that.

No, not that.

We enhanced our process for new members, not by adding more prerequisites to being one, but by inviting them to a carefully designed gathering in which we encourage them to recognize how their individuality should influence where and how they get involved in the church.

Some people know how to say no. But many others do not, and when ministers and lay leaders start getting desperate to fill spots in their volunteer base, we’re rarely concerned with whether or not someone is particularly gifted for those jobs.

"It's okay if you can't sing. We usually just move our lips while the tech guys play something from Hillsong."

“It’s okay if you can’t sing. We usually just move our lips while the tech guys play something from Hillsong.”

Unfortunately, that’s no way to find fulfillment as a church member. To be a disciple of Jesus means to surrender our lives in worship and service of our Savior. But it does not mean we are supposed to conform to one particular way of living out our devotion. God designed you in a unique way, with a compilation of emotions, inclinations, abilities, and interests that are all your own. Why would he want you to neglect this design plan in your relationship with him? If you want to be unhappy in your church, serve on a committee or in a ministry that does not utilize your gifts or jive with your personality.

The same is true for your method of quiet time with God.

When people come to me for advice because they feel dissatisfied or frustrated with their walk with Christ, the first question I ask is, “Are you attempting anything that isn’t you?”

"Well, Jim, for starters, it says here this translation is in the Transylvanian Saxon dialect of Romania, and you've never even traveled outside of Indiana."

“Well, Jim, for starters, it says here this translation is in the Transylvanian Saxon dialect of Romania, and you’ve never even traveled outside of Indiana.”

It took a long time for me to accept this as truth, but after years of discontent with the traditional quiet time formula handed down to me by my Sunday School teachers and youth camp counselors, I finally realized that what bothered me most was that the method didn’t stimulate my heart and mind according to the unique way God made me.

We’re all wired in a one-of-a-kind way. Sure, there are common practices and activities that the majority of us enjoy, and there are also common disciplines every Christian is expected to engage, but God is well aware that no two people are exactly alike. He designed us that way. We have differing personalities, our minds develop differently and at a variety of paces and speeds, and some things that interest you will never fascinate me. Moreover, we also grasp concepts in diverse ways, according to different stimuli, and a particular truth might not resonate with me at the same time or in the same way that it does with you, based on the variety of emotions, passions, and experiences we bring to the table.

Now, let’s take the truth about individuality to its logical conclusion. If it is true that God uniquely creates each person, then it is also true that every relationship between two people is also unique.

Checkmate.

Checkmate.

Anybody who has read a book on relationships can tell you that while some advice might have been helpful to his or her own relationship, not everything in the book was applicable. That’s because there is no perfect formula to a successful relationship. A relationship is not a binding contract; it’s a decision of intimacy between two individuals who, whether they are aware of it or not, bring their own ideas, ambitions, ideals and temptations into play. A healthy, successful relationship is an intentional and careful commitment to interact with each other’s idiosyncrasies, rather than denying their influence.

For example, my wife and I have a relationship that is unique to us. One of the things we’re still learning but know is important is not to force one another to speak or act in a way that is contrary to our designs. This doesn’t mean we don’t strive to connect with one another, nor does it mean I don’t adopt certain behaviors that support my wife and give her pleasure. However, pretending to be someone I am not is no good for Leigh, and vice versa.

How many times do I have to tell her that doing the dishes isn't my spiritual gift?

How many times do I have to tell her that doing the dishes isn’t my spiritual gift?

Now, if a quiet time is what a Christian does in order to experience a vibrant, intimate, and healthy relationship with God, then it stands to reason that conforming to a certain way of thinking, reading, and praying might not be the most beneficial way to deepen or strengthen that relationship. Just because God is a constant in the equation doesn’t mean each Christian must commune with him the exact same way. One of the most well-known statements of the late Brennan Manning’s is, “God loves you as you are, not as you should be, for no one is as they should be.” If I believe this, then the last thing I would want to do is pretend to be someone I am not in my relationship with God.

I love the looks on people’s faces when I suggest that, given their individual passions and interests, they might consider a solitary hike in the woods to be their quiet time, or gardening, writing poetry, even preparing a meal. Sure, the reading of Scripture is important and should not be neglected, but God is able to move in a million more ways than the standard methods so many of us so often conform to. Rather than slog through a formula that squelches your individuality, why not seek out the methods that stimulate your own peculiar composition?

As we continue in this series, I will cover the biggest dangers of conforming to a formula rather than creating one that works with a person’s God-given uniqueness. Above all, we should always remember that a quiet time should awake one’s soul, not burden it.

Is There Something Wrong with Your Quiet Time?

In a post dated August 5th, I promised to expound on the misconceptions of “quiet times.” This follow-up grew so lengthy that I feared it would put off even the most dogged of blog readers. I decided to break it down into five smaller posts, each detailing a major problem with keeping a traditional, daily quiet time. Here is the first installment of this series. 

young man reading small bible

A daily “quiet time” isn’t biblical.

Please don’t get me wrong – spending time with God is totally biblical. The Bible is filled to the brim with examples of people who intentionally spent time in prayer and individual worship, not to mention reflection influenced by the scriptures. However, at no point in the Old or New Testaments is there a clearly described plan for what we in the Church today refer to as a “daily devotion” or “quiet time.”

Though this is totally on the level! (he said with heavy sarcasm).

Though this is totally on the level! (he said with heavy sarcasm).

Now, when I refer to keeping a personal Bible study and prayer time, I am referring to a genuine desire to spend time with the Creator and invite his Spirit to transform your life, bit by bit, inch by inch. If, however, you are the kind of person who keeps a quiet time out of obligation and cold compliance, it is safe to say you’ve already got the whole endeavor backwards. (More on that in a later post…)

So, how dare I insinuate that a daily quiet time isn’t biblical?

It’s not to argue against the value of a quiet time, but rather to dispel the myth that keeping one is an explicit command found in Scripture.

"Commandment 11: Thou shalt give Oswald Chambers's MY UTMOST FOR HIS HIGHEST to every graduating high school senior..."

“Commandment 11: Thou shalt give Oswald Chambers’s MY UTMOST FOR HIS HIGHEST to every graduating high school senior…”

First of all, let’s look at the individual parts of a standard quiet time. (I am going off of the allegedly tried-and-true formula passed down to me by many a Sunday School teacher and youth camp leader when I was growing up).

  • Bible study – Let’s ignore the fact that the closest thing ancient and first-century Jews had to devotional books was Rabbinic midrash; it would have been nearly impossible for common folk living in either testament’s time to engage in personal Bible study as we know it today. While we have evidence that portions of the Oral Tradition was written down as early as the second millennia B.C., it wasn’t like these writings were available to common folk. Thus, the Jewish people are reminded many times in the Pentateuch that Scripture (specifically the words and acts of God to his people) was not something to be studied over time, but intrinsically remembered. Which brings us to the second component…
  • Scripture memorization – This discipline was actually quite prolific. As Judaism developed its educational system, the core curriculum was the memorization of the Torah, and for those who progressed into higher levels of training, it expanded to rote learning of the entire Hebrew Bible. This is one of many aspects of Jesus that is so fascinating. While he showed a phenomenal, interpretative grasp of the scriptures and taught with a level of authority that suggested deep advancement within rabbinical training, he is also derided as a country bumpkin and the son of a blue-collar worker. Given the importance of scripture memorization to the general public back then, my own struggle to commit to memory two measly verses from Ephesians seems pathetic by comparison.
Is that the best you can do, Jimmy Gourd?

Is that the best you can do, Jimmy Gourd?

  • Prayer – The question isn’t whether the people of the Bible prayed, but how many of them compartmentalized their prayer lives into one specific time of day. Not many. For one thing, it was Jewish custom to pray at multiple times during the day, publicly or privately as circumstances dictated. Secondly, we are reminded several times by NT writers that one’s prayer life should be unceasing – that we pray continually throughout the day, rather than in one pre-determined time. This wasn’t a radical new teaching, but simply a return to the kind of faithfulness implied in the Law, the goal of which was deep communion with God.
  • Journaling – Most of us are aware that very, very few biblical heroes had access to writing materials with which they might accomplish this part. A chisel and stone, maybe, but papyrus was pretty hard to come by. Sure, the Jews had been writing things down for centuries, and Peter, Paul and the apostles were able to write letters. But always having a Mead notebook at the ready has been a luxury reserved only for the last century’s worth of Christians. Perhaps this is why Jesus wrote in the dirt – it was readily available.
Rich boy.

Rich boy.

To sum things up, what we find in the Bible is that the children of Israel – and, later, early Christians – are commanded to remember the laws and stories, and to pass them on to future generations. Scripture, therefore, was not just a self-improvement tool, but a living, definitive history that enveloped the nation. Even before it was written down for a select few to access, there was a deeply communal aspect to the receiving of Scripture. This is something I never considered when I used to sit alone in my room trying to come up with modern-day applications from 2nd Chronicles.

So, how does this reality shed light on why and how we engage in a quiet time? Simply that what Scripture encourages is a regularity and an intentionality to a person’s Bible study and prayers. It does not insist on a set pattern. Sure, the ancient Israelites had a very strict set of regulations for temple sacrifice and worship, but those constraints didn’t carry over to the disciplines of prayer and reflection. These balls were left in the court of the worshipper, to not neglect but go about in a humble, authentic manner. This is why we can read the Psalms today and recognize a great variety of expressions to and about God. Because no one was requiring one particular method of devotional articulation.

"You call that a psalm, son?! I only count three metaphors! What would your Uncle Asaph think?"

“You call that a psalm, son?! I only count three metaphors! What would your Uncle Asaph think?”

If you feel your quiet time has lost genuineness – if it has become more about doing something for God rather than being with God – I encourage you to take a lesson from the very scriptures through which you’ve been slogging. When it comes to righteousness, what counts “is faith expressing itself through love” (Gal 5:6). A quiet time is meant to undergird one’s relationship with the Lord. We don’t do it so God is obligated to transform us. We do it so that his Spirit might find our hearts and minds opened to his guidance and provision. It is an expression of loyalty and love, not a set of daily chores.

Having opened this series with what quiet times shouldn’t look like, in my next post I will do my best to consider how they should look. There’s certainly more that needs saying. However, may these words from Frederick Buechner be a point of reflection in the meantime:

Be importunate, Jesus says – not, one assumes, because you have to beat a path to God’s door before he’ll open it, but because until you beat the path maybe there’s no way of getting to your door… because the one thing you can be sure of is that down the path you beat with even your most half-cocked and halting prayer the God you call upon will finally come, and even if he does not bring you the answer you want, he will bring you himself.

On Quiet Times

I am a morning person.

That term is often used to describe someone who can wake up at some ungodly hour as alert as a fighter pilot passing through enemy airspace. Someone who doesn’t need even a hint of daylight to begin his or her day. This is not what I mean when I say that I am a morning person. Pulling away from the embrace of sleep and actually putting feet to cold floor does not fill me with positivity. The cold water I splash on my face in the bathroom is not the symbolic christening of a new day, but a necessary dousing for my senses to reactivate, like smelling salts under a boxer’s broken nose. I brew my first cup of coffee with a kind of desperation – the Keurig is never slower than at 6 AM.

No, I am not a morning person because I have no problem waking up early. I am a morning person because I recognize the value of the early morning hours. As a father of pre-schoolers, there are precious few stretches of silence in my house, and the ones that come after evening bedtimes find mine and my wife’s collective strength sapped. I have hardly enough energy to watch an entire Dateline episode or read more than a single chapter of a novel.

Shows like this are more compelling when you're brain is already half asleep.

Shows like this are more compelling when your brain is already half asleep.

So, despite the difficulty, every weekday I rise earlier than the rest of my family. I stagger down the hall to the kitchen, clumsily trying to avoid the creakiest of the floorboards, and hold a yawn so pronounced that most of my coffee brews before it dies away. Then I pick up my coffee, my laptop, my Bible, and whatever book on theology I’m currently working my way through, and I tip-toe to the living room. There, on the sofa under the lamp, I have my “quiet time.”

Growing up in an evangelical church, I heard that term a lot – quiet time. While there is no specific mention of the concept in Scripture, I was taught that, above all things, the obedient Christian is one who keeps a daily quiet time.

And the über-spiritual take it to the next level.

And the über-spiritual take it to the next level.

If you grew up in the Church, too, chances are you’ve heard the importance of something like this expressed. Most of the teachers I had in my youth not only encouraged the keeping of a quiet time, but they usually offered a formula for what one looked like. A quiet time, they said, consisted of the following:

  1. prayer, not only for myself but also for a list of other people (and a good Christian always kept a list)
  2. reading the Bible – either a Psalm or a Gospel story or a portion of a letter – with or without the aid of a devotional book (until you graduated to concordances and commentaries and thus added the spiritual discipline of cross-referencing into your quiet times)
  3. journaling, in which you muse on the intersections of life and Scripture, or perhaps write out your prayers (before Facebook and Tumblr suggested we share those thoughts and prayers with everyone everyday).

I spent years trying to make this formula work for me. I was white-knuckling it, trying to force an enlightenment that I was told was the natural product of keeping this practice faithfully.

It didn’t occur to me until much later that, just like the Sabbath, a quiet time was made for the person, not a person for the quiet time.

That awkward moment when you're unsure whether or not you just read something heretical.

That awkward moment when you’re unsure whether or not you just read something heretical.

It took years of student ministry for me to realize this, but after dozens of conversations with frustrated young people, I finally wised up. My heart went out to them, because they were struggling with the same deep sense of guilt that I struggled with, all because they had missed a day here and a week there, or because after months of forcing the formula, they felt very little difference in their spirits. Not only were they result-biased, but the drudgery of keeping the formula had cultivated an aversion to both prayer and Bible study within them. They were sick of it, but stopping meant conceding it was all for nothing.

"I bought my journals in bulk. I can't just stop!"

“I bought my journals in bulk. I can’t just stop!”

Next week, I will explore some of the reasons why people fail at the traditional quiet time formula as often as others succeed. In the meantime, however, let it be known that I have no “better way” to offer in its place.

What I have is what is unique to my own experience, but I think that is part of the truth about “quiet times.” What I have is a steaming cup of coffee, a laptop, a Bible, and a whatever book on theology I’m currently reading. What I have is a silent house and a sofa and a lamp. What I have is a physical body that is not ready to wake up, but a spirit that is eager to be awakened. So I do what I can for it – I read a short passage of Scripture, and part of a chapter on theology, and then I turn on my laptop. I work on the same old novel, or on a short story, because telling those stories engages my spirit more than any journal entry ever did. And after showering and dressing, packing my bag and heading off to work, I realize that I am happy, that God wants me to be happy, and that he has made me a certain way, with particular interests and energies, none of which should ever be formulated or templated for anyone else.

In the car, I breathe out prayers of thankfulness. I thank God that his mercies are not carrot-and-stick. I thank him that I have been remade – a new creation he sees and declares to be good. I thank him that there is no such thing as an ungodly hour.

All the Answers

For The Ink Well Creative Community

Word: Unexplained
Parameters: Write for 15 minutes without stopping

Warnings-in-The-Bible-Read-Me-

“The Bible has all the answers.”

Surely you’ve heard this folk saying before, whether stated confidently by someone who actually believes it, or sarcastically by someone who might once have believed it but no longer does because when he or she finally brought a question to the book, nothing in its pages seemed relevant.

Often, when you encounter people of the second group, you learn that they have laid aside their trust in “an ancient book full of superstitions” in favor of science or reason or rationalism or humanism or methodological naturalism. In other words, what they’ve set aside is any form of mysticism. Whether because it failed them in the past, or because it never seemed a viable option in the first place, they are not comfortable with any knowledge that is apprehended outside of the intellect.

This, of course, is perfectly understandable. In the absence of cold, hard facts (though why facts must be “cold” and “hard,” I’ve never understood), having faith in something will always mean holding hands with doubt and uncertainty. Some people would rather avoid the feeling. Certainty is a matter of the will, and if it can’t always be effected, it can at least be feigned.

I’ve talked with people who’ve told me, among other things, that they don’t like how the Bible addresses the formation of our planet and the rest of the cosmos. They claim that if there really was a divine being behind its creation, then certainly the Bible would include more details. But, instead, there’s just a short poem that scientific research has already proven to be inaccurate.

Sometimes, I ask them why they can’t have the kind of unwavering faith in God that they seem to have in the scientific method.

They respond by saying that their allegiance to science has nothing to do with faith, but rather with facts. They tell me that science explains mysteries, while religion merely hopes that one day Someone will reveal the purposes of those mysteries.

I don’t ask the questions that come to my mind next, usually because I already sense the conversation has taken a turn for the worse. I’m not sure they’re mindful of it, but I’ve found that when you begin speaking about faith to a person who has cast it aside in favor of reason, you’ve often encountered a point of view that believes the two are mutually exclusive. That faith and reason have no relationship with each other. This, of course, is a fallacy, but in a culture consumed by competition, it is difficult to see past the versus archetype.

But if I could ask them my questions, I would ask them, “Why do we laugh?”

It is one of the questions I took to the scientific method, but found no reasonable explanation. It is a mystery that has yet to be sufficiently answered

I would ask them, “Why are human beings so often kind to each other?”

It is another question I’ve turned to science and reason and methodological naturalism to explain to me, but the only answer they can give is a shrug of the shoulders and the words, “We shouldn’t be.”

The Bible doesn’t explain these questions either – at least not in the way a rationalist would appreciate – but that is the point. Such fundamental elements of human existence remain unexplained. They remain mysteries. And even if someone rejects mysticism, he or she cannot fully escape mystery. Sure, perhaps one day the scientific method will finally reveal the reason why human beings laugh, or why we offer kindness to others even when no personal benefit comes of it. After all, science has shown a great track record for discovery.

But amidst these answers, other mysteries remain. Because the two are not polar opposites. They are not at odds, but in relationship with one another.

I don’t know about you, but that thought fills me with joy. I’m not sure why.

Within You

For The Ink Well Creative Community

“You wander from room to room
Hunting for the diamond necklace
That is already around your neck.”
-Rumi

Prompt: Write something in response to the quote.
Parameters: 15 minutes

billboard

They choose a billboard.

Though there is still thirteen years to go, they follow the instructions of their pastor. They put down a deposit and find someone to design the look of it. After this, one of the crews that changes out the facades takes that design, renders it according to the necessary materials, and a few days later the date is displayed for every northbound motorist to see – an intentional eyesore, gaudy in its size and color.

Beneath the date, in smaller letters, they offer a cryptic subject line and provide their website.

And now they wait.

In thirteen years they will fly to Israel. They will bring along suitcases packed solely out of practicality: what do you wear to a Second Coming?

They will do a little sight-seeing first. Who wouldn’t? It’s the Holy Land, after all, and they don’t expect to ever lay eyes on it again. At least not on the way it looks now, all corrupted by non-believers and heretics.

And then, on the determined day announced by the pastor who, in his adamancy, has satiated their hopes for an escape from this corrupt world, they will climb Mount Olivet (as they prefer to call it), pick a nice spot facing the once holy Holy City, and fix their eyes on the vista. They will wait to see it change. To see the clouds do something out of the ordinary. To see Someone split the sky.

And take them home.

And then, once the day ends and that which they have waited thirteen years to see does not unfold, they will look at one another, confused, heartbroken, disillusioned. Some will make concessions, suggesting an innocent glitch in their pastor’s figuring due to time zones or hemispheres. The one who endlessly quotes the Old Testament will suggest that the day the sun stood still, as recorded in the Book of Joshua, could be a reason, and they should stay put one more day to be sure. A few others will feel their hopes – both in deliverance and in the man they have called their pastor – dissolve. The pastor himself will say nothing. Not yet, anyway. Not until he can figure out how to explain himself without losing the bulk of his flock.

They will return to their home country. The deposit will expire. The billboard will revert to the company that owns it, and an advertisement for a truck stop or a local university, or perhaps just one of those “Does Advertising Work? Just Did.” signs will replace their announcement.

And one of them – at least one of them – will turn to her well-worn Bible out of despondency, to the Scriptures she has memorized and manipulated but never respected. On one sunny morning, not long after her return from the Mount, she will sit at her kitchen table, a mug of steaming coffee to her right and a journal and pen to her left, and she will read the words before her with no predetermined agenda. And for the first time in longer than she can remember, the sound of the Savior’s voice will not sound to her like the voice of the old pastor with his curmudgeonly sermons and dire predictions.

Tears will well up, because for the first time in so very long, Jesus will not sound angry or disappointed. He will sound kind. He will sound patient. He will sound like love.

In that moment at the kitchen table with the steaming mug of coffee and the morning light filling the room, he will gently remind her that hoping in his return has nothing to do with predictions and signs and best-laid plans. The escapists and code-breakers and treasure hunters go after such things. “Here it is,” they cry, though they have found nothing at all.

She will pick up the pen and write only seven words in her journal, the shortest entry it has ever received.

“The kingdom of God is within me.”

A Great Wind is Blowing

I’ve been thinking about what it’s like to be guided by the Holy Spirit, and a one-word answer keeps shoving its way into the forefront of my mind.

Windblown.

It took me a while to figure out why that particular word should mean anything. But the other day I got one of those questions pastors often get from church members:

“What’s your favorite story in the Bible?”

Now, most of the time, these questions are posed by the younger members of the church – those in VBS classes or, when they’re not preoccupied with shaving cream shenanigans, the church youth group. I have to say, I appreciate this question more than some related ones like, “What’s your favorite Bible verse?” or “What’s your favorite Psalm?” Here’s the deal: I’ve been going to church all my life, and I’ve been a minister for thirteen years, but, in all honesty, I have never been able to arrive at a favorite verse or Psalm. The former requires selecting one statement out of over 31,100 statements, and anyone who thinks he or she can pull that off with confidence probably hasn’t given equal time to all 31,100 of them. The latter involves ranking incredibly personal and historically poignant prayers that will only hold up until Chris Tomlin or Matt Redman finds a catchy new hook for one you hadn’t cared about up until that point, and then your whole echelon crumbles.

Soundtracking your quiet times since the mid-90's.

Soundtracking your quiet times since the mid-90’s.

But I’m confident in naming my favorite Bible story. Unlike the others, my preference for it seems to endure.

It’s John 20:19-23. You probably know the story. The disciples (most likely referring to the Ten, culled by an absent Thomas and a dead Judas) are back in the upper room featured in chapter 13, and they’ve got the door locked “for fear of the Jews.” In other words, they believe they’re next on the Temple Guard’s list. Now that the Sabbath has ended, perhaps the High Priest will be gunning for them. Perhaps they were also part of Judas’s treacherous deal. Perhaps the reports that the tomb has been robbed will bring centurions to their door. They are disorganized, inhibited, and terrified. Whatever confidence and strength they once possessed was lost in the woods outside Gethsemane.

Into this anxiety-filled room, however, steps Jesus. He is just… there. As flesh and blood as his followers, but somehow no longer bound by pesky hindrances like deadbolts or walls. “Shalom,” he says to them, and then he allows them to inspect him – to climb out from underneath the weight of their doubts and fears and behold that, yes, what the woman from Magdala had told them was indeed true. Their Master is alive!

Pictured here. The disciples' expressions suggest Jesus may not be pulling off the stripes as well as he thought.

Pictured here. However, the disciples’ expressions suggest Jesus may not be pulling off the stripes as well as he thought.

But it is in this moment that the high drama of the scene takes an odd turn, and John includes a detail that at first, second and even third glance does not always stand out to readers.

Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that, he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

He breathed on them? Was that… um… customary? A Jewish thing? Something you did when you blessed someone?

It took me a while to grasp the deeper meaning here, but the mystery started to come together when I looked up “breathed” and discovered that the word in Greek – emphysao – shows up nowhere else in the entire New Testament. However, it is the exact word used by the translators of the Septuagint (the Hebrew-to-Greek translation of the Old Testament by Jewish scholars in the second century BC) when they rendered Genesis 2:7: “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.”

Michelangelo, however, preferred a less intimate, "phone home" interpretation.

Michelangelo, however, preferred a less intimate, “phone home” interpretation.

There’s something deeper than the drama going on in John 20. John – whose narrative resonates on many different levels – isn’t just describing a resurrection appearance and proclaiming the peace that Jesus brings. He is insinuating that what went on in the upper room that day was none other than the beginning of the new creation. The original creation was completed by the breath of God placed into Adam, making him more than what he was – more than an ineffectual clod of dirt. And on the day of his resurrection, Jesus spoke words of peace to his friends and then he breathed on them and said, quite intentionally, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” It was his way of inaugurating a new age – and a new covenant – in which faith in the Risen Savior changes everything.

Funny thing about the word spirit – pneuma in Greek. It can also mean “breath” as well as “wind.” Even funnier thing, so can its Hebrew equivalent, ruach. The Old and New Testament writers, by the way, have all kinds of fun with this wordplay.

For instance, think about the other famous story of the gift of the Holy Spirit, found in Acts 2. How does Luke describe the coming of the Spirit? With the sound of…

Google Image search would like to offer this picture of a person's face being met by "a violent wind."

Google Image search would like to offer this picture of a person’s face being met by “a violent wind.”

According to both the end of John and the entire book of Acts, the mark of a Christian is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit – the Counselor and Teacher Jesus describes earlier in John’s Gospel. The One that would guide the disciples into all truth. It comes to us as if on a breath, unseen, but filling us with a purpose and a conviction we could never produce on our own. Like Adam, we are made more than what we are. Like the disciples, we are transformed from fearful doubters into bold witnesses.

What is it like to be guided by the Holy Spirit? What is John trying to communicate to the Church? What does this mean for us?

Simply that there is a great wind blowing. It is the wind of God, the pneuma of transformation. It cannot be contained, it cannot be stopped, and it brings with it the glory of the new creation.

The Spirit prompts us like a stiff wind at our backs. It is as close to us as the breath we take into our lungs. To be guided by the Spirit is to be transformed into something a little less like ourselves, and little more like the One who created both.