The Holy Spirit
God the eternal Spirit was active with the Father and the Son in Creation, incarnation and redemption. He is as much a person as are the Father and the Son. He inspired the writers of Scripture. He filled Christ’s life with power. He draws and convicts human beings; and those who respond He renews and transforms into the image of God. Sent by the Father and the Son to be always with His children, He extends spiritual gifts to the church, empowers it to bear witness to Christ, and in harmony with the Scriptures leads it into all truth. (Genesis 1:1,2; 2 Samuel 23:2; Psalm 51:11; Isaiah 61:1; Luke 1:35; 4:18; John 14:16-18, 26; 15:26; 16:7-13; Acts 1:8; 5:3; 10:38; Romans 5:5; 1 Corinthians 12:7-11; 2 Corinthians 3:18; 2 Peter 1:21.)
When I graduated from Avondale several years ago and became an intern pastor, I was 23, idealistic and convinced I could change the world.
Sound familiar? Assigned to a large church in beautiful New Zealand, I charged in headlong, sure of myself and excited for what lay ahead.
However, I was in for a rude awakening. I soon learned that not everyone in my new church resonated with my passion and (shockingly) not every great idea that came from my frenetic mind was met with enthusiastic applause. Looking back, I cringe at some of the mistakes I made. However, I’m also incredibly grateful for the learning that took place. Through that season, I had to confront a lot about myself: my biases, my shortcomings and areas in my life that needed improvement. At times I felt like Israel being shaped through the Refiner’s fire (Isaiah 48). It was also during that time that I came face-to-face with one of my greatest fears: mediocrity.
Some people are afraid of spiders. Some, the dark. Others are terrified of heights. I’m afraid of mediocrity. While that might sound strange, I’m betting that, deep down you are, too. Don’t get me wrong; mediocrity isn’t a death sentence, nor will it keep you out of heaven. Mediocrity is, however, a one-way ticket to missing out on the big, wide-open life God has planned for you.
We’ve all had dreams. Whether it was the dream of the perfect job, perfect spouse or perfect house. Many of us have dreamed of changing the world. I certainly did! But, like me, perhaps you’ve also been disappointed. The dream fell on deaf ears. The funding didn’t come. Rather than eagerness, it was met with criticism. When that happens, maybe like me, you were tempted to give up on the dream and settle for mediocrity.
The reason why mediocrity is one of my greatest fears is because of both its allure and its horror. It’s easier to play it safe. It’s much more attractive in the short-term to live without risk. Such a way of living is free from a lot of the pain associated with risk, challenge and the potential for failure. And yet, mediocrity neither motivates nor inspires. As Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote, “mediocrity knows nothing higher than itself”. I believe that the human heart, made in the image of God, rails against mediocrity. I believe that under the surface still lives a longing of what could be and should be. For many of us, the dream isn’t dead; it’s still there, but it’s fighting for breath.
In his book Hero Maker, author Dave Ferguson makes an audacious claim: “Take your current dream for your church and multiply it by one million.”1 It seems ludicrous, doesn’t it? It certainly doesn’t sound very biblical. It sounds more like an excerpt from a self-help book. And yet, this idea doesn’t originate from Tony Robbins, but from Scripture.
“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever!” (Ephesians 3.20, 21, NIV).
“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more . . .” That’s a bold assertion. It’s idealistic; impossible, even. And yet, I’m guessing most of us would accept it far more readily than Dave Ferguson’s claim. After all, it’s in the Bible so it has to be true, right? But do we actually believe it? Do we believe that the potential God has placed in our hearts is greater than anything we could ever dream of or imagine? Do we believe that what God has planned for our lives is greater than the plans we’ve made? If you had told William Miller in the 1830s that his small Advent movement would go on to spawn a church with a combined worldwide membership of more than 21 million people, I wonder what he would have said? When we consider movements that change the world, we must consider the unlikeliness of their success. Why did these dreams flourish, where others floundered? [pullquote]
I believe there is no “silver bullet”; no sure-guarantee for success, bar one: The Holy Spirit. Holy Spirit anointing is the antidote to mediocrity and the key to living the wide-open life God has called us to live. He is the One who dares us to try God and see what He can do with our small gift, our small talent, our small dream. As Dave Ferguson says, we all need to “think big . . . see the scale of God’s dream and realise, ‘There is far more that God wants me to do than I can do all by myself.’”2 No excuses! No exemptions!
Journeying through the pain and frustration of disappointment has taught me many valuable lessons, but I thank God that it hasn’t killed my hope and enthusiasm. Just the opposite, in fact: it has enlarged them! Having said that, disappointment has changed the way I think about my dreams. It’s easy to conflate my dream with God’s dream. It’s tempting to think of the Holy Spirit as a magical power source whom we must invoke in order to achieve our dreams and our desires. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. Rather than asking whether the Holy Spirit is on our side, perhaps instead we need to ask if we are on His side.
After all, the Spirit’s primary mission is the advancement of the kingdom of heaven on earth. When Jesus said to His disciples, “I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works . . .”3 I believe He was telling the truth. Wherever the Spirit of God is made manifest, there too is the kingdom established.
In my ministry I have had to ask hard questions: are my dreams building God’s kingdom or my own? Do my dreams elevate Jesus or elevate me? I believe that when we humble ourselves and say, “not my will, but thy will be done”, the Holy Spirit blesses and enlarges us.
I believe that when we devote ourselves to seeing heaven come on earth, the Spirit grows our vision, our hope and our hunger to see more people transformed into followers of Jesus. Too many of us (I place myself in this camp) have become enamoured with growing our own kingdom, and in doing so, have missed out on what the Spirit wants to do in our lives to grow the kingdom of heaven.
If I could offer one final challenge, it would be this: who is the Holy Spirit to you? There are numerous roles He fulfils: Comforter, Conscience, Gift-giver, Guide and Illuminator of truth.
However, as we see from the life of Jesus and the explosion of the early church, He is also our Source. He fills our lives with power if we let Him; the power to proclaim the name of Jesus and expand the borders of the kingdom through preaching, discipleship and the arts (to name a few methods). He confronts the temptation for mediocrity and reminds us that though fallen, we are sons and daughters of God. We are seated in heavenly places and we were created for more than the mundane; we have eternity in our hearts.
So ask for the Holy Spirit daily. Don’t depend on your own flesh, but on the power that He gives so generously.
May you live with confidence, speak truthfully and love wholeheartedly. May the Holy Spirit use you in a mighty way to lead people to Jesus, make disciples and transform your community. And may Jesus come soon!
Jesse Herford is a pastor in Palmerston North, New Zealand.