I’ve really been enjoying talking about the Spirit as part of theology class the past couple of weeks.
One of the biggest challenges I’ve found in looking at the Spirit as part of the trinity has been…
‘How do we talk about the Spirit in church?’. It seems this is a bigger issue that you might think!
As we saw in class, the Biblical testimony about the Spirit is that he always points to Jesus. He’s even referred to on a couple of occasions as ‘the Spirit of Christ’ or ‘the Spirit of Jesus’. The Spirit is involved in the unity of the body of Christ, making Jesus known, transforming Christians to be like Jesus and working in the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus. Of course he is at work in creation and the new creation as well, but even that has its centre in Christ.
In other words, the Spirit is not the Lone Ranger. Perhaps he’s more like Tonto (or is that just really unhelpful? …maybe).
JI Packer says, perhaps more helpfully, that the Spirit works like a Floodlight, always lighting up Jesus so that people can see him, while not bringing attention to himself. John 16:12-15 certainly is evidence for that.
So with all that in mind, what sort of language is helpful to use about the Spirit in church, and even in our own personal devotional times? There is not one verse (to my knowledge) that talks about praying to the Spirit. Also never are we told to worship the spirit. In fact in Revelation we see worship of the Father and of the Lamb, but no mention of worshipping the Spirit.
So I don’t think there is anything wrong with praying to the Spirit (maybe Romans 8:26 may be helpful) or worshipping the Spirit (after all a divine part of the Godhead), but what language should be used in general?
In class I suggested that on reflection of all this, that thanksgiving to God might be the right approach. At the end of this lecture I felt full of thanks to God for the gift of the Spirit. So in liturgy and song, maybe when we want to talk about the Spirit, perhaps thanksgiving might be the most appropriate format?
Evangelical churches are often suspicious of ‘Spirit’ language in church, which I think is sad. It seems to me that the emphasis should always be Jesus, but we must work harder at figuring out what are good ways that we can acknowledge the Spirit as being fully God and his work amongst as being of the utmost importance.
In my last post I suggested a new way of praying to avoid shallow, individualistic prayers. But then it got me thinking, how can we still pray for our own needs, desires and problems, but in a good way? Is there a way of making ‘Lord please give me a better job’ or ‘Please help me with my finances’ into prayers that glorify God and aimed at furthering his kingdom?
Charlie Fletcher, the new head of the Global Missions learning stream at Ridley College, and recent missionary to Mexico, preached at chapel on Tuesday morning and answered my question perfectly. He preached on Psalm 67 which starts with:
1May God be gracious to us and bless us
and make his face to shine upon us,
2that your way may be known on earth,
your saving power among all nations.
Charlie showed us from this passage how our prayers for God’s blessing on our lives can be put into the context of God’s global mission. He used an example from his own life of renting a new house. His prayer for a new house could quite easily have been ‘God, please give me a new house’. But this prayer is transformed by this Psalm, and becomes ‘God, please give me a new house, so that I might use it for hospitality, which might be a blessing to others, which might help to grow your kingdom.’
So in small groups, as well as in our personal prayer lives, we can pray big, global prayers for the world, mission, the Church, and social justice, but we can also pray for the little or big things in our lives while still keeping in mind the Big Picture of God’s kingdom purposes.
Do you ever find that your Connect Group prayer sessions often end up starting with these sorts of prayer points?
“I’ve got an exam coming up…”
“I’m struggling with finances…”
“I’ve got a job interivew…”
Now don’t get me wrong. Got wants us to pray about things like this. Absolutely. But should we spend so much time praying about personal needs and struggles when we come together?
Last week in our small group we had a quick look at how Paul prays for the Christians in Philippi in Philippians 1.
1. He prays that their love might increase (vs. 9)
2. He prays that their love might lead to greater knowledge and insight (vs. 10a)
3. He prays that they might remain pure and blameless until the day of Christ (vs. 10b)
4. He prays that they might be filled with the fruit of righteousness – that is, that they might conduct themselves with holiness (vs. 11)
Paul’s prayers center on what he knows is truly important. He has his priorities in order. What good is a high mark on an exam if that person is not loving? What good is money without knowledge and insight? What good is a non-stressful life without the fruits of righteousness?
I don’t think that Paul does not care about the individual needs of his brothers and sisters in Philippi. I think that he cares greatly for each other them. However, his own spiritual walk has taught him what is truly important, and so he prays accordingly.
Myself and my co-leader have decided to briefly visit a different ‘Paul Prayer’ every so often in order to remind our group to get their priorities right.
What does your group pray for?
Do you have a certain way of praying?
*A brilliant book on this is Don Carson’s ‘A Call to Spiritual Reformation’ (Baker, 2002).