A helper for life

Every Thursday morning, the boys and I go to a group at church – it’s for women of any age, most of us have children of various ages, and there is a lovely student who looks after the toddlers (who love her!) whilst we read a passage from the Bible, discuss what we’ve read, and pray with each other. This term we’ve been looking at the book of Acts (short for Acts of the Apostles – they were Jesus’ first followers), which was written as an account of what happened to Jesus and his followers after He had died and risen from the dead.

The first chapter of the book describes how Jesus stayed with his followers for 40 days after he rose from the dead, then, as they were all eating a meal together, Jesus went back up into heaven. We were discussing in our group how the followers might have felt at this moment; I think I would have felt like a complete emotional wreck – I’d have been through the grief of seeing Him killed, the joy and amazement of seeing him alive again, and now he goes and leaves again by disappearing up into the clouds – what’s that all about?! The followers’ response was to pray together, which is probably the only response that could make any sense of their situation.

However, Jesus had promised them something which would appear after he had left them, and we see what this was in chapter 2 of Acts. The followers had gathered for the traditional Jewish festival of Pentecost as they would every year. During this celebration, God sent the Holy Spirit to them, which is described as being like a violent wind that whooshed among them and like flames of fire that came between them and fell upon them. As Christians in the present day, it is this sending of the Holy Spirit into the world that we celebrate and remember today (and every year) on Pentecost Sunday. So it is very apt that our group has been looking at Acts leading up to today.

We can read an account of how the Holy Spirit was sent to Jesus’ followers back in the first century AD, but what relevance is this to our lives today? God’s plan was that the Holy Spirit would stay with anyone on Earth who believes in Jesus and what He did for us, throughout the centuries until Jesus comes again. As the Holy Spirit stays with us and we are filled with Him, His role is a ‘helper’ – there are several ways in which He helps me in my life. Here are a few examples, along with Bible verses that refer to these too:

  • How to live my life….
    • He leads us and guides us (John 16:13; Romans 8:14; Galatians 5:18;)
    • He teaches us (John 14:26; 1 Corinthians 2:13), and specifically to pray (Romans 8:26-27; Jude 1:20)
    • He speaks to us  (Acts 8:29, 10:19, 11:12; 1 Corinthians 12:3; Hebrews 3:7; 1 Timothy 4:1; Revelation 2:11)
  • How I’m feeling….
    • He puts God’s love into our hearts (Romans 5:5)
    • He gives us deep down joy even in suffering (1 Thessalonians 1:6)
    • He encourages us in good and hard times (Acts 9:31)
  • How I interact with others….
    • He speaks through us to others (Matthew 10:20; Acts 2:4)
    • He gives us the power to do what God wants us to do in helping others (Luke 4:14;  Acts 1:8; Romans 15:19).
    • He unites us with each other in peace (Ephesians 2:14-18, 4:3)
  • The big and deep bits….
    • He shows us who Jesus is, that Jesus is present in our lives (John 16:14-15, 1 John 3:24; 4:13), and He transforms us to be more like Jesus (2 Corinthians 3:18).
    • He lets us draw near to God the Father, and shows us the profound and amazing things He has done for us and given us through Jesus’ death and resurrection (1 Corinthians 2:10-12, Ephesians 2:18)

For me, the Holy Spirit is key in how I became a Christian and how I continue to live for Jesus. As a child and a teenager, I felt like I knew a lot of the theory about God and Jesus as I read about them, but it wasn’t until I experienced the Holy Spirit that I really knew what it was like to live a life for Jesus – it’s difficult to describe this because it’s an experience rather than something tangible like a book to read. Life isn’t always easy, Jesus never promised that it would be, in fact He told us it would be hard at times, but He also promised that the Holy Spirit would be there to help, and I’m so glad that He is!

Here is a song that I have in my head for today – it is a song asking God to please ‘send the fire’, and the fire it refers to is the Holy Spirit, just like it was first experienced by Jesus’ followers as described in the book of Acts.

How Pentecost is like the Olympic Flame

Most of you are probably thinking ‘Oh no, not someone else banging on about the Olympic Flame’, though there must be some people out there who aren’t fed up of the Olympic coverage already (mustn’t there…??). If you have been interested enough to click onto this post and start reading, you’ll (be relieved to) find out that I’m not going to focus on the Olympics, but rather show how Pentecost, the Christian festival celebrated today, has some similarity to the Olympic Flame. I have to admit that I got this idea from John Sentamu, Archbishop of York, a very cool guy for someone who wears such a funny hat, he’s even on twitter and his tweets are very down to earth  – don’t just take my word for it, check him out all you twitter peeps 🙂 I liked his idea and thought it was very relevant with all this Olympic Flame revelry going on, so I thought I’d share my take on it with you (his full message can be found here).Pentecost is celebrated seven weeks after Easter. In the UK it usually falls sometime around the late May bank holiday (depending on the date of Easter which moves each year), though of course this year the bank holiday is a week later in June because of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. Here is a description of the first ever day of Pentecost from the book of Acts (chapter 2 verses 1-4) in the Bible (taken from The Message version – a modern-day translation):

“When the Feast of Pentecost came, they [the first followers of Jesus Christ, i.e. the early Church] were all together in one place. Without warning there was a sound like a strong wind, gale force—no one could tell where it came from. It filled the whole building. Then, like a wildfire, the Holy Spirit spread through their ranks, and they started speaking in a number of different languages as the Spirit prompted them.”

This describes how God sent his Holy Spirit to be with the early followers of Jesus on the first ever day of Pentecost. You see, Jesus had previously died and risen from the dead three days later (as I wrote about at Easter), and then, just before Pentecost, had gone back up to heaven leaving His followers behind. But it had always been God’s plan to send the Holy Spirit to help His followers on Earth after Jesus was no longer around in person. And this is just what God did on that first Pentecost.

The early followers of Jesus, the early Christians, needed this Holy Spirit, a ‘helper’, to give them the words to say, and the perseverance amidst the adversity they would encounter, when telling others about Jesus and being involved in bringing more people to follow Him. When the Spirit was sent, it was like a ‘wildfire’ that spread through the followers. Can you see where the Olypmic Flame parallel is starting to come out here? That first Pentecost was the start of the flame relay, and it’s a relay that has been going on ever since, and will carry on forever.

When someone first decides to become a Christian, to follow Jesus and put Him a the centre of their life, they too become ‘filled’ with the Holy Spirit, they get the flame in the relay, just as the first followers did ages ago, just as Christians have over the centuries, and just as continues to happen today. This may sound a bit weird and potentially a reason to freak out about becoming a Christian. I know that for years I was happy enough to read all about God and Jesus in the Bible, and accept and believe in all the written words (the ‘Word’ part of believing), but I hadn’t actually encountered God from a personal perspective – that was what happened the day I first experienced what it was like to feel the Holy Spirit (the ‘Spirit’ part of believing). There were no actual flames involved (I suspect we would have set the building’s fire alarms off these days!), but I can relate to the metaphor of a rushing wind.

Before this experience I was a big sceptic of this kind of thing, and I guess that’s why it took years for me to really accept that God could still work in this way in the 21st century. But even I was finally able to let my barriers down, and I’m so glad I did, because now I can see that being a Christian makes so much more sense with both the ‘Word’ and the ‘Spirit’ side of things together. The day I accepted that flame passed to me, it changed my life. I can’t say that it instantly changed me into a perfect person (still a LONG way off that!) but I do know that it is having this flame which helps me in my life as a Christian. It’s not always easy, for one thing we get a lot of stick, but it would be a whole lot harder if I didn’t have a way of interacting with God on a personal level. I believe that He can guide my thoughts, my words and my actions (if I let Him, not always the case) and show me what plans He has for my life, which (experience tells me) are way better than anything I could have come up with by myself.

The Olympic Flame analogy isn’t quite perfect for the Holy Spirit, because the great thing is, you never have to give up the flame and pass it to someone else. So it’s like a special relay where every participant keeps holding a flame even after someone else gets a flame too. In fact not only that, but you can ask God for a renewal of the Holy Spirit in your life whenever you like, if you feel like you’ve drifted away or had a particularly challenging time that’s used up all your spiritual ‘energy’. So it’s like each flame never goes out, never runs out of fuel, and there’s always enough to go round everyone who wants it at the same time. Pretty amazing!

So have you ever thought about what it would be like to accept the flame? (the Holy Spirit that is, not the Olympic one – I wouldn’t be able to run very far with that!) It might sound like a big step, and I know how it feels to be standing on the edge of that big step thinking about whether to go for it, but I would definitely recommend it as a life-changing experience. If you’re not even sure about, or haven’t heard about, the ‘Word’ side of things, I’d recommend reading one of the first four books of the New Testament in the Bible – the four ‘Gospels’, which recount Jesus’ life, death and rising again. The book of Acts (which describes Pentecost) carries on from where they stop. A great way to explore what you think about both the ‘Word’ and the ‘Spirit’ is through an Alpha course, where you can ask questions and discuss your views with Christians who would love to do that with you. These run in churches all over the world. Why not look up one near you if you’re interested?