Years ago as I was cleaning out my childhood closet, I spied a small box tucked up in the corner of the highest shelf, dusty and tightly sealed. The box was nothing special, just an old cardboard cube box from a department store left over from Christmas presents one year. The box was plain, solid white and taped tightly shut. With the aid of a stool I climbed my way up to the highest shelf in my cluttered closet and struggled to reach the box. Over time the box had migrated to a place in the corner beyond my fingertip reach. Next to the box, but in my reach, was a stack of old Bibles. Some were from my childhood, others were versions more difficult for me to understand due to an antiquated writing style.
I grabbed one of the larger Bibles from the stack and nudged the edge of the box with my newfound extended reach. After a few minutes of pressing the Bible against the top edge of the box, the cube flipped onto a side making it inches closer to me. I was able to swat the box forward with the help of the old Bible. Once the box was in reach I set the Bible down and struggled to grasp hold of the cube. My arm was extended so far I began to feel a pain in my shoulder and neck, but as my fingers clasped the box the pain disappeared and relief flowed through me. I pulled the boxed toward me on the shelf and brought it down from it’s heights. Finally the old box was mine. It was nearly weightless. It felt empty. I shook it, but only found silence. I wondered if anything was inside. I climbed down off of the stool and plopped down in the middle of my childhood room. Sitting on the floor of my old room, I turned the box over in my hands, wondering what could possibly be in a white cube department store box that weighed next to nothing.
As I turned the box in my hands, I found three small dates scribbled across the side. I recognized the first date as my birthday. The second from when I was in the sixth grade, but the specific date had no importance to my memory. The third date was from when I was in ninth grade, sometime during the spring. Given I had been in college for a year, ninth grade felt like a lifetime away.
Deciding it was time to see what was inside my box so I could complete the task of cleaning out my closet, I tried to remove the tape from the edges. No matter what tool I used: fingernails, scissors, knives, razor blades, the box would not open. Finally I gave up on opening the box and packed it away with my things I would be taking back to college. Every so often I would check back with the box to see if I could open it. It took a few years for me to remove the layers of heavy tape from the outside. It took the help of many others, each peeling back the tape one layer at a time. Eventually, the box opened. By the time it opened, the box was empty. The gift inside was no longer tucked away, hidden in a corner. By the time I opened the box, the gift inside was living, thriving beautifully inside of me.
The department store box was a terrible place for my gift of the Holy Spirit to be stuck. In our materialistic culture, too many make the same mistake I did, placing the gift of the Holy Spirit in a box on a shelf far out of reach, sealed tightly. Instead of the gifts we have truly been given by God, we focus on gifts like video games, blu-ray players, iPhones, jewelry, and more clothing to replace our perfectly fine, hardly worn, slightly outdated clothes hanging in our closet. We thank God for those material gifts multiple times a year, including the Holidays, but do we thank him for spiritual gifts, talents, eternal life, Jesus and the Holy Spirit, more than we thank Him for our material things? We should, but we probably don’t. I know I don’t. Sadly, in a season developed because of God and meant to be for God, we now focus on two things:
- Tasaj (things and stuff and junk)
Which do we place more emphasis on?
It’s a bit odd to say Christmas is the time we celebrate Jesus’ birth, and then we celebrate by telling our families what we want and by flooding our homes with brand new TVs, electronics, toys, clothes, whatevers. Yes, we give gifts to others during this season. Christians have justified the materialistic nature of this season by saying “It is better to give than receive.” Too many of us have taken that statement and ranwithit.
What are we giving to others? Who are we giving to? Are we giving more material Tasaj (things and stuff and junk) to others who already have more than they need?
This holiday season as I am thinking about gifts, what gifts I am going to give others or what gifts I am going to receive, I’m trying to spend more time focusing on the gifts God gave us. Jesus, eternal life, life in general, heaven, family, the gift of the Holy Spirit, our talents — all of these should be focused on more than the new platter I just gave Grandma. Because you know what Grandma really wants? She wants to spend time in meaningful conversation with me about how I feel God is calling me to lead my life and how I want to live a life for Christ. That’s what Grandma really wants. Not another sweater I found on sale at Belk.
Sometimes I feel like the Holy Spirit gets the shaft. Have we forgotten the Holy Spirit was influential in putting Jesus inside of Mary–a fact essential to this holiday season?
“18 This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.
20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.’”
“34 ‘How will this be,’ Mary asked the angel, ‘since I am a virgin?’ 35 The angel answered, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.’”
I’m wondering exactly when was it decided the Holy Spirit can’t do much inside of us today. I’ve heard the sermons before and frankly, I don’t buy it.
If the Holy Spirit doesn’t work inside of us like it used to, what happens when we are baptized? Why do we say, “I now baptize you in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19) if we are not inviting the Holy Spirit to live within us? After Jesus’ baptism He was full of the Holy Spirit.
“1 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness”
Can we not also receive the Holy Spirit after our baptism, the baptism in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19)? Yes. We can.
“38 Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.
And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
The writer of Acts wrote, “You will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” As in, YOU. Sometimes I think we hear that verse so often, we forget the verse that follows.
“39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off–for all whom the Lord our God will call.”
For all. Not just for Bibletimespeople. For all! The gift of the Holy Spirit is for all. Now here’s something even crazier…Jesus says we can all have the Holy Spirit if we ask.
“11 Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead?12Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
Yes, we can still receive the Holy Spirit. We must believe this to be true if we believe anything else that came from Jesus’ mouth to be true, because Jesus himself told us we can ask for the Holy Spirit.
My question is: Why would we be able to receive the Holy Spirit if the Spirit does nothing inside of us?
The answer is simple: The Holy Spirit inside of you lives and works within the parameters you believe are possible. I am the limiter of the Holy Spirit’s work within me. I set up the fences. I decide what size box my section of the Holy Spirit will be caged in. I decide to what extent the Holy Spirit is useful in my life. Whether it’s a conscious decision or not, I am still the number one limiting factor of the Holy Spirit’s usefulness in my life.
“No! This can’t be the case. The Holy Spirit is from God, so we can’t control it like that,” you say.
Don’t we limit God everyday? When’s the last time you saw your mustardseedfaith LITERALLY move a mountain? I’m talking literally pick up a mountain and place it in another country. Yeah, me neither. If we had faith enough, that could happen. It’s our nature to limit God because we are human and we are evil. (Ouch. I’m not evil! — “If you then, though you are evil…” — Okay, maybe so. We have a tendency for evil. We have a tendency for sin. Otherwise Jesus wouldn’t have died for us.) Yes, it is our nature to limit God because we are human and we are evil.
So if we put our human, earthly limitations on God, why would it be any different with the Holy Spirit? We are putting our human, earthly limitations on the Holy Spirit as well.
The Holy Spirit is forced to work within my reality. The Holy Spirit can only work inside of me as much as I believe it can, just as God can only work inside of me as much as I believe He can. So if I believe the Holy Spirit works only to serve as the means for which I can say, “Jesus is Lord” (1 Cor 12:3), then guess what? That’s all the Holy Spirit can do in me. If I believe in the gifts of the Spirit in 1 Corinthians 12:4-11, then I will see those gifts in the world around me. Because I believe it is possible.
“3 Therefore I want you to know that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.
4 There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. 5 There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. 6 There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.
7 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. 8 To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 10 to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.”
1 Corinthians 12:3-11
Pay close attention to verse 11 where Paul states, “All [the gifts] are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.” So the Holy Spirit is the holder of Spiritual gifts AND he gets to distribute them as he sees fit. If you think none of those gifts are possible from the Holy Spirit, or you pick and choose which are possible today, you are leaving the Holy Spirit with less to choose from to distribute to you. You may already have been given a teensy bit of a gift you don’t believe to be possible, but since you don’t believe the Spirit is actively working today, it will never come to fruition. If you believe in all the gifts listed AND you also believe fully in the power of the Holy Spirit, this does not mean you will receive every gift and it does not mean you will receive the more outrageous gifts. It simply means the Spirit will have more options to choose from, because after all … the Spirit distributes the gifts.
- If we continue to lock the Spirit up, what good is the Holy Spirit in our lives?
- Why is it acceptable for us to say the Holy Spirit is no longer at work today, but we still believe fully in God and Jesus?
- If the Holy Spirit no longer works today, what happened to the trinity? What happened to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in Matthew 28:19? Don’t they come as a 3-for-1 deal? The God Head three-in-one father, spirit, son?
We don’t get to have Jesus in our world walking around with us and hanging out like in Bible times, but we do get “the Counselor, the Holy Spirit.”
“26 But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”
- Why do we believe readily in God’s omnipotence and omniscience, readily in Jesus’s impossible life without sin, countless miracles, death, resurrection, and being born to a Virgin, then say the Holy Spirit lives but with limitations? They are a trinity after all, not a duo plus a sidekick.
I have challenged myself and I would like to share my self-challenges with you just in case you want to join in.
- I challenge myself to open my heart to the work the Lord wants so desperately to do through me.
- I challenge myself to tear down the walls around my gift of the Holy Spirit, no matter what size box I have developed over the years.
- In the process of tearing apart my Holy Spirit cage, I will tear apart the box I am placing God in as well.
- I will give God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit free reign in my life.
Now buckle up. It’s going to be a great ride.
God uses us to the fullest extent of which we allow Him. The extent to which we believe is possible.
What more could God be doing in your life if you got rid of your boxes and let God and the Spirit work together through you?
“When I stand before God at the end of my life,
I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left,
and could say, ‘I used everything you gave me.'”