Tag Archives: Holy Spirit

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(Note:  this was posted by Joshua, but it's still Ruth writing)

While we were in the States for our furlough, I noticed something at a church we attended several times.  It was something that on the surface seemed customary, expected, fitting.  But underneath, that something nagged at me and made me uncomfortable.  It made me feel off-balance and weighed down.  Every service ended with the minister praying that we would be convicted of our sin.

That sounds so right, something at which you can nod your head.  We are sinners.  We need God to show us our sin continually, or we would ignore it, continuing in the same sinful direction we’ve always gone.  It is the theme for which we expect our pastors to pray and on which we expect them to preach.  Here is God’s standard, God’s ideal.  Have you arrived yet?  If our preachers aren’t preaching on our sinfulness, they have clearly gone soft.  They are people pleasers rather than God pleasers.  We have become accustomed on Sundays to hearing the ways we aren’t living up to God’s expectations.  We expect to have a mirror held before us that will show us our failings and what we can do better this week.

So why did something so right, expected, and customary leave me feeling so uncomfortable, burdened, off-balance?  Now for a long time, I had dismissed and ignored any feeling of discomfort.  I am a sinner and should feel uncomfortable.  If I don’t feel uncomfortable, it is a sign that I am worldly.  But then God told me that He didn’t want me just to do the right thing while my heart was longing for the wrong things.  He wanted both my heart and my actions to be united in love for Him.  He told me to stop ignoring and overriding my heart, but to start examining and understanding what it was communicating.  So what made me feel so uncomfortable?  I felt like I wasn’t making any progress.  All I could see was my failings, and they burdened me.  I would work hard on overcoming one sin, but before I even got a good start on overcoming it, it was Sunday again, with a new sin being held before me.  The burden of constantly seeing my sin before me was weighing down my head, and leading me into the unbalanced posture of discouragement and shame.

Now, this was what I was feeling.  How did my feelings compare with Scripture?  The issue troubling me was the constant prayer for conviction of sin, so what does the Bible say about conviction of sin?  Jesus, in John 16:7-11, speaks about the coming of the Spirit.    He says that when the Spirit comes, he will convict us with regards to three things, and not only one.  Sin is the first of the three mentioned, but Jesus does not stop there.  He adds righteousness and judgment.  For each of the three, Jesus adds a reason the Holy Spirit will convict us in that area.    Regarding conviction of sin, Jesus says, because they don’t believe in me.  Regarding righteousness, he says, because I go to the Father, and you won’t see me any longer.  Regarding judgment, he says because the prince of this world stands condemned already.  Now, when I read my Bible, I make notes in the margin, and often those notes are questions.  My note for this passage begins, “What does this mean?” because I don’t understand this passage.  But then I move on to comment that I rarely hear prayers for God to convict us with regards to righteousness and judgment.  I add that we seem to be neglecting these two important works of the Spirit.  Clearly, this passage indicates that there is an imbalance, but since the passage follows a logic I don’t really understand, I did not know what the imbalance was.

I continued to pray and meditate on this imbalance.  God promises to give wisdom if we ask, so I kept these thoughts in mind.  Well, one day, I was very discouraged about an area of living where I continually failed in my expectations.  In fact, three times in a row, I had completely blown it.  Each time I failed, I became more discouraged.  Finally, I prayed in desperation something along these lines, “God you need to help me, I am completely failing, and if you don’t do something quick to help me, I am going to ruin any testimony or witness I might otherwise be able to share.”  Then I held up the three pictures I had of my recent repeated failings as proof.  Immediately, God brought to mind another picture.  This one was of a time when I completely excelled in the same area.  The three pictures which had my focus were convincing me that I would never get it right, and my discouragement was growing and my ability to overcome was fading.  Yet when God held up his picture of my success, my discouragement drained away.  Immediately, new strength filled me.  My thoughts took a new turn, “Look, I can do this.  I am even able to excel at this.”  Is that conviction with regard to righteousness?

At the same time, God did the same thing in another area.  I was completely frustrated with the children.  They were gathering toys together and putting them under my bed!  They had some game going on under my bed.  However, what happens after the game?  The toys stay there.  I told the children, “I don’t want you taking all those toys under my bed, because you will just leave them there.”  I was doing something, but a few minutes later, I noticed that the game was continuing.  I was about to blow up at the children when my six year old asked me, “Mommy, I can’t find a bag.  Can you help me find one?”  I paused my frustration to answer her with a question of my own, “Why do you want a bag?”  “You said you don’t want us to take the toys and leave them under your bed.  I thought if I put them in a bag it would be easier to keep them together and take them out again afterwards.”  I had thought they were completely ignoring me.  God showed me that the children were understanding the purpose of my ruling and were acting according to my purpose.  Jesus was often frustrated with the Jewish leaders, because they were more focused on the letter of the law than on the purpose of the law.  I realized the children were actually honoring me with their game and let them play with their toys under my bed.  They remembered to take the toys out from under my bed when they finished.  Is that conviction with regards righteousness?

I am still meditating on the passage, but these experiences have shown me how helpful it is to see when we are doing well.  Philippians 4:8 tells us, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”  We know when we are riding a bike or driving a car that we tend to veer towards the things at which we are looking.  Is the same true when we are looking towards sin continually?  While we need to glance in the rearview mirror or over our shoulder at times, our focus needs to be the road in front of us which leads us to our goal.  We need to pray that the Holy Spirit will convict us of more than sin.  We need to pray that the Spirit will accomplish all three tasks in us.

Sternness. If I had to guess, I would say that sternness is not usually the number one trait a woman looks for in a man. I would also guess that a man who goes courting with sternness rather than flowers will awaken fear instead of love in the heart of the woman he approaches. Unfortunately, when I thought of Christ, all I saw was sternness. Just as I was afraid of the Father because of His justice, so I was afraid of Christ because of his sternness. I had learned to trust the Father, who casts our sin behind His back, but I was still afraid to approach Christ. I was afraid to have him turn and look at me. I was afraid of hearing his "Go and sin no more." Despite my best efforts, I still find myself sinning, so I thought I knew what kind of look Christ would direct at me.

I was troubled by my lack of love for this lover of mine, my fiancé. I had said yes to his proposal. I mean, really, the alternative wasn't a very bright prospect — marriage or eternal death. Um, let me think. And really, he is quite the hero, dying for me even before I said yes, and then coming to life again. Who else would or could do something like that? However, before I got a chance to meet him in person, he disappeared to get a house ready, and I was left wondering what kind of. What kind of character does he have? Does he know about all my character flaws? How will he react when I continually mess up?

Years ago, in South Africa, a young woman was preparing for marriage. One day, my husband and I were at her fiancé’s house, and she was there, cleaning house, washing curtains, mopping floors. She told me she wanted to see whether she could do the work marriage would require of her. That thought startled me, but I understood it. I didn't really think I could do the work my marriage to Christ would require. I, too, was trying to see whether I would measure up, but I was failing miserably. I dislike sudden change, so the idea that I would go from miserable failure to perfect angel upon my death wasn't very hopeful. Besides, I wasn't dead yet. There was still time for Christ to see how miserably I was failing, and what would he do if he saw it?

My realization that I was not attracted to Jesus sent me to get to know him. I began to read the book of John in depth and to talk with Jesus in prayer, asking him to teach me about himself. Jesus has unique experiences among the Godhead. He is the one who dwelt among us. He lived on earth as a human. I'm trying to live on earth as a human. If anyone can teach me how to do it well, it would be Jesus.

One of the first things I realized as I began to know Jesus was that he never directs his sternness at me. When he speaks sternly it is at something at work within me, but it is not at me. A few years ago, I was speaking with a friend about the passage in Romans 7 that says it is no longer I who sin, but sin which is at work in me. My friend said that the passage didn't make sense to him. How would saying we didn't do it help anything? Saying it is just something at work in us sounds like making excuses. After talking with my friend, I sought God on that passage. God showed me that we, people, tend to keep sin tangled up with our identity. We see sin as part of who we are, part of our nature. We try to keep from acting according to that "nature" but only by repressing it, which doesn't work for long. It always escapes our restraint. When someone addresses the sins in us, we get very defensive, because our identity is tangled with the sin. We see them as attacking us, attacking our nature. When we see sin as part of our nature, we put ourselves in a very weak position for overcoming sin. We hold onto it with one hand, while trying to get rid of it with the other.

Before we can truly be set free from our sin, we must see that our actual nature is the image of God and that sin is a foreign thing at work in us. So, God first teaches us who we are and reveals to us anything that does not belong to our nature, then having separated the two, Christ addresses the sin sternly, commanding it to leave, but he turns the face of his favor to us, to what is truly us. Understanding this has actually helped me to value the sternness of Christ. We are working together to remove a parasite that has attached itself to me and is draining me of my true strength and character. He is also gentle, wise, and discerning. In removing sin, God has a process. First, He establishes His love for us. He stays on this step until we cease to flinch at His approach, until we feel secure enough to climb on His lap. Then, having gained our trust, He begins to reveal to us a true picture of our identity. His Holy Spirit searches our hearts and reveals to us what is truly our character, and what is foreign to our character. Before God begins any process of weeding, He takes the time to strengthen our roots in His love, to build up and nurture that which is truly us. Then as we open our hands and hearts to Him, His Holy Spirit separates the roots of our character from the roots of sin, so that God can uproot sin without uprooting us. Only when God has accomplished all of this does Christ speak sternly to the sin at work within us, while continuing to speak affirmation and encouragement to us.

Lately, I have seen that God has a picture gallery. Our pictures are hanging in that gallery. We, in our efforts not to be vain, try not to look at ourselves too much, but God is inviting us in. He has lights shining on our pictures to bring out the full effect of the painting. He has a bench in front of it. He loves to sit on the bench and gaze at our pictures. He is inviting us to sit with Him as He puts His arm around our shoulders. He wants us to gaze in awe upon His picture of us. He wants us to take time to gaze upon our picture and be amazed at God’s creation.

A friend recently had an experience where she saw that her sense of shame was keeping her from looking up at God. She told me, "I saw myself on the floor, child pose, in front of Christ. It seemed a pose of worship, and of reverence. But then I heard very clearly that I was being immobile. When you are immobile, you cannot move, work, help, or create anything of beauty. I was told to get up!!!" She told me when she got up, there was Jesus with a huge smile, arms outstretched, and He said, "Dance with me!"

God does not want us to hide our eyes in shame. He wants us to lift our eyes and meet His. A few days ago, as I was reading John 21, I read a note that it is a bit tricky to translate the part about Peter being naked and wrapping his outer cloak about himself to dive into the water. I began to wonder why God had included that detail, and began to think about other passages of nakedness. I saw the passage in contrast to Genesis 3. Adam and Eve sinned. Immediately, they knew they were naked and tried to make clothing out of leaves and then hid from God. Their sin and their nakedness drove them from God. Now we have Peter, the one who denied Jesus three times and who is naked. He wraps his outer garment around himself, to cover his nakedness, but he heads toward Jesus as fast as he can. Instead of allowing his sin to drive him to hide from God, he takes his sinfulness to Christ, and Christ allows him to declare his love for Christ three times to bring healing to the part of him which was hurt by his denial of Christ. Then he acknowledges the longing of Peter to demonstrate his love for Christ by enduring suffering for him. That promise to suffer for Christ which Peter made and found himself unable to keep would be honored in the end. Peter would come to be fully himself, completely Christ's. What a beautiful story!