Pentecost was on my mind as I drove across the Tennessee River and caught a glimpse of a marina populated with yachts, fishing boats, speedboats and a few sailboats.
It was a picturesque scene of colorful sailboats gliding across the backwater as they were powered by a gentle breeze, reminding me that wind is a vivid metaphor for the Holy Spirit in Scripture.
As I reflected on the work of the Holy Spirit, I was reminded of the words of my friend, Reggie McNeal, author of “Missional Renaissance.” “The Spirit is at work in the world, and it’s the job of the church to get on the same page as the Spirit, not the job of the Spirit to get on the same page as the church.”
As we navigate the chaos of a changing world, including fluctuating church metrics and shifting cultural norms, I sense a fresh wind of the Spirit is blowing.
Antiquated systems, dated methodologies and stale institutions are dying a slow and sometimes agonizing death. But the decay of the conduit doesn’t minimize the power of the message.
What if the Spirit is at work in fresh and innovative ways, fostering spiritual community, inspiring missional service and empowering kingdom initiatives in ways that old paradigms could have never envisioned?
How can we become more receptive to the Spirit and less resistant? How can we prepare for God to do a new thing, again?
When I move beyond religious folklore and continue to process my own understanding of the third person of the Trinity, the biblical narrative helps bring much needed clarity to my theology of the Spirit.
Prior to the unfolding of what we now call Holy Week, Jesus began to prepare his disciples for his own departure by acknowledging that he would be going away, and yet he assured them, “I will not leave you as orphans. I will come to you” (John 14:18).
As Jesus prepared his disciples for the time of his physical departure from this planet, he promised that his Spirit would come to be present with them in a most fascinating and yet mysterious sort of way. “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever – the Spirit of truth” (John 14:16-17).
When he spoke of his pending departure, they must have wondered, “Who will lead us now? Will we return to ‘business as usual’? Who will teach us about God’s ways and expectations?”
That teacher, comforter and guide is the Holy Spirit. The Spirit steers us toward a lifestyle of service and simplicity, keeps us grounded in grace and helps us navigate both the diminishing and emerging expressions of church.
This Spirit is not floating around aimlessly in the cosmos but takes up residence within a temple of human flesh.
And despite the claims of the so-called “prosperity gospel,” the Spirit is not an exhibitionist showcasing bizarre feats or a benefactor promoting pompous opulence.
The story of Pentecost is an integral part of the biblical narrative, marking the birthday of the church and the globalization of the Christian faith.
However, just as we cannot duplicate the resurrection or re-enact the ascension, we cannot recreate the phenomena of Pentecost.
The Spirit of God that hovered over the waters in the creation story now takes up residence in individual lives in the salvation story.
And the Spirit prefers to speak softly and work in quiet yet powerful ways, conscripting, prompting and preparing us to participate in God’s mission in the world.
In these changing times, let us never forget that our God is not the god of repeat performances but is a God who is always working to make all things new, even reimagining and retooling the church.
As we engage in a changing church culture, rather than being riddled with despair and anxiety, let us ask the Spirit to fill us with creativity and innovation and determination, the kind of spiritual vitality to navigate uncharted waters.
In his book, “Thinking About God,” Fisher Humphreys describes the Spirit as one who “brings life and vitality into the experience of the Christian and the church. He vivifies us. He makes Christian living dynamic as well as decent.”
I understand the activity of the Spirit to be a work of fostering unity, not division; of inspiring creativity, not repressing it; and of revisioning the future, not preserving the status quo.
Grace Hopper reminds us that “A ship is safe in port, but that is not what ships are built for.”
We are not called to a life of comfort and convenience, but to the high seas of mission and ministry.
I sense that the Spirit is working in fresh and energizing ways in individuals, churches and communities, and I don’t want my biased preferences or my ecclesial nostalgia to cause me to miss the new thing God is doing.
In Acts 2, Luke describes the advent of the Spirit as “a mighty rushing wind.” My wife and I live on the Gulf Coast where the breeze is continual, but the speed is variable. The Spirit resembles the wind, a force that cannot be conjured or micromanaged.
When this wind blows, we cannot dictate its direction or mediate its velocity, but we can choose to raise our sails.
Barry Howard serves as pastor at the Wieuca Road Baptist Church in Atlanta, and as a leadership coach / consultant with the Center for Healthy Churches. He served previously as an EthicsDaily.com board member.