Two nuns in Middle East break down on road – only thing they have to fill up car with petrol is a potty – walk to garage, collect petrol, and start filling up the car – two wealthy sheiks pull up in their car – watch the nuns, and say, “Although we don’t share your religion, we greatly admire your faith.”
During the course of this year, we are thinking about discipleship. Last week I described discipleship as a journey, and I talked about some of the things we need to pack into our spiritual rucksack, to help us along that journey, they were obedience, trust & patience.
But another essential thing that is required is fuel for the journey. Without fuel we won’t get very far.
Last year, when driving back through France to catch the ferry home, with more than 30 miles still to go, the fuel gage on the car registered as empty. With no petrol stations where we could stop to fill up, we had a very nervous time wondering whether we would actually make it to the ferry, or would run out of fuel on the motorway. By the time we reached Dunkirk, I’m sure that the car was running on diesel vapours – the relief to find a petrol station that was open was immense.
For the Christian journey we also need fuel for the journey, to keep us going in our Christian faith. The key thing that we need in our lives is the Holy Spirit, because it is the Holy Spirit who equips us and resources us for our journey of discipleship. Without the Holy Spirit in our lives, we would be like a car without any fuel. We wouldn’t go very far.
Today it is Pentecost Sunday – one of the most important days in the Christian year, the day when God poured out the Holy Spirit on his church.
Just before his crucifixion Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit to his followers, in John chapter 14 we read: “If you love me, keep my commands. 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. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” (John 14:15-18)
And after his resurrection Jesus again promised the gift of the Holy Spirit, when he told his disciples to “stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” (Luke 24:49)
And so on the day of Pentecost – the Jewish harvest festival, ten days after Jesus returned to heaven, Jesus followers were all gathered together in one place, when suddenly God’s Holy Spirit came upon them.
When the spirit came it was extraordinary, it was like a tropical rainstorm, they heard a gale, it was not a real gale, but it resembled one. It was the invisible power of God’s breath, breathing new life into the disciples. And what seemed to be tongues of fire came to rest on each of them, and they were filled with God’s power.
And with the Holy Spirit came an extraordinary transformation. First of all they began to speak new languages, languages they had not learnt, but were given to them. And they were also suddenly filled with a new boldness and courage, which they had not had before, and they went out and started preaching to all the people who were gathered in Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost. The people who heard them were amazed, because they were able to speaking to them in their own languages.
At the start of that day, it was estimated that there were no more than 120 Christians, but by the end of that one day, more than three thousand people became Christians - now that is what I call church growth!
What we need to remember is that the Holy Spirit that we read about here in Acts, is the same Holy Spirit that is at work in the world today.
The Holy Spirit is not a blessing from God, He is God. God’s very presence with us. And the gift of the Holy Spirit is for each one of us. In the book of Joel in the Old Testament, God says:
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your old men will dream dreams,
your young men will see visions.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days.
God pours out his Spirit regardless of sex (‘sons and daughters . . . men and women’); regardless of age (‘old men . . . young men’); regardless of background, race, colour or rank (‘even on my servants’). God pours out with great generosity his Holy Spirit on all his people.
Peter on the day of Pentecost stood up in front of the crowds and told them that ‘The promise (of the Holy Spirit) is for you and your children and for all who are far off – for all whom the Lord our God will call.’
It is the Holy Spirit at work within us, that enables us to grow and mature as Christians. The Holy Spirit is like the wind – you can’t see the wind, but you can feel it, and see how it affects things around you, and the same is true of the Holy Spirit. It is through the Holy Spirit that we experience the reality, presence and power of God in our lives.
The Holy Spirit equips us for our Christian journey. Through the Holy Spirit the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness and self control grow in our lives. Through the Holy Spirit we also receive spiritual gifts such as the gift of faith, gift of healing, speaking new languages, words of wisdom and words of knowledge, the gift of generosity and serving, the gift of prophecy and leadership and much more. These are the tools that help us not only to grow as Christians, but also help us to serve others. This is why Paul writes ‘Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.’ (1 Cor 12:7) The gift of the Holy Spirit is given to us, so we can play our part in growing God’s kingdom.
What God desires for each of us is that we are filled with his Holy Spirit. Being filled with the Holy Spirit, isn’t something that happens once, but something that needs to happen again and again. Paul writes in his letter to the Ephesians, says keep on being filled with the Holy Spirit, he implies a continuous action, we need to get filled again and again.
To be filled with the Holy Spirit is very simple, we just ask for it. Jesus said Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 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!” Luke 11:9-13
There is no limit to God’s generosity when it comes to giving us the Holy Spirit, He wants to pour His spirit into us, so that we can be transformed by the power of God’s spirit at work in us, and in being transformed, can play our part in helping to transform the world.
In many countries around the world the church is growing at a tremendous rate, for example in China around 10,000 people EVERY DAY, are becoming Christians. The key to this extraordinary growth is the Holy Spirit, because amongst these Christians there is a real hunger and desire for God.
And through the church truly extraordinary things are happening. For example the city of Cali in Colombia, was known as being the drug capital of the world, it was a city in the control of the drug cartels, corruption was rife, as was violence, and it was one of the murder capitals of the world.
The situation was so bad that the Christians in Cali decided they had to do something about it. So they hired the local football stadium to hold an all night prayer vigil. More than 60 thousand people packed into the stadium. Shortly after these prayer events were held, amazing things started to happen. One by one the drug cartels, which had been untouchable for years, were brought down. Murders and other violent crimes have decreased, people now feel safe to travel around the city, whereas previously kidnappings were rife.
In 1968 only 1% of the population were Christians, today it is now 15% of the population – but this is even more impressive when taking into account the fact that the city has doubled in size during that time.
But it doesn’t just end there, the revival that they have seen in Cali, is spreading to other neighbouring cities and regions.
This is the Holy Spirit at work, changing lives, and transforming communities.
Today, God wants to fill you afresh with His Holy Spirit, we wants to equip and resource you for your journey of discipleship, so that we too can play our part in changing the world, and that is what I want to pray for now.