DISCIPLESHIP THROUGH RELATIONSHIP`
“MY RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD”
the Holy Spirit and His Power
A Moment in the Life of a Disciple
You are well established on the path
to discipleship. Starting out is usually easy. The uncertainty can
be exciting and provide a fillip when difficulties and doubts start
to undermine your resolve. But the world is full of “starters”;
people who begin with great intentions and purpose, but give up
without seeing anything through to a conclusion. Deciding to become
a disciple of Jesus is not necessarily a mark of spirituality, nor
even of commitment, performance or growth. It can be prompted by a
spark of curiosity, peer pressure, or personal crisis. It is easy to
give up – and many do so. You will eventually learn that one
of Jesus most trusted followers, a man who had a clear and recognized
part in His public ministry, who saw miracles galore and put up with
the opprobrium of the religious leaders and stuck with Jesus through
thick and thin for several years, didn’t have what it took, but
betrayed him in the end for the sake of expediency. Others, like
Peter (of the “ready-fire-aim” personality), have rashly
declared that they will follow Him anywhere, even to the gates of
suffering and death. That boast will prove to be hollow. In the
end, all but one of the Inner Circle will scatter when opposition to
Jesus reaches its peak. So much for promises and “life-long
learning”. It seems it is going to be harder than you first
thought to be a “constant” disciple. If the best and the
brightest are not yet prepared to accept the challenge to “take
up their cross and follow Jesus”, there has to be another way.
To tell the truth, there is something “deeper”: in Jesus
than you have been able to work out. As you pay close attention and
seek to make sense of His private life and public ministry, you are
conscious of an underlying “power” that is not man-made –
and not present in others. He talks about the “Holy Spirit”
and promises power to those who remain true to the call. The most
you know about the Holy Spirit goes back hundreds of years to the
early Kingdom of Israel. The records state that King David had a
personal experience with the Holy Spirit and was fearful of losing
that relationship more than anything else after being caught
committing adultery and ordering the death of one of his most able
soldiers. There were a few others back then, but what has that got
to do with your generation. Your life is pretty ordinary compared
with Israel’s heroes. The other disciples include unschooled
fishermen and a tax collector. One day, Jesus talks about the Holy
Spirit coming in His place; He will be available to all who ask and
obey God’s will. The key to keeping on track then, as a
disciple, is going to be receiving and knowing God’s Spirit.
That doesn’t make sense. You can’t see Him. It all
seems too subjective. But wouldn’t it be great to be a
follower with access to the kind of power that Jesus had?!
Jesus operated in the presence and
power of the Holy Spirit. We are likewise “temples” of
God in the marketplace. The test of discipleship is whether we have
a personal relationship with Him and make lifestyle decisions on that
Jesus and the Holy Spirit
Jesus operated with an unmistakable
“power” ministry. He was different from everyone else.
The way He taught made him both close friends and bitter enemies.
The religious leaders had to recognize (albeit grudgingly) that what
He said made sense to men and women in the street. He spoke to
peoples’ hearts and they responded. That provoked deep
jealousies, as it undermined their authority. Jesus broke social
taboos. He ignored petty man-made laws the prevailing system had
added to the original Law of Moses. He had charismatic power over
crowds, demons and nature itself that disturbed a lot of people. He
had a “presence” that made hypocrites feel guilty and
remorseful people feel the power of divine forgiveness. He spoke
God’s forgiveness to people; of itself a direct challenge to
the legalistic priestly regime. He didn’t go around shouting,
demanding attention. The supernatural spoke for itself. He didn’t
raise His voice in the street, as sophists and other rhetoricians
did. Nevertheless, He had “something” unique. For that
reason, people flocked to see Him wherever He went (Matthew 4:23-25;
The key to Jesus’ ministry was
His relationship with the Holy Spirit, who first came down on Him in
the form of a dove at His baptism. Mark tells the story:
that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by
John in the Jordan. As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw
heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove.
And a voice came from heaven: "You are my Son, whom I love; with
you I am well pleased." (Mark 1:9-11)
A Jordanian official once gave me a
bottle of “holy water” from the Jordan River, “where
Jesus was baptized”. On the side of the box there is a simple
sketch depicting the Holy Spirit descending on Jesus as He came up
out of the water. This was the launch point. Jesus’ entire
ministry would be imbued with supernatural power.
But just imagine if it all stopped
there, if Jesus relied on a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The
religious leaders of His day were accustomed to living in the past,
lionizing heroes now dead, holding tenaciously to mores that were
designed for cultures long since consigned to history. I have
encountered lots of Christians whose greatest experiences with God
lay in a church service or prayer meeting “back there”.
This implies that their experience with the Holy Spirit was
event-based, not continuous. Discipleship does not work this way.
It is ongoing.
For Jesus, God was the “God of
the living” (Mark 12:27) and the Holy Spirit was “for
now”. He said, “The
Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me” (Luke
4:18). Luke records that Jesus went about doing good and healing all
those who were being oppressed by the devil, because He lived in an
“anointing of the Holy Spirit and power.” (Acts 10:38).
Did you know that Jesus’ title “Messiah” (“Christ”
in Greek) means anointed.
What does this mean in practice?
Who is the Holy Spirit?
Many Christians do not understand the
Person or ministry of the Holy Spirit. What does the Bible teach?
The Holy Spirit is God. He has a
personality. He is not a “force”, or an “influence”
as some sects believe. One group defines Him (or “it”),
as a “divine liquid”. Imagine your best friend
describing you using such figures of speech.
The Holy Spirit has personal traits.
He speaks (Acts 13:2). He listens. He guides us. He intercedes.
We can’t get away from Him. He can be insulted and grieved
(Ephesians 4:30). He is known as the Spirit of Jesus. When we grasp
truth it is because He has imparted understanding to us. When Jesus
is lifted up in our lives it is a result of the Spirit’s work.
We have nothing without His revelation. Every disciple needs this
kind of relationship.
The Holy Spirit teaches us (Luke
12:12; John 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:13; 1 Corinthians 2:13) and
transforms us into Jesus’ likeness (2 Corinthians 3:18).
In the Old Testament the Holy Spirit
was given to select people for specific tasks. He came upon seventy
Elders assisting Moses in the wilderness and individuals such as
Samson and Gideon, moving, guiding and corrected them, giving
ordinary men and women extraordinary skills for set tasks and power
to be God’s servants. For the most part, His activities were
localized and particular.
The coming of Jesus changed all that.
ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to 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. (John 14:16, 17)
The word translated “Counsellor”
comes from “parakletos”, meaning someone who comes
alongside another, to guide and assist them. The Holy Spirit’s
role is to come alongside believers, to live in us and equip us to
live effectively as disciples and do what Jesus did when he was in
The early church and the Holy
Fifty days after the ascension of
Jesus (His parting words were that He would send the Holy Spirit; if
they waited till the appointed time they would receive the promise;
see Acts 1:8) the Spirit came down and filled the disciples and the
first church was born. As disciples of Jesus, we also need an
ongoing relationship with the Holy Spirit. Think about how He
transformed Paul’s life. Let me explain.
I once had a job
that frequently took me to the Syrian capital, Damascus, the world’s
oldest continuously inhabited city and home of the Umayyad Empire
of Islam, which extended from Spain to India during the period
661-750. The old city centre is filled with mosques and churches and
has a fascinating history.
the Christian side of Damascus,
past Straight Street and Bab Touma (Thomas Gate), is a functioning
monastery with an elaborate shrine at the rear. According to local
tradition, this is the spot where the enforcer of Judaism, Saul of
Tarsus, had a life-changing encounter with Jesus Christ.
Filled with Holy Spirit a few days after that event (what passes for
the house of Ananias is a popular tourist spot for Christians), his
ministry was launched and he was instrumental in planting churches
over much of the then-known world (cf Acts 13:1-4; 16:6-10). Paul’s
ministry had a global impact because he had a relationship with the
Holy Spirit. So can you and I.
In church services we often sing words
such as “Come Holy Spirit”; however, that concept stems
from a misunderstanding. The same school that insists we go “to”
defined places to meet with God stresses that it is there that we
“meet” the Spirit of God. “Welcome Holy Spirit”
is a common refrain; “Lord, come down and dwell among us”.
Wait a minute! These expressions sound “spiritual”, but
they are inexact and misleading, from a Biblical perspective. When
we gather He is already there, among us.
We all need the encouragement and
impetus of corporate Christian life – as we hang out and
worship God together we are challenged, stretched, corrected, built
up, taught and incentivated. The gifts and ministry of the Spirit
are more completely manifest and inter-relational in corporate church
life, when we are “tuned in” with other Christians (cf
Ephesians 5:19-20). However, “place” alone does not
define or prescribe relationship. We don’t cease to be the
“temple“ of the Holy Spirit the moment we exit the
sanctuary (1 Corinthians 6:19, 2 Timothy 1:14).
It might be more
appropriate to start each day praying, “Holy Spirit, you are
God. You have to come to be with me, to live inside of me, to give
me power to live. Teach me, guide me, strengthen me, correct me, do
what you want to make me more like Jesus. Help me to be obedient to
you and make lifestyle choices that please you. Help me to be
continually filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:19 – the
conjugation of the original Greek text is present-continuous, like
“be being filled”).
Discipleship involves connection with
the Holy Spirit, who shows us the path of effective followership and
reveals what Jesus is like in practical terms. Imagine trying to
have a relationship with your wife or children by reading
descriptions and hearing stories about them. Who wants a second-hand
experience, a proxy marriage? The Holy Spirit wants us relationship
with you and I that is first-hand.
Let’s now position ourselves in
the marketplace, in the office, school or factory floor. When you
and I operate there, we do so as the dwelling places of the Holy
Spirit. He is just as close as when we worship in Christian
community, irrespective of how we feel. That means I can sit in the
car, at my desk or in meetings and quietly ask Him for ideas,
answers, favour, guidance, clarity and discernment about what is
going on and hand over my burdens at the same time, rolling them onto
His shoulders. That doesn’t come automatically, but if we are
in relationship with the Holy Spirit we will be able to hear as He
prompts, rebukes, guides and strengthens us to do what is right.
The role of
the Holy Spirit in active discipleship
The Spirit of
God is a constant companion in the life of the child of God. “He”
(the Bible uses the pronoun):
calls us to follow Jesus
convicts us of sin, things that are
in our lives that are not pleasing to God
gives us insight into the life of
character of Jesus to our spirit – we all need understanding
speaks to us and helps us make
decisions in line with God’s will
corrects us when we stray from the
teaches us the meaning of what we go
tutors us in
God’s Word and helps us to apply it to our circumstances
empowers us, in
spite of our limitations (Ephesians
renews our mind
keeps our focus on Jesus (John
gives gifts to
believers for the “edification”, or building up, of the
Body of Christ (Romans 12:3-8; 1 Corinthians 12; Ephesians 4:11-16)
builds us up in
our faith as we pray with His help (Jude 20)
equips us for Christian service
We need to learn
how to recognize the voice and ways (sometimes more like “promptings”
or “nudges”) of the Spirit. This is not something we do
remotely, like some divine SMS service that only works if we are
within range and have the phone switched on. (Some people never seem
to hear from God because they are constantly switched off.) The
criterion for Christian living in the New Testament was whether or
not people had a relationship with the Holy Spirit.
Listening to the
Holy Spirit is about having ears that are attuned to hear, hearts
that are prepared to change, attitudes that we are willing to put
aside, wills that are open to yield obediently to His will and
purpose. There was a time when God declared that His Spirit would
not always strive with people who were disinterested and rebellious
(Genesis 6:3). What about today? The real test of church life does
not lies not in statistics or programs but the presence or absence of
the Holy Spirit. God is still speaking. He speaks clearly,
precisely and unambiguously. We can be orthodox, institutionalized,
dogmatic, legalistic and "right" every time, but lack that
sense of life, freshness, vitality and reality that only the presence
of God brings. We can listen to the creed and the best sermons, but
stop listening to God. What is He saying to you?
What can stop us
hearing Him? Let's see: there's unforgiveness of those who offend
us; then there’s hardness of heart, insensitivity, resistance,
rebelliousness and (the old enemy) the daily rush. “Sorry God,
I’m too busy to chat; I'm running late. People to see. Things
to do. Catch up soon.” However, the Spirit never stops
speaking. Some people journal their conversations with the Holy
Spirit (like a spiritual “blog”), so that they have a
record of the relationship and lessons that will sustain them when
things get tough. Learn to be sensitive as He communicates with you.
The Holy Spirit
also energizes our prayer life. Billions of people pray: to idols,
to unseen deities, to ancestors, even Satan. Christians have a
unique privilege in prayer. Pastor Jack
Hyles emphasizes the role of the Holy Spirit as our “prayer
partner”. Paul says that:
Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to
pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that
words cannot express.
he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the
Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God's will.”
(Romans 8:26, 27)
How can we
relate to someone we cannot see?
I was once part
of a search team attempting to establish the whereabouts of a
backpacker who had gone missing on the rugged Inca Trail in Peru,
between the railway settlement of Kilometre 88 and Machu Picchu, high
up in the Andes. The Trail rises from undulating hills to high
mountains, deep ravines and glacial watercourses as it crosses the
snow-clad Vilcabamba range, where peaks exceed 6,000 metres above sea
level. My interest lay in the fact that I was Vice-Consul in Lima
and the lost woman was an Australian citizen.
The journey took
us through intractable terrain and we had to keep together to avoid
accidents or getting lost. We were far from medical aid. Late one
afternoon, we had to work our way through tangled brush, mud and
roots on the side of a mountain. The light was fading and a heavy
fog was settling in. It was imperative that we reach the ridge above
the high jungle and pitch our tents for the night before exposure to
the cold and wet beat us. As I beat back brush in front of me, I
suddenly became aware of a deadly silence. I had lost my guide. I
called out, but my voice was cushioned by the heavy mist. I started
to panic. Not the best place to wander off the path. To one side
were steep ridges; a wrong step could have led to injury – or
It took a while,
but my guide and I eventually re-connected by repeatedly calling out
to one another. I learned an important lesson about keeping my eyes
on the guide and listening to him, not being distracted by the
surrounding environment and the difficulties of circumstances.
disciples of Christ do when we can never see the guide? After the
death and resurrection of Jesus the disciple named Thomas (of the
“seeing is believing” school) informed his companions
that he would not believe in the resurrection until he saw him and
touched his wounds. Jesus eventually turned up and put Thomas to the
test, adding that those who could not see Him, but believed
notwithstanding, were counted as blessed (John 20:24-29).
involves more than an academic belief in the risen Christ; it
includes relationship with a Saviour we cannot see. That's where the
Holy Spirit comes in. He is our guide. Jesus said, "I will not
leave you, like orphans; I will send Him to you" (John 14:18).
We can't see Him, but without His guidance we would quickly become
lost in the fog as we continue the journey.
More than an experience –
more like a pilgrimage
life is described in the Bible as a “pilgrimage”. “For
here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city
that is to come.” (Hebrews 13:14) One of the most graphic
descriptions of the Christian life (albeit with dated language) is
“Pilgrim’s Progress, by John Bunyan. Pilgrims must keep
in touch with their guides if they don’t want to get lost. I
am reminded of a pilgrim route I once walked in northern Spain, where
knowing the way ahead was important.
of St James” has been one of the most important pilgrim routes
in Christendom since mediaeval times. The discovery, during the
Muslim occupation of most of the Iberian Peninsula, of a tomb
believed to be associated with the Apostle James, resulted in an
endless stream of travellers undertaking pilgrimages to the site (now
beneath the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela) as a basis for
remission of their sins (if only their zeal were matched with a
proper understanding of the truth). It was also associated for many
years with the “Re-Conquest” of Spanish territory and was
said to have prompted the beginning of a campaign to expel the Moors.
In fact, during
the Middle Ages, the Camino de Santiago was the third most important
route for Christian believers (the others being Rome and Jerusalem).
Today thousands of pilgrims and tourists each year set out from their
homes and walk the ancient route (the Spanish part alone is nearly
900 kilometres long), retracing the path of millions before them.
summer of 2005 a friend and I walked a stretch of the Camino,
culminating in a church service in Santiago. I still have a wooden
staff that accompanied me on my journey. As I walked each day, I
talked to fellow travellers and asked them why they were there. Some
did it out of religious motivation; they stopped at shrines along the
way, went to masses and cited the apostolic examples of Saint James
and other luminaries. As I passed by they would greet me with “Buen
Camino. God bless you”. Others walked for cultural reasons;
they studied local traditions, visited Roman ruins, tasted unusual
delicacies and drank copious quantities of rich Spanish coffee.
Others still undertook the Camino because it is a beautiful walk.
Day after day I
trudged along with my knapsack; one foot before the other, through
village after village, up and down steep hills and across beautiful
valleys and rivers. I learned it is not how steep the road is, but
how long. For countless kilometres I travelled alone. There were
innumerable side roads, paths, alleyways, blinds and the temptation
of better modes of transport, whenever the route passed through a
town. I relied on my maps, signposts and the advice of locals, to
ensure I did not wander in circles. When I finally reached the
Cathedral in Santiago I knew I had not been alone for a second. The
Holy Spirit had been talking to me, as I strode ahead with my staff,
explaining elements of the more important pilgrimage, my inner life
as a disciple of Christ. Jesus was not walking with me physically,
as He did with the original disciples. That role was now played by
the Spirit. But He was just as real, just as present.
Good Morning Holy Spirit
Imagine waking up in the morning and
experiencing the power of God’s Spirit with you.
Pastor Benny Hinn of Orlando Christian
Center in Florida has written a book entitled “Good Morning
Holy Spirit”. It describes Hinn's
encounter with the Holy Spirit and how that meeting changed his life
and ministry. While
some parts of the book (particularly its first edition) were hugely
controversial, I like the title nevertheless. When we wake up in the
morning He is there.
British writer and Assemblies of God
minister Selwyn Hughes (well known in the Christian world, due to the
mass readership of his devotional notes, 'Every Day with Jesus',
written over many years until his death on 29 January 2006) was
credited with saying that he began each day with, "Good
morning Father, good morning Jesus, good morning Holy Spirit."
Before we stir and start our day, He is there, waiting to leads and
guide us. We need never feel alone.
A friend once
told me he regularly prayed the following prayer: “Good
morning Lord. I want to thank you for this day. I haven’t
lost my temper with anyone. I haven’t said a harsh word to my
family. I am not holding grudges, not spoiling for a fight. This
day has been good so far. And now I ask your help because I am about
to get out of bed and I’m going to need all the assistance I
not about you. It is not about your abilities, qualifications or
great wisdom. It is about Jesus Christ. The power you need to give
effect to His work comes from the Spirit of God (Zechariah 4:6). At
the beginning of each new day make sure your are ”plugged in”
and listening to the voice of the Spirit. Your constant goal, as a
disciple, is to draw closer to Jesus through each new experience and
opportunity. Remember, He is with you. He is in you. As a
disciple, you are never alone.