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spring always comes

Written by Lisa Rieck : June 18, 2008

Editor’s Note: Below is the 2nd Prize winner in the doxis category for the Stepping into a Violent Wind Writing Competition:

The promise of spring didn’t used to excite me. Growing up in Michigan, springs were chilly and muddy. But after five years of scraping ice off my car on cold, dark Chicago mornings, and two years of feeling frozen and empty inside and grieving losses, the first hint of warmth-reminding me spring is coming-brings something to life in me. And when the warmth comes in earnest, when the grass turns greener than I ever remember it being and flowers burst out everywhere, spring is a powerful reminder to me of what can come to life, and what life can come out of.

I think initially the disciples viewed Jesus’ promises about the Spirit like I viewed Michigan springs: they knew the Spirit was coming, but they didn’t understand the power that promise held. Just hours before Jesus’ crucifixion, he promised he’d send his Spirit as a truth-teller, an advocate, a comforter. But I’m guessing his promise felt hollow to the already-overwhelmed disciples, who were still trying to comprehend his pending death. It was like an adult telling a child, “Your parents are going to die, but we’ll send your aunt to take care of you.” Who will be there gets largely overshadowed by who won’t.

Jesus also talked about the Spirit’s coming when he taught on prayer. “Which of you . . . if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? . . . If you . . . 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!” Yet, without knowing how good the Spirit is, I wonder if the disciples thought it strange-even disappointing-that, though they were free to ask God for anything, no matter what they asked for, all he would give them was the Spirit. Did Jesus’ idea of prayer seem like a cheap invitation to them?

After Jesus’ resurrection, he gave his disciples a command about the Spirit’s coming: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” But once again they missed the magnitude of Jesus’ promise. “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” they asked. In other words, “Is the Spirit’s coming going to finally bring about political victory for Israel? Because that’s what we need-that’s the answer to our prayers.”

I think we’re captive to similar misunderstandings about the Spirit. He’s here, but do we really know how powerful he is? Do we really want the Spirit to be God’s answer to our prayers, or do we just want the healing/provision/guidance we asked for? We acknowledge his presence and power, but most of the time we leave him out of our prayers because we don’t really understand why he’s such a good gift, what he does or how he fits into our daily life.

What we forget, or haven’t understood-what the disciples didn’t understand until Pentecost-is that the Spirit, quite simply, is the answer to our prayers, the power that allows us to participate in God’s work in the world and help bring his kingdom to earth.

When the Spirit came at Pentecost, the disciples “were all together in one place.” And, based on Luke’s earlier statement that “they all joined together constantly in prayer,” I think we can assume they were praying when the Spirit came. Luke doesn’t tell us what they prayed for. But if Acts and the rest of the New Testament and the millions of Christ-followers around the world today are any indication, it seems safe to say that the Holy Spirit was a sufficient answer. From Pentecost forward, the fearful, selfish men who denied and deserted Jesus were empowered and transformed by the Holy Spirit, the One Jesus promised. They became martyrs, evangelists, church planters, disciplers, wise leaders who gave witness to who Christ was and were used by him to bring his kingdom to earth.

Today, the Spirit is still the all-sufficient answer to our prayers. His living in us and working through us means that bringing God’s kingdom is not up to us. He frees us from having to figure out the best strategy or say the right words on behalf of God, reminding us instead that God’s work (thankfully) is not based on something as flawed and tenuous and prideful as our own intelligence and efforts. ” ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty.” Our job is to listen, to wait for the Spirit like the disciples did, and then respond in obedience, free from the burden of having to plan and act in our own strength.

Furthermore, in a world with values so different from God’s, the Spirit reminds us what’s true about God’s kingdom, and how to live that out so others can see it. He corrects our clouded vision and thinking so that we can clearly see who God is, what he values and what his kingdom looks like here, now. The Holy Spirit still comes as the truth-teller, the God-revealer, the courage-giver.

And he comes like spring: powerfully, faithfully, in ways that are more life-giving than we can imagine.

Spring is here in Chicago now, the promise fulfilled yet again. And it’s more powerful than ever for me as I watch trees and flowers come to life, as storms bring rain that renews the soil. And every day, even more powerfully, the Spirit is here. A fulfillment of Jesus’ promise. The answer to our prayers. The power that brings God’s kingdom to earth as we respond in obedience. He shows up strong like a spring storm, bringing life all over.

Author Bio: Lisa Rieck is a reader and writer who likes to discuss good ideas over hot drinks, gets inspired by the sky, and is amazed at God’s redemptive work in our broken world. She takes in all kinds of good ideas as a proofreader and copy editor for InterVarsity Press and posts thoughts on life and faith at the blog Strangely Dim (http://strangelydim.ivpress.com).

Image: A Lovely Spring Day in Manitoba by Accross and Down

Mark Van Steenwyk is the general editor of Jesus Manifesto. He is a Mennonite pastor (Missio Dei in Minneapolis), writer, speaker, and grassroots educator. He lives in South Minneapolis with his wife (Amy), son (Jonas) and some of their friends.


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Comments

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    Thanks, Lisa. Spring comes far too early and leaves far too quickly down here in the South... but it is always welcome! I need the reminder that the Spirit is the answer to my prayers... before I've even prayed them... and that after I've made a decision based on the Spirit's leading, that I continue to trust the Spirit to lead and guide. (I tend to jump right into an anxious Summer and then take all Autumn to recenter.)
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    If I am honest with myself, I have a hard time believing the spirit is all-sufficient to answer my prayers. It just hasn't been my experience in life. Often, for me, the experience of the spirit has been most evident, not in spring, but in the cold dark of winter.
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    There is a gap for me between theory and practice. In theory everything's peachy; why the practice is so damn hard is confusing and frustrating.

    However I still hope, even though it is a hazy hope.
 

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