This weekend, we have the privilege of welcoming Mark Sena, pastor of Faith City Church in Mandurah, as our guest speaker. Over the last fortnight, we’ve been looking at our experience of God with us by His Spirit. We’ve spoken about how we can hear God, and discern it when He speaks to us. We’ve also looked at how the Spirit of God is not under our control. God lives in us by His Spirit; He is a person, not a force to be manipulated at our own whims.
This weekend, Mark will be looking at how we can be open to the Spirit. Quite often, our openness to the Spirit is more theoretical than practical. Perhaps we say that we are open to the Spirit… and yet at the same time refuse to relinquish control to Him. Perhaps we say we want to experience more of the Spirit’s power, and yet live assuming that we won’t.
This isn’t a new phenomenon. Acts 12 tells of a very similar attitude. The story opens with the news of the arrest by Herod of some who belonged to the church. Luke tells us that James, the brother of John, being put to death by the sword. This was quickly followed by the arrest of Peter, awaiting public “trial” after Passover.
Acts 12:5 summarises the situation well: “So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.” The situation for Peter was pretty hopeless; this wasn’t going to be a fair trial – in all probability, Peter was about to suffer the same fate as James. Peter was about to die. And the church, desperate, was earnestly praying to God for Him. We’re not told precisely what they were praying… but I must assume that at least some of them were praying for a miracle: for Peter to be set free.
And then, the night before His trial, God did do a miracle. An angel arrived in Peter’s cell – and struck him on the side to wake him. Following the angel’s instructions, Peter gets up, gets dressed, and walks out of the prison – the gates opening before him. Peter, it seems, was convinced that this was a vision… until the angel disappeared and left him alone in the cold street!
I love what happened next. Peter headed off to the house of Mary, the mother of John Mark, where many Christians were gathered to pray. He knocked at the door, and the servant girl – Rhoda – came to answer it. Recognising Peter’s voice, overjoyed, she ran back to the praying group announcing the good news of Peter’s having been released from prison. And get this… the Christians gathered in prayer for Peter told her she was nuts. And when she insisted, they told her “it must be his angel.” I’m not sure exactly what they meant… but I suspect they were saying: “he must be dead already!”
These people were earnestly praying for God to act… but they weren’t really open for Him to actually do so! When God did act, they were caught unprepared!
How easy it is to pray, and not expect God to actually answer. How easy it is for us to ask for a deeper experience of God, but to not really expect anything to change. How easy is it to say that God can change lives, but to live our lives assuming that people don’t actually change.
Perhaps we need a bigger view of God. Perhaps we need to live our lives assuming that God will act. Perhaps we need to assume that God actually is interested in us – like He says He is. Perhaps we need to assume that miracles can and do happen. Perhaps we need to assume that the Holy Spirit is still in the business of empowering the church of Christ, and that He is still busy creating the image of Christ in us.
How would our lives be different if we approached the Spirit with a default expectation that He is alive and active?