Jesus introduces the coming of the Holy Spirit to his disciples in John 14.15-31 by referring to the “Advocate”, a translation of the Greek term transliterated ‘paraclete’, which means ‘one who comes alongside’, usually in a legal sense. What’s involved in all this? Why does it matter? That’s what I address in this Sunday’s worship gathering, which you can watch below. The message itself begins at 29:17.
This Sunday at St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton, I’ll be talking about a passage of Scripture that includes these verses:
“I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father. You can ask for anything in my name, and I will do it, so that the Son can bring glory to the Father. Yes, ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it!” (John 14.12-14, NLT)
Now, your reaction to these few verses may be heavily dependent on the tradition from which you come. If you come from a skeptical tradition, you’ll likely doubt that anything miraculous was ever undertaken. If you come from a charismatic tradition, you may believe this is a name-it-and-claim-it kind of proof text. And if you come from a more mainline tradition, it probably either scares you or baffles you.
When Jesus said these words to his disciples in the context of the beginning of his farewell discourse, he was encouraging his disciples to embrace the power that would be theirs by the Holy Spirit. See, after Jesus died and rose again, he hung around his disciples for 40 days, and then ascended into heaven. And 10 days later, God sent the Holy Spirit in Jesus’ name so that his followers could experience the same power that he had – and, if you read that passage carefully, even greater works could be done than Jesus did!
But what does it mean to “ask me for anything in my name”? Doesn’t that just make Jesus seem like a genie in a bottle?
Well, it can if you don’t read with understanding. When we ask for anything “in Jesus’ name”, what’s implied there is a desire that his will be fulfilled. Praying in Jesus’ name is not some sort of guarantee our prayer will be answered our way; if anything, it’s a humble request that it be answered Jesus’ way.
When we are filled with the Holy Spirit and submit ourselves to God’s will for us in Christ, we will have power to do great things in his name. Two contrasting images come to mind here: plugging in a lamp, and letting a dog off the leash. One is stationary, one is free; but each is doing what it’s designed to do – one with staid brightness, the other with reckless abandon.
Spend a few minutes today, holding that passage before the Lord, asking how he wants it fulfilled in your life.
I had a conversation the other day with a pastor friend who told me a story that he has given me permission to share. He was driving home from a conference he had been attending when another driver, not looking properly, sideswiped his car on a busy street.
Both my friend and the other driver were shaken up, as can happen even with a minor fender-bender, but neither of them was hurt. As is common in such difficult situations, they exchanged information. The other driver, who had admitted to it being her fault, wanted to attempt to get the repairs to my friend’s car made without going through insurance (and possibly pushing her rates up).
My friend told her he was a pastor, and that he had a Christian friend who is a mechanic who deals with people fairly and honestly, and that he might be able to give her a decent quotation on the cost of repairs to my friend’s car. (As it turned out, the quotation was higher than expected, and the lady opted to go through her insurance. Happily, she had a clause in her policy that had accident forgiveness!)
As my friend and the other driver were exchanging information and conversing, she was asking him about his church, and seemed interested in the Christian faith. All the while, my friend sensed the Holy Spirit saying to him, “You need to pray with her.”
He resisted, understandably, because it just seemed an odd time and an odd circumstance to pray with a stranger. But the more he resisted, the more clear the Holy Spirit’s prompting became: “You need to pray with her.”
So he said to her, “I know this sounds kind of weird, but can I pray for you?”
She consented. He prayed for her. And over the course of the next few days as they spoke on the telephone to get repairs looked after, she mentioned how she has a teenaged son that she wants to get engaged in a youth group.
She lives closer to a different church than my friend’s, and so she may end up taking her son there. Either way, it’s a win for God’s Kingdom.
But what if my friend had not been listening for the Holy Spirit to speak into his life, even in such an unusual situation as a car accident? Or what if he had continued to ignore the prompting of the Spirit to pray with the woman? Would she still be interested in the things of God?
It’s vital for all followers of Jesus – not just pastors, of course – to listen for the Spirit of God all the time. It’s a muscle that we need to exercise. After all, if we want to lift weights, we need to exercise the muscles that lift the weights. And if we want to hear from God, we need to exercise those spiritual muscles, too.
Read the Scriptures daily. When you pray, don’t do all the talking; sit in silence and let the Lord speak to you, through his Word and by his Spirit. Then, when you are out in the world, engaged in normal, everyday activities, who knows what God may say to you by his Spirit that could change someone’s life forever?
“Then he added, “Pay close attention to what you hear. The closer you listen, the more understanding you will be given —and you will receive even more. To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given” (Mark 4.24-25a, NLT).
The mass shooting in Las Vegas last weekend is a terrible tragedy. Many lives were lost, many more people were injured, and emotionally, a lot of people are going to need help to resume some semblance of normality – not just the injured and the families of those who died, but also the bystanders and the people who work at the Mandalay Bay hotel where the shooting took place. Long after the news stops talking about it (news channels always find something new and shiny on which to focus), people will still be struggling.
Of course, in this era of social media where everyone seeks to share an opinion, lots of folks are talking about the need for greater gun control, tighter immigration policies, or tougher screening to weed out terrorists. But there is something else that can be done.
Parents can raise their children.
That might sound like an incongruous non sequitur, but think about it: if parents raise their children – not just give birth to them, not just feed them, not just provide for their wants and needs, but raise them – we will have a generation of people who become adults who don’t have a hankering to kill people. That sounds simplistic, but I know too many moms and dads who have engaged in the hard work of raising their kids whose children turn out to be kind, loving adults to believe it can’t be done.
To be sure, there are countless outside influences that work against what conscientious parents are doing, but that only raises the level of the challenge.
It seems like an insurmountable job, and it is. Parents can’t do it on their own.
Parents need God’s help, and they need God’s agents to help them: the church.
When parents acknowledge that the job is too difficult for them to do alone, and they submit themselves to the Lord who knew their children before they were formed in the womb (Psalm 139.16), they give their children to God, recognizing that even parenthood is a form of stewardship; children are ours to raise on God’s behalf.
Then, the community of faith can partner with the parents to help kids grow up to be good, law-abiding citizens, yes, but also to love and serve the Lord. When we introduce God into the lives of children, the Holy Spirit becomes an invisible player in the game of child-rearing – that unpredictable, love-engendering, tongues-of-fire-giving Spirit supports the work of diligent parents and churches. And the result is a generation of adults who in turn raise their children the same way.
Will this work perfectly? Undoubtedly not; because of sin, there will always be challenges to God’s plan for families. But while we pray for those affected, while we work to bring change where change is needed in society, let’s start with our own families. We can bring change; we can be change.
“If you love me, obey my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth” (Jesus, John 15.16, NLT).
Here’s a talk I gave at a gathering of The Renewal Fellowship Within The Presbyterian Church in Canada about understanding spiritual direction, something that is new to many contemporary Protestants. It’s a half-hour talk that hopefully will help you understand it better. Feel free to comment with any questions you may have.