Real power

The last thing Jesus told His disciples to do before He ascended into heaven was to go back to Jerusalem and wait there for God’s promise of power. With little or no idea what any of that meant, they did as they were told. Perhaps at least some of them were asking God to tell them a little bit about what they were waiting for, and perhaps they all had ideas about what this power would be like.

They did not have to wait long for the answer to their prayers—only just over a week. On the day of Shavuot, the Jewish festival fifty days after Passover, they were all together in one place when they got a crash course in power perhaps nothing like what any of them had expected.

The power of the Holy Spirit is spoken of in at least two ways. First, as the abiding presence of God in Christ, with all the safety and comfort that relationship promises. This is the Spirit most of us recognize and love—the Spirit of peace and concord—the one that smooths our ruffled feathers and revives our weary souls, the One Who is with us always, and Whom we recognize whenever we have the good sense to breathe in and say thank you.

But there is another way the Spirit acts—not another spirit but another manifestation of the same Spirit—that is not nearly so comforting. This is the Spirit who blows and burns, howling down the chimney and turning all the lawn furniture upside down. This manifestation of God's Spirit is much like being caught in a storm— when one tries to become very small and stay perfectly still. “Only a fool would pray for the Holy Spirit,” says Dean Alan Jones, “and only fools for Christ do.” 

Dean Jones suggests that the Spirit is most present at three open spaces in our lives: “In the unpredictable, in the place of risk and in those areas over which we have no control.”

That was where the disciples were after Jesus had gone away from them the second time. And that is where we are, more times than we would like to admit. It is no crime to pray for the gentle Spirit at such times—to ask God to restore predictability, to remove us from risk, to give us back the comfortable illusion of control that helps us sleep at night.

But Pentecost is our reminder that there is another side to God’s Spirit—one that can set us on fire, transform our lives, turn the world upside down. It is not predictable. It is very risky and it is beyond our control, but one thing we CAN do is fold our umbrellas and put them away. If we want to be fools for Christ, that is, and if we want to be clothed with power—not power as this world sees it, but power from on high, which is reconciliation and love.

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