This series of reflections – which we’re calling ‘Wildfires’ – reflects on the person and work of the Holy Spirit, from the first verses of Genesis, to the last verses of Revelation. Often the ‘forgotten’ part of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit is there at Creation and also at the climax of the New Creation, co-equal with God the Father and Jesus Christ, revealing the reality of God’s presence and power to the world throughout history. In this season after Pentecost we’ll celebrate the Holy Spirit, and continue to welcome His presence in our lives today.
Leadership is a spiritual task. For all that there is a whole secular industry nowadays teaching leadership and management principles, the essence of good leadership – wisdom, humility, service, vision, empowerment – are things which reside in the nature and heart of God. It stands to reason, then, that the calling of true leadership is amplified and empowered by the Spirit of God.
This happens a lot earlier than we think in the bible. Well before King David, well before Gideon or Samson, or any of the Judges. You have to go back to chapter 11 of the book of Numbers. And, even more surprising, this gift of spiritual leadership was a corporate affair. No less than 70 people, along with Moses, were filled with the Spirit for the task of leadership.
The context? Moses is overwhelmed with the burden of leading God’s people. This has happened before (in Exodus 18), but this time, faced with another rebellion, Moses has had enough. ‘Kill me now!’ he says to God (v15), who wisely realises that this is a man at the end of his tether. So God provides Moses with 70 others to ‘share the burden of the people with you’ (v17).
What is fascinating is how God equips this leadership team: ‘I will take some of the power of the Spirit that is on you and put it on them.’ (v17) The work of God needs the Spirit of God. Almost uniquely in the Old Testament, this work is shown to be something for many, not just for one.
And it is not limited to place, either. Two of the new leaders – Eldad and Medad – don’t get the memo, and miss the meeting. Yet, amazingly, they begin to prophesy too, out in the camp (v26). In a lovely foreshadowing of the sort of conversation the disciples have with Jesus, Joshua complains to Moses: it’s just not cricket! And, like Jesus, Moses says, effectively: ‘Calm down: you should be pleased. I wish everyone could receive the Spirit and prophesy!’ (v29)
The applications of this lovely story are numerous. We could reflect that leadership is a spiritual calling requiring spiritual equipping. We could rejoice that God is not limited to times and places, techniques and rituals. But let’s give thanks today that there’s plenty enough of the Spirit to go round. You might feel like Eldad and Medad – always missing the memo – but God doesn’t forget you. He can bless you and use you anyway.
If I was to ask you to guess the first spiritual gift mentioned in the bible, what do you think it is? Preaching? Prayer? Miracles? Leadership? No, non, nein and nej. It’s creativity.
You might be surprised to learn that the first person we encounter in the bible who is ‘filled with the Spirit of God’ is an artist, a craftsman: Bezalel (pronounced ‘bed-za-lay-el’). We meet him in Exodus chapter 31, and it is God himself who declares that Bezalel is filled with the Spirit (v3). In fact, just in case we found it too surprising – and perhaps, like us, many of Bezalel’s fellow Israelites did – it’s repeated by Moses to the people in Exodus 35.
The church has always had an ambiguous relationship with the creative arts. We might marvel at our glorious mediaeval church buildings, but too often the arts have either been hijacked for the glory of proud humanity (in the name of God, which is far worse) or treated as idolatrous and ignored altogether. The church where my father was a minister in the 1980s was one of those with all the heads and hands hacked off the mediaeval statues by Thomas Cromwell’s thugs.
As always, the two extremes – hubris and hatred – fall far short of God’s intention. As we saw in Genesis 1, God loves creating, it’s in his nature. No surprise then that his intention for humans – who bear his image – is just the same. We are made to create! And God loves that side of our nature. Whenever we create in God’s name, we are filled with the Spirit, and witness to God’s glory, just as good old Bezalel thousands of years ago.
And even if you’re not a natural artist, we all get to create – when we cook, when we clear up, when we mend clothes, or tend our gardens, or try our hand at painting or crochet or pottery, or perfect the cross court backhand or do keepy-uppies, or just doodle when we’re bored in meetings. We’re always creating. And God loves that about you. Even if (you don’t think) you’re very good at it.
In this season, many of us are trying new ways of creating, or investing more in the ways we already know. Keep doing that! It’s who we are. And, even more, it’s part of what it means to be ‘filled with the Spirit of God.’
What are you creating today? Take a moment to stop and just feel God’s pleasure. He loves it!
If Genesis 1 is the big picture account of creation – the grand canvas – Genesis 2 is more personal and intimate: the tender portrait of a loving God making and relating to human beings, the glory of His creation. In Genesis 1 we learn that God makes humans in his image, both male and female. God blesses them and gives them authority. But what we don’t learn is how God makes us. How is it that we can claim to bear God’s image? In Genesis 2, we get the answer: ‘The Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into the man’s nostrils the breath of life.’
No other animal receives this particular intimate blessing: the very breath of God. And much as we can explain some of our human behaviour in evolutionary terms, necessary adaptations for our survival, or we can observe certain abilities which exist in certain species in the natural world, there remains much that is unique to humanity, or that we possess to an unparalleled degree. Our love of beauty, our capacity to organise, to create, to care for the vulnerable, to think objectively, to ask why.... This is what it means to be human; but even more, it is what it means to bear the image of God.
The word for Spirit in Hebrew is ‘ruach’. It means breath or wind. And it is this word ‘ruach’ which the writer of Genesis uses here. God breathes his ruach, his Spirit, his divine breath into us, and gives us life. Though the Fall shatters the perfection of our original nature – and scars the image of God in all of us – that divine breath, that ruach is still there. We are spiritual beings, trying to find our way home.
And the story of scripture from a human perspective is the story of how God, in Christ, is able to restore that true divine breath in all of us. Christ’s death and resurrection points the way to the renewal of all things, and since Pentecost his followers now receive that divine breath, that Spirit, in a new way. Through Christ, God can dwell in us again by the Holy Spirit, and his breath of life transforms us from the inside out. It’s a gift we don’t deserve, but God in his great love and mercy joyfully bestows it on us, and points us towards home.
Take a moment today to just stop and breathe. Imagine the breath of God filling your lungs. Become aware of His presence. Receive His peace. And give thanks.
In 1998, Dame Judi Dench won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role as Queen Elizabeth I in the film ‘Shakespeare in Love’. Despite the fact that she only appeared in the film for 8 ½ minutes, her presence as the reigning monarch was felt throughout, and, being the supreme actress that she is, when she does appear she dominates the screen.
In some ways the Holy Spirit plays a similar role in Scripture. Appearing only occasionally in the text of the first three quarters of the bible (the Old Testament), nevertheless the Spirit’s presence is known and felt throughout – and when the Spirit does appear front and centre in the narrative, whether ‘coming upon’ a Judge or King, or rushing through the room at Pentecost, the power and glory of God dominates the page.
If Jesus Christ is the unquestioned ‘hero’ of Scripture, the Holy Spirit plays the decisive supporting role. This is true even at Creation. Whilst New Testament writers St John and St Paul make it clear that Christ was the ‘Word of God’ declaring creation into being through the narrative of the bible’s first chapter, Genesis 1:2 tells us that it was the Spirit of God which was hovering (or brooding, in the marvellous phrasing of the old translations) over the waters, making Christ’s creative word a powerful reality.
From the beginning, God has always been a Trinity – Father, Son and Spirit, a perfect inter-relationship of love and glory. People often mistakenly think that God started as one, then became two with Jesus, and finally three at Pentecost. But Genesis 1 tells us otherwise. And the extraordinary truth is that we are invited into that relationship: effective through the work of Christ and the indwelling witness of the Spirit. We get to ‘eat with God, and God with us’ (Rev 3:20), to share in this divine web of love forever.
In this season we will explore what that means, and I hope this journey will reveal new depths to you about God, and your life in and with Him. But today, let’s reflect a moment that the fullness of the Spirit was only revealed many, many years after creation, at Pentecost. In the divine will and wisdom of God, what had always been there finally became a visible reality.
The fact that we bear God’s image means that this too can be a reality for us. Gifts and talents, causes and opportunities, can still come unexpectedly to the fore later in our lives. In God’s economy, all of life can be used for His glory. How is God at work in you currently? Are there deep facets of who you are still being revealed for His glory? As the Spirit of God hovers over the waters of your life, where might God be saying: ‘Let there be light....’?
God is always making everything new. Amen, come Holy Spirit.
Ascension Day (Thursday 21st May) marks the start of 'Thy Kingdom Come', Archbishop Justin Welby's call for us to engage in 10 days of prayer for God's mission in the world, taking us up to Pentecost on Sunday 31st May.
There are lots of great resources to allow you to take part daily which are available below. Take a look and choose whichever fits you best! Simply click on the name of each to open it. Use more than one if it helps!
There’s a traditional Daily Prayer including Morning, Noon, Evening and Night Prayer...
...or a creative 'Novena' daily resource which involves art and silence...
...an interactive and imaginative Prayer Journal ...
and a Family Prayer Adventure Map with activities and prayers (note: this last resource is dated 2019, but the days can be done in the same order!).
There's also a booklet with ideas for how to pray for our local schools.
PLUS the Archbishop is encouraging each of us to 'Pray for 5', so if you'd like to use this season to focus prayers in particular on 5 friends and family members, that they would know more of God's love, peace, joy and blessing, that would be great. If it helps as an aide memoire, here’s a simple Pray for 5 Card to use.
Let's get praying!
Our reflections for Easter week can be found here.
To revisit our meditations for Holy Week - the 7 words from the cross, click here.
James Bryan Smith's wonderful reflections on our life in Christ, inspired by his book 'Hidden in Christ' and based on Colossians 3:1-17, are now complete, but the full set of 33 days can be found in the Archive tab. His excellent podcast, 'Things Above', can be accessed here.
In the last few weeks, we’ve all learned some new words which have become key parts of our language. Self-isolating, social distancing, PPE... and shielding. The idea that we have vulnerable loved ones who we need to protect by restricting our own behaviour is one of the great sacrificial acts of service now being performed by millions around our country, and no doubt across the world.
Although the shield (in the classic sense we understand it) stopped being used in most forms of warfare centuries ago, the idea lives on, and we immediately know what is meant. Captain America has one, there’s a whole US TV series called by the name, and footballers are taught how to ‘shield’ the ball. A shield protects the person or object which is under attack.
But when we need protection, where do we look? In Psalm 3, King David is in real danger. His son has usurped the throne in a coup and David has fled for his life. He lacks allies and support – where does he look for help? ‘But you, Lord, are a shield around me, my glory, the One who lifts my head high.’ (v3) David has nowhere else to turn: only God can protect him, shield him, now.
In these uncertain times, we too look around for protection. And to some degree, we can find it in the practical steps we can take to minimise the risk of infection. But life remain precarious: where can we turn for help? This Psalm encourages us that we have a better place to run, a deeper truth to receive, a bigger shield in play. God can be our shield.
It’s not magic, or a slot machine. We all know those who have caught COVID-19, and tragically many of us will know someone who has died of it. Our divine shield is not a guarantee of survival. But it is a source of confidence, of peace, of the hope that bigger things are at play. In the kingdom of God, sickness does not have the last word, even as Absalom’s armies did not in the time of King David. May we too, like David, declare this truth over our lives, and the lives of those we know, and may it cause us to find hope and peace today: ‘From the Lord comes deliverance. May your blessing be on your people.’ Amen.
The bible is full of rich images of what it means to truly live in the abundant life of God. Psalm 1 describes one such (particularly good) image: the tree. Our lives were designed by God to be like a tree.
I must confess that I love trees. I love being close to them, just standing in their presence, admiring their size, their beauty, their dignity. Trees are one of the greatest parts of God’s creation. They heal, they shelter, they stand strong and firm in all weather. They just are. Or rather, they have been, they are and they will be. That sense of majestic permanence is part of their appeal.
God calls us to be like that: trees which reflect his glory. Psalm 1 shows us why and how. First, we need roots. This psalm places our roots firmly in the Word of God – v2 delighting in ‘the law of the Lord’ – and the Spirit of God. The biblical image of water in v3 usually connects with God’s presence, so this tree planted by a stream can easily be understood to mean one who is constantly refreshed by the water of God’s presence – his Spirit.
Second, we bear fruit. We all know that spring is coming when the buds appear on trees. In summer those buds blossom into leaves and even fruit. A tree ‘yields its fruit in season’ (v3). So should our lives. Nourished by Word and Spirit, we stand where we are and bear fruit for our Lord.
Finally, this Psalm contrasts the rootedness and fruitfulness of such a person with the alternative. Those who do not go deep with God ‘are like chaff that the wind blows away.’ (v4) Blown here and there by wherever the current of our culture leads, such lives ultimately cannot prosper. They may flower for a while, but the shaking of the wind proves fatal.
If you can, take a moment today to find a tree and spend time admiring it. God is calling you to be such a tree: rooted in his Word, nourished by his Spirit, fruitful, strong and dignified. You probably don’t feel much like that – none of us do – but by His amazing grace, that is what we can all become.
Reading Psalm 1 today, how might you keep growing into this beautiful calling?
9.30am Family Communion with Childrens' Church
8.30 am Traditional Communion using the Book of Common Prayer
9.30 am Cafe Church
9.30 am Family Communion with Childrens' Church
9.30 am Morning Worship
5th Sundays (when appropriate)
9.30 am Family Communion with Childrens' Church
To get full details about what's going on in St. Mary's for this month, please click here.