We looked at three spiritual disciplines at the start of the year – worship, service and holy living. When we think of ‘disciplines’, we think of hard work, just like in physical disciplines – exercising, observing a healthy diet and having a good sleep pattern require effort on our part. However, these spiritual disciplines are also a means of grace, given to us, undeserving as we are, in order that we can grow and be nurtured in our faith. We must recognise that it is because of the finished work of Jesus on the cross, reconciling us to God, that we can have this privilege to worship him, to serve him and to live our lives for him, and in the process, grow to be like Jesus.
Just in case we are overwhelmed by all these disciplines, thinking that it is a tall order for us to worship God with our fullest attention when we are constantly distracted by many things, to serve God with our gifts when we have so many other things to attend to given our limited time, and to live holy lives when the world is constantly trying to press us into its mould. How on earth are we to make progress in these disciplines? Let us not fret because we are not on our own! The third Person of the Trinity indwells us. ‘Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?’ (1 Cor. 6.19) The Spirit is given to empower and enable us. The giving of the Spirit as our Helper (John 14.16) and our power from on high (Acts 1.8) is another demonstration of God’s grace. How then does the Spirit aid us in our worship, service, and holy living?
Jesus told the Samaritan woman at the well that true worshippers must worship the Father in spirit and truth, and He said it twice (John 4.23-24). What does it mean to worship in spirit and truth? Does worshipping in spirit means becoming emotional whereas worshipping in truth means hearing long sermons in a rather sombre environment? Worship in spirit and truth should be seen as one entity – there is no such thing as someone who worships in spirit vs. another who worships in truth. We cannot relate with God merely in physical terms because God is spirit. That is why the physical place of worship is not so important and I can extend this principle by saying that the style, the form, the ambience are not as important as what is going on inside the worshipper. It is not likely that ‘spirit’ here means the ‘Holy Spirit’. It refers to our spirit, our innermost self, the depths of our heart, and ‘worshipping in spirit’ means there is a yearning for God from within. The psalmist captures such a posture very nicely: ‘As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God.’ (Ps 42.1) ‘My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.’ (Ps 84.2) Such a yearning can be satisfied when the Holy Spirit draws our spirit unto Himself. It is not something that we can demand of the Spirit. If the Spirit stirs our hearts and speaks to us, it is purely the grace of God at work. But we can anticipate such stirrings as we come as wide eyed children with eager hearts and attentive ears to allow the Spirit to speak God’s truths deeply into our hearts.
Out of the grace of God, the Holy Spirit gives us spiritual gifts which are employed for the advancement of God’s kingdom and the building up of Christ’s body, the Church. The Spirit will take our gifts – talents, abilities, resources – and multiply them many folds to meet the needs of the people to whom we minister. In the course of our service, there are times when we have to make difficult decisions, and we thank God that the Spirit guides us in our decision making, inspiring and helping us think with clarity. There are some things that are beyond our control and sometimes ministry demands seem so overwhelming and we seem so helpless, especially when it comes to changing the hearts of people, yet we need to remember that there is nothing too difficult for God to handle and this is where we believe the Spirit will move ahead of us to prepare the way, to part the waters, to change hearts, to illumine minds, so that ultimately whatever successes we enjoy in kingdom’s work, we lay them down like how the elders lay their crowns at the feet of Jesus knowing that it is only by the Sprit’s anointing and empowerment that we can be effective servants of God. We respond in humility and worship because we recognise that it is a privilege for us to be used by the Lord as His co-workers.
How does the Spirit help us live holy lives? The Spirit will prompt us whenever we sin. He will reveal the sinful areas in our lives that we need to deal with. However, He does not reveal to us all our faults at one go lest we become too discouraged to want to do anything about them. The Spirit works hand in hand with the Word which is the sword of the Spirit (Eph. 6.17) that can ‘pierce to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.’ (Heb. 4.12) Do not stubbornly turn a deaf ear to the Spirit whenever He convicts us of our sins. Confession and repentance will lead to our transformation. Our spirit is willing but our flesh is weak, but let us be encouraged that the Holy Spirit is both willing and strong and He is able to help us overcome our weakness. Romans 12.2 says ‘but be transformed by the renewal of your mind’. The Greek tense for ‘be transformed‘ is in the present- imperative-passive form. ‘Imperative’ means it is a command; ‘present’ means it is a continuous action and ‘passive’ means that it is something done to us. The Greek language is so rich – I see human responsibility at work because there is a command for us to obey, but ultimately, our transformation is a result of the power of the Spirit acting upon our lives – we are being transformed!
Though the Spirit is present in all Christians, this does not mean that all Christians are filled with the Spirit – empowered, guided, influenced and controlled by the Holy Spirit. A person who is drunk is under the influence of alcohol (Eph. 5.18a); a person who is Spirit-filled is under the influence and power of the Holy Spirit (Eph. 5.18b). Alcohol is a depressant and it dehumanises, turning a human being into a beast; the Spirit can be considered a stimulant that invigorates the mind and intellect, the heart and the will so as to make us more human for He makes us more like Christ. Being filled with the Holy Spirit helps us to focus our attention on Christ and His Spirit so that the presence of Christ empowers and shapes our lives. His Spirit becomes the dominating and controlling influence motivating and directing the lives of believers. Let us therefore be encouraged that in this whole process of nurturing our faith, though we have a part to play, the power from on high, the power from within, and it is the same power, coming from the Spirit, plays a much greater part.
Pastor Kien Seng
February 16, 2014