Pastoral Perspectives

Reflection on Pentecost

On Pentecost Sunday, many Christians all over the world commemorate the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the church at Pentecost.  Acts 2 describes the historic event – The Holy Spirit promised by God the Father and God the Son (Acts 1:4-8) came with power; more than 120 Spirit-filled disciples praised God’s mighty works in languages foreign to them; many who heard these miraculous messages were amazed though some ridiculed the disciples; apostle Peter explained the outpouring of the Holy Spirit as fulfilment of Joel’s prophecy (Joel 2:28-29) and preached a powerful sermon on God’s gift of baptism, forgiveness and Spirit to all who would repent and respond; about 3,000 people responded with repentance and the story of the church began.

Pentecost was a momentous event.  In the Old Testament era, the Holy Spirit came upon particular people at particular times for particular tasks, notably on kings, prophets and judges.  At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was made available to all who believed in Jesus.

In this age of instant gratification, a quick reading of the Pentecost account may give the impression of instant vital spirituality.  Upon deeper reflection, however, I realised the emboldened disciples were not transformed instantly – they had been following Jesus for three years!  The same is to be true for us.  God continues to invite us to encounter his transforming, empowering and loving presence each day.  But there is no shortcut to vital spirituality.  We are to practise spiritual disciplines and to work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12).

Jesus promised his followers that they would have fruitful, joyful, and powerful lives as a result of being filled with the Holy Spirit.  As disciples of Jesus, Pentecost presents us with an opportunity to reflect how we are living each day.  Do we seek the Spirit’s guidance?  Are we attentive to the Spirit’s leading?  Do we grieve the Spirit with unrepentant sin?  Are we willing to surrender every area of our lives to the Spirit’s control?  Is the fruit of the Spirit growing in our lives?  If we desire the fruitful lives promised by Jesus, Pentecost is a time to confess our failure to live by the Spirit and to ask God to fill us afresh with the Spirit.

How then can we be filled afresh with the Spirit?  In Disciplines of the Holy Spirit – How to Connect to the Spirit’s Power and Presence, authors Dr. Siang-Yang Tan and Dr. Douglas H. Gregg explain:

Though the Spirit is present in all Christians, this does not mean all Christians are filled – empowered, released, guided and controlled – by the Holy Spirit. The filling of the Holy Spirit is an ongoing reality. Paul says in Ephesians 5:18, “Be filled with the Spirit.” In the original language, this verse actually means “continually be filled with the Spirit.” Renewal and a release of the Spirit’s presence and power are needed on a daily basis.

Most of the time, the filling of the Spirit is experienced in a quiet way, with a deep sense of peace or joy, perhaps bringing clarity of insight or understanding regarding present circumstances of future plans. These times of filling may not involve intense emotions, and there may be a few days or weeks of “lag time” before it is apparent that the Spirit is at work in new ways. The book of Acts records a number of such instances where the manifestations of the Spirit’s filling include boldness in preaching, greater wisdom and faith, and deeper joy (see Acts 4:8, 31; 6:3, 5; 11:24; 13:52). Other times the filling of the Spirit happens with dramatic power and can include outward manifestations such as speaking in tongues, falling down, laughing, crying, shaking, feeling warm all over, or experiencing a power surge like electricity.….Dramatic manifestations in and of themselves are not necessarily signs of the Spirit’s presence……What is most important is (the desire) to be filled with the Spirit and to leave the manifestations to the sovereignty of God and the work of the Spirit.

The apostle Paul, who encourages us so strongly to be continually filled with the Spirit, also cautions us not to grieve the Holy Spirit (Eph. 4:30) and not to quench the Spirit or put out the Spirit’s fire by our unbelief and evil (1 Thess. 5:19). When we are open to the Spirit – continually filled and seeking to be filled – we are less likely to quench or grieve the Spirit in our daily living.

The journey to spiritual maturity requires the transforming power of the Holy Spirit. We connect with the presence and power of the Holy Spirit through the spiritual disciplines (e.g., solitude and silence, listening and guidance, prayer and intercession, study and meditation, repentance and confession, yielding and submission, fasting, worship, fellowship, simplicity, service and witness). As we intentionally engage in the spiritual disciplines, we put ourselves in places and situations the Holy Spirit can do his transforming work. No one drifts casually into vital spirituality. As we yield to the Holy Spirit, we receive from him the power to do what we cannot do on our own: love our enemies, live without unnecessary worry, and give generously of our resources.

[Words in italics are mine to provide the context and additional content from the book]

Besides examining our personal lives, it is also fitting to ask “What is the significance of Pentecost to the church?”  The outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost happened at a gathering of at least 120 believers.  And every one of them was filled with the Holy Spirit.  Thus the Holy Spirit was not only given to individuals, but also to the gathered people of God at the embryonic church in Jerusalem.  For those of us who think that the church is useful but unnecessary, may Pentecost remind us that the community of God’s people is central to God’s work in the world, and that every person in the community matters to the health and mission of the church because everyone is gifted and empowered by the Holy Spirit (Eph. 4:11-16).

Ms Chan Suet Fong

May 20, 2018