As people in Northern Ireland, we often hear a lot about ‘following Jesus’, but a Christian friend called Andrew asked me recently, “what’s it like to live by the Holy Spirit?”
It got me thinking.
There are a copious number of valid answers I could give in response to this question, but after it has been swirling around my head for the past week, I thought I’d have a little go at a rugged attempt to answer, from the vantage point of where I happen to be today, as a Christian as I write this, aware that my fuller understanding and articulation of it could be different in a month or a year’s time. For now, however, this question got me thinking on the following lines of thought.
Jesus gave his disciples the command that we are to, deny ourselves, pick up our crosses daily and follow him. A cross was never going to be an easy package to carry each day.
The verse in the bible that I keep coming back to, in relation to living by the Holy Spirit, from the only book I keep returning to with foundations firm enough for what often seems today’s ever-changing, fluid, flaky world, is one that says, “I want to know Christ, and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him, even unto death.” Only living by the Holy Spirit could ever allow one to enter into such a life.
I am deliberately not adding the reference numbers here – you can go search for these yourselves.
The latter verse contains some pretty strong words indeed. About almost 8 years ago now, I remember beginning to pray these very words, very sincerely, and only more recently am I coming to realize anew the power and potency of not least the latter, as such suffering as I have been going through lately, not least of friends who have wounded me deeply and betrayed me and walked out of my life in an unfair manner, as I have sought to earnestly follow God wholeheartedly, reminds me of what Jesus went through, and what only HE can fully understand and empathize with me in.
Following our GOD – the Father, Son and Holy Spirit – demands not just a part of our being, it demands (as the old hymn writer put it,) ‘my life, my all.’
To live by the Holy Spirit, as the question was put to me, made me realize afresh, is to live from an eternal perspective, as an alien in a foreign land. Too often I become too comfortable with my ‘little lot’ here on earth, when in reality, I was never meant to be comfortable here. Our home is is in heaven, not here. So, to live by the Holy Spirit, is to embrace risk, radical love and the frequent threat of rejection – for, foreigners are often misunderstood and unappreciated by the locals. I have a lot to learn.
To live by the Holy Spirit is to seek to grow in His ‘fruit’ – spoken of in Galatians, of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Just writing these down, however, can easily lead me to feel crap about myself, (so aware of my frailties and lack of such entities I am so aware of). That, however, is not the point of this exercise, or what the Holy Spirit wants to induce in me, or you, as we self-reflect and consider what it means to live by Him. (Northern Ireland and the religious background most of us from here have can be very good at stimulating guilt, rather than liberating freedom the Holy Spirit and living by HIM actually creates).
To live by the Holy Spirit, rather, is not a chore, or attempt to grow in moral ‘goodness’ or mere religiously commendable behaviour. Rather, it is to embrace partnership with a living being, a person in fact, who gets to become our best friend – MY best friend – and co-labourer, who brings me comfort, counsel and sound teaching, partnering in my everyday endeavours, be they big or small. He is there at my daily invitation, or ready to be excluded just as much as the next friend I care to ignore or block out of my life. He has feelings just the same.
So I seek to listen to him and be sensitive to him, the person of the Holy Spirit, and involve him in my everyday moments, from waking up in my bed in the morning, til my head hits the pillow at night. Sometimes its very conscious, sometimes it’s not. But everyday he is there, regardless of my faithfulness, or attentiveness, and everyday he remains the same, ready to be called upon and ready to partner with me, in line with my Father’s heavenly assignments for me that particular day.
In conjunction with this, living by the Holy Spirit, gets to unfold this life into an adventure, instead of an increasing race of boredom, until the grave.
Living by the Spirit creates a hunger in us for more of God, and more of his presence.
Living by the Holy Spirit, means we get to exercise and call upon the gifts he gives us, (sometimes many but at the very least, one). This is a gift for me to unwrap and enjoy. Not get distressed by, compete with others for, or shove to the side. It brings security, quelling human insecurities. The more we understand our identity in Christ, the less we need to compete or strive.
So all in all, whilst living by the Holy Spirit (or the thought of it) can be pretty difficult if we let it be, in reality its me who does that, not him. True life by the Spirit is liberating, lively and fun. An adventure, and privilege. An honour and joy. He knows me, he loves me and he celebrates me, in partnership with the other two in the Trinitarian God we worship and walk in relationship with if we are Christians – God the Father, and God the Son, Jesus Christ. If only my heart would know it more, ahead of my head. But we are all on a journey, and I am learning, slowly, to also embrace the Spirit’s grace for myself, and not beat myself up as much as I used to – my natural default position in this walk of faith.
I hope this answers the question a little, Andrew. Even just a ‘wee’ bit. If not, I hope at least some thoughts have been provoked for any and all of you out there who are kind enough to take time to read this feeble little article. Anointed by the Holy Spirit or not.