“Stirring the Spirit” – just right, too much, or not enough?

I’ve been banned from making custard in our household, because when I make it I don’t stir it enough and it gets lumps in it, or I stir it too much and it’s like rubber. I have never got custard to turn out right, and according to the chef in the family it all comes down to the stirring.

Does that apply to how we “stir the Spirit” in 2 Timothy 1:6 too, then? If we don’t stir the Spirit enough, for instance, does that explain why we’re “timid” as Christians and our “power, love and sound mindedness” (verse 7) are lacking? Or does stirring the Spirit too much explain why Christians go all mystical and have strange visions, and speak in odd languages?

But if my stirring – either too much or not enough – determines the Spirit’s effectiveness in my life, then am I not controlling the Spirit? And if I don’t get the stirring just right, like custard, does that mean the Spirit won’t turn out right in me either?

But if both those points are true then it’s absolutely crucial that I know how to stir the Spirit just right to produce the right effect, right? Get it wrong and I either become weak or odd. But, unfortunately, Paul doesn’t explain how we stir the Spirit. All he says is, “fan into flame the gift of God which is in you” (verse 6, NIV), but no explanation as to how we do it.

We need to know how though, surely, because in verses 8-9 we’re being asked to do things like not be “ashamed to testify about our Lord,” to “suffer for the gospel,” and live “a holy life” – none of which, I’ve discovered, come to me naturally. I can’t do them.

But that’s the whole point Paul is bringing out here, because in the next sentence he says it’s “not because of anything WE have done” that makes these things possible, it’s “by the power of God” (8), and because of HIS own purpose and grace.”

That’s good to know, because I’m far too timid by nature to openly testify about what I believe, or risk suffering for the gospel. And I don’t have the power, love, and sound mindedness in me to lead a holy, balanced Christian life at all times in an anti-Christian world either.

But the Spirit can do all those things in me, despite me. Stirring the Spirit, then, is simply recognizing who and what enables us to do all the impossible things God asks us to do. It’s not trying to stir these things from strength within ourselves, it’s trusting the Spirit to do these impossible things in us.


How do we know we have the Spirit?

What I find frustrating as a Christian is that I know what Paul says about the Spirit in Romans 8 but it doesn’t seem to be happening to me. 

I read in Romans 8:13, for instance, that the Spirit enables us to “put to death the misdeeds of the body,” so how come I still mercilessly condemn other people’s driving habits? And in Romans 8:15 the Spirit ends my slavery to fear, so how come I still worry that I’m not doing enough as a Christian? And I read in Romans 8:39 that nothing in this world can separate us from the love of God, so how come I still wonder if God loves me when bad things happen?

Paul talks of the Spirit being “life and peace,” but I’m still riddled with bad habits, fear, worry and confusion – which shouldn’t be happening to a Christian, right? So why are they still happening to me? I feel like Paul when he cried out, “What a wretched man I am!” because I can read what the Spirit does for us, but circumstances crop up that overwhelm me and down the tubes I go, and there’s nothing I can do to stop it. It’s frustrating. I know what the Spirit does, so why doesn’t he do it for me?  

Is it because of verse 26, that says “We do not know what we ought to pray” – or what to pray for, or how to pray properly? Is that my problem, that I don’t know how to pray, and in not knowing how to pray, that’s why the Spirit isn’t helping me in my weakness? Is that how it works, that once I know how to pray and what I should pray about, and I start praying properly, then the Spirit kicks in?   

That isn’t, however, how Paul finishes off verse 26. He doesn’t say we need to learn to pray properly for the Spirit to work, he says “the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.” The Spirit isn’t waiting for us to pray the right way to get things rolling for us; he’s working on our behalf all the time regardless of how we pray. And if we can’t see that, God certainly can, verse 27, “for he who searches the hearts knows the mind of the Spirit.” He can see the Spirit at work.

Jesus promised in John 14:17, that we can “know the Spirit,” because “he lives with you and will be in you.” In time, therefore, the evidence that something remarkable is living with us and in us will be clear to us. If it isn’t clear now, it will be. It’s a promise.

How do we know we’re being guided by the Holy Spirit?

I’ve met many people who say the Spirit is telling them what to say and what to do, but how do they know it’s the Spirit guiding them and not their own thoughts, ideas and motives?

Is it even possible to know if the Spirit is guiding us? Yes, Galatians 3:2. Paul’s asking a group of Christians when they received the Spirit. But why would he ask such a question if they had no clue what he was talking about? Well, of course they knew. As soon as they’d believed the message about Jesus Christ, they’d experienced the Spirit kick in, and from that moment on they’d trusted the Spirit to guide them, verse 3. And not surprisingly either, because obvious miracles had begun to happen to them, verse 5. Oh, they knew when the Spirit was guiding them all right; there was clear evidence they could point to, and Paul knew it. That’s why he could ask them when they received the Spirit. He asked because he knew they knew.

The writer of Hebrews is just as blunt. Why on earth, he wonders, would Christians revert back to their old selves when they’ve “tasted the heavenly gift” and “shared in the Holy Spirit,” Hebrews 6:4? They knew what it was like to be guided by the Spirit. They’d tasted it, shared it, and personally experienced “the powers of the coming age,” verse 5. They had all kinds of evidence of the Spirit at work in their lives. So they knew, too.

When the Spirit guides it’s obvious. Once we’ve “been enlightened” and “tasted the goodness of the Word of God,” Hebrews 6:4-5, and we’re hanging on to the message of Jesus Christ for dear life, Galatians 3:1-2, 5, then, guaranteed, we have the Spirit’s guidance, with obvious miracles to prove it.

But what obvious miracles? All those listed in Galatians 5:16-26, for a start. The Spirit will happily deal with all the junk in our lives that wrecked our relationship with God and ruined our relationships with people. He’ll happily replace it with lovely qualities instead, the obvious fruits of which will be great relationships with God and people. And we won’t need the law to keep us in line anymore (verse 23) because the Spirit is “crucifying our sinful nature,” verse 24.

So let the Spirit guide, because what we need and long for is what the Spirit does for us. Ever so gradually and ever so gently the Spirit “transforms us into the likeness of Christ with ever-increasing glory,” 2 Corinthians 3:18. It is SO gently, though, that we may think the Spirit isn’t guiding us, but if we’re hanging onto the message about Jesus Christ, the Spirit is at work, guaranteed, Galatians 3:1-5.

Can we be resurrected from the dead today, right now?

The bad news is, that “death came to all men, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12)

But the good news is, “When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ,” (Colossians 2:13).

The bad news is, “For you died.”

But the good news is, “your life is hidden with Christ in God,” Colossians 3:3.

The bad news is, “we were dead in transgressions.”

But the good news is, “God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 2:5-6).

The good news is, we have a Great Resurrector, who lifted all humanity out of its dead state of “gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts,” Ephesians 2:3, and united us with Christ so that “our old self was crucified with him,” Romans 6:6. But it didn’t end there, because “If we have been united with him in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection,” Romans 6:5, so “count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus,” verse 11.

So that’s where we are right now: Thanks to the Great Resurrector raising Jesus from the dead “we too may live a new life,” verse 4. But what kind of “new life” is it?

It’s a new life of constant resurrection from the dead, for “he who raised Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you,” Romans 8:11. And what the Spirit enables us to do every day is “put off your old self, which is being corrupted by evil desires, to be made new in the attitude of your minds, and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness,” Ephesians 4:22-24.

Our minds are being lifted – or resurrected – from “the futility of their thinking” (verse 17) to living “as children of light,” Ephesians 5:8, the clear fruit of which is “all goodness, righteousness and truth,” verse 9.

And that, to Paul, is like being raised from the dead every day. So “Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you,” he cries in verse 14, because imagine the impact our new life of the Spirit can have on a dying marriage, on an addiction that’s killing us, on moods we cannot shake, or on anything “beyond our ability to endure,” that makes us “despair even of life,” 2 Corinthians 1:8. In all those things we can rely on God “who raises the dead,” verse 9.

But that’s the Christian life for you; it’s a life of constant resurrection from the dead.

What kind of bodies are WE resurrected into?

Jesus gave us very few hints as to the kind of bodies we receive when we’re resurrected from the dead. Lazarus was raised from the dead, yes, but he was still in the body he had, which would die a second time. Staggering though the miracle was, in reality Lazarus was just a corpse being revived. And all the other people whom Jesus raised from the dead would die again too.

The resurrection we receive, however, is much different to that. In Romans 8:29, Paul tells us that God is conforming us “to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers,” so whatever Jesus is like in his resurrected state right now as the firstborn of many is the likeness we will have when we join him as his resurrected brothers.

So what is Jesus like now? In 1 Corinthians 15:45, Paul talks of “The first man Adam,” who “became a living being” (quoting Genesis 2:7), but “the last Adam,” referring to Jesus, is “a life-giving spirit.” Jesus’ flesh and blood body was transformed in his resurrection. It became a “spiritual” body, which Paul defines as powerful, imperishable, and immortal (verses 42-44, 54). But most important – he had a body that could give life too.

Does that mean we’ll have that kind of body too? Yes, verse 49, for “just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven.” The body Jesus now has is the body we’ll be given: It’s powerful, imperishable and immortal. It is also capable of giving life. So in the same way that Jesus’ power “has given us everything we need for life and godliness,” enabling us to “participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world,” we will have that same power too.

Paul made that very clear in Philippians 3:20-21, when he talks of “the Lord Jesus Christ, who by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they (too) will be like his glorious body.”

Imagine having the same power Jesus has IN FULL to give life to others. But we’re already experiencing a taste of it even before we’re resurrected. Right now the Spirit is transforming us into Jesus’ likeness “so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body,” 2 Corinthians 4:10. Already the life-giving spirit of Jesus “is at work” in us, verse 12.

It’s a lovely taste of the kind of bodies we’ll be resurrected into, as Jesus is already giving life to people through those who are “one with him in spirit” (1 Corinthians 6:17).

What visible difference does Christ’s resurrection make?

What visible difference has Christ’s resurrection made to death, evil and suffering? On the face of it, none, because we still die, do terrible things to each other, and pain, grief and mental turmoil are epidemic. Accidents haven’t stopped either, nor have natural disasters.

Even Scripture says “the whole creation has been groaning,” Romans 8:22, and it certainly got that right, because animals, forests and oceans are groaning under the weight of human stupidity and greed. Humans groan in frustration too, verse 20, because we still can’t stop ourselves getting old and sick, or stop what wrecks human lives and kills us.

So what has Christ’s resurrection done that’s actually changed anything?

Well, it did create Christians, who’ve done all sorts of things through the centuries to improve people’s lives and ease human suffering. But for all the good they’ve done, Christians still haven’t eradicated war, famine, disease, cruelty, crime or poverty, nor have Christians themselves escaped those things either. They too have been victims, and they too suffer like everyone else. So, what proof do even Christians have that Christ’s resurrection has made a difference, other than provide hope that there’s a better life after this one? But other religions, that have no belief in Christ’s resurrection, have that hope too.

Is there some other visible evidence, therefore, that demonstrates the difference Christ’s resurrection makes? There must be some obvious difference, surely, when it dawns on a person that Jesus being raised from the dead proves he was who he said he was, and that everything he said was true.

Like what, though?

Well, one of the things Jesus said in John 11:25 was, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies.” Oh. So if I’m facing terminal cancer, or I lose a child to suicide, I have absolute proof in Jesus’ own resurrection, and in this statement he made in John 11:25, that he has the power to resurrect me and my child. Death, therefore, is only temporary. Does that then add weight to that other statement Jesus made in John 14:27, when he said, “My peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives”?

It should be obvious in a Christian’s life, therefore, that he is visibly at peace, even in the face of horrible things happening in this life. Like Paul said in Philippians 3:10, therefore, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection,” and in this very real way too, of not “being anxious about anything” (4:6), and having “the peace of God guard my heart and mind” (verse 7). And if that’s visible to others, even better.

Did Jesus really come back from the dead?

The key to any event in history being credible and true is witnesses. The proof, for instance, that the insanity and terror of trench warfare in World War 1 was tragically real is the men who wrote in their diaries about it, sent letters home about it, took photographs and painted pictures of it, and many of those who survived wrote books about it and told stories to their children and grandchildren.

A veteran could stand up before a room full of school children, therefore, and none would question his credibility, even though none of the children had witnessed World War 1 themselves. He was believable because he’d been there. He’d been a witness.

It’s an accepted tradition throughout the centuries too, that if there is some record of an event preserved by people of that period, whether it be a document like the Magna Carta, or paintings on a Pyramid wall, or the scribblings of an arrogant tyrant etched in rock, that there must be some truth to it. The record may be exaggerated or skewed by a bloated ego, or it may deliberately stretch the facts to support a national agenda, or there may be many different and even contradicting reports of an event, but none of those things has stopped events in the past being taught and accepted as fact, so long as there were witnesses.

It makes my job a lot easier when telling the story about Jesus being resurrected from the dead, because it’s already an accepted tradition that witnesses are the key to an event in history being credible and true. What applies to other historical events being true must apply equally to Jesus, therefore. So long as there are witnesses who made records of what happened, it doesn’t matter if the records are exaggerated, skewed or they differ widely, because none of those things have mattered in accepting other historical events as being true. Differences in stories don’t mean the event never happened. Witnesses to a road accident, for instance, differ widely sometimes in their memory and view of what happened, but it doesn’t mean the accident never happened. They were witnesses and that’s all that matters.

When Jesus told his disciples in John 15:27, therefore, that “you must testify about me, for you have been with me from the beginning,” he too was simply working on the accepted principle that credibility depends on witnesses. And yes, even his witnesses differed in their view and record of what they saw, as we see in the differing stories of those who witnessed his resurrection, but never have differing stories in other events been reason for dismissing them as never happening.