“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.

Evidence that the Spirit is at work in us

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 all right when the Spirit was guiding them. 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 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 all right when the Spirit was guiding them. 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 actually see God?

Some people have amazing faces. Like the face of the little girl with huge, haunting eyes that stared at me from a photo in a store window I was passing. So many emotions in so young a face – innocent and wistful, but that tragic hint of sadness, loss and hardship, too. How a face tells a story.

Some faces I can’t help myself staring at. Like the TV reporter I see occasionally who has a rather plain face when serious, but when she smiles it’s like a sudden window into this other life she lives, full of humour and mischief. How our faces give away what we’re really like.

There’s nothing like the human face in all creation. But there’s one face above all faces I’d like to see, because in that face, the Bible tells me, I can see what God is really like. It acts like a window, 2 Corinthians 4:6, into the “glory of God.” We can actually see the brilliance of God himself. How? “In the face of Christ.”

But how can I see Christ’s face when we have no record of it? And what would it tell me even if I did see it? But Paul explains himself in verse 4. “The god of this age,” he writes, “has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”

The way we see Christ’s face is in “the light of the gospel.” To understand the gospel, therefore, is to see the “glory of Christ.” And why is that important? Because Christ is the “image of God.” See Christ in his glory and we see God in his glory. And how do we see Christ in his glory? In the gospel. It’s in the gospel that we see what Christ is like, and in seeing what Christ is like we see what God is like. It’s a simple formula: understand the gospel, we see Christ; see Christ, we see God.

No wonder the “god of this age” blinds people to what the gospel is all about, because it’s through the gospel we see God. The gospel is the face, or the window, into what God is really like. And who understands that? We do, or at least we can, verse 6, “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.”

So, yes, we can actually see God. How? In Christ. How in Christ? Through the gospel. How important is it to know the gospel, then?

The difference God makes to a day

In John 17:3 Jesus said, “Now this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God.” That’s quite a statement. I remember the “Love is…” buttons, well here Jesus is saying “Eternal life is…” – but who would have thought that “eternal life is….knowing God?”

But if anyone knew that for a fact, Jesus did, because “No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven – the Son of man,” John 3:13. Jesus knew God firsthand, and knowing God as he did he simply had to tell us that “life is God.” There’s nothing more that life could be about than God. God was it. God’s always been it. There’s no life without him.

A favourite expression of one lady I knew was: “I don’t want to make it without him.” Which is exactly what Jesus was getting at, that there’s no life in life without God. He is the life in life. Compare a day with God in it to a day without him. Well, she couldn’t stand the thought of making it through a day without him. Without him it was just another day, going through the motions of keeping oneself alive physically, doing one’s chores and duties, and collapsing in front of the TV when tired out. And it all becomes a rather pointless, numbing existence after a while, like the droning tick of a grandfather clock. Another tick, another day. And for what purpose?

Perhaps that’s what this life is for, then, to discover the difference that God makes to a day. And I think I’m beginning to experience what that’s like, as I realize he’s interested and involved in every part of my life, and in every second of what I’m doing. He’s the ultimate Dad, who loves being with his children, loves watching them, loves joining in with them, loves hearing their ideas, loves helping them out when they can’t get something to work, loves helping them find things they’ve lost, loves to feed their creativity, develop their skills, open up new dimensions and give them new thoughts.

And it’s knowing he’s got that kind of Dad that makes a child’s life come alive. A day is so much better with Dad. Life is Dad. And we’ve got such a Dad for eternity too.

“I don’t like your God”

A man I’d never met or talked to before phoned and told me, “For the next hour you are going to listen to me as I show you why I don’t like your God, and why I do not believe in the God of the Bible.”

Because, he said, look at the horrible things God has done – the Flood, for instance, and wiping out Jericho, ordering the genocide of Amalekite women and children, and helping the Israelites kill thousands of people. And what about the horrors in the book of Revelation, and Jesus threatening people with eternal hellfire? And on and on the list went.

So I asked him – after his hour was up – “What shall we say then? Is God unjust?” Romans 9:14. Is God wrong in all this stuff he’s done? “Not at all,” Paul replies, because “what if God did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory,” verse 23?

The man on the phone saw God as horrible, but what Paul saw was God making his “glory known.” How? Through his mercy, because if it wasn’t for God’s mercy we’d ALL be destined for destruction, verse 22. If God had left everything up to us, we’d all be dead and gone forever – BUT, fortunately, the glory God prepared us for from the start (verse 23) does “not depend on MAN’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy,” verse 16.

Our efforts only made us “objects of God’s wrath,” verse 22, and deservedly so after rejecting God for a serpent and spitting on our birthright. God had every right, therefore, to reject us in return, but “What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath – prepared for destruction?” God had every right to “show his wrath and make his power known” – and he has shown it too (as the man on the phone pointed out) – but never to our total destruction. We deserve total destruction, of course we do, but God has made us “objects of his mercy” instead, verse 23, because in the end it will help us see his glory.

It’s only by God’s mercy and unending patience that we’re alive at all. And fortunately, in the meanwhile, he’s only given us a taste of the wrath we deserve. Yes, it’s involved (and will involve) some horrible things happening to people, but it’s nothing compared to the total destruction God could have unleashed on us. And when we’re all finally IN the glory God “prepared in advance” for us, what are we going to complain about then?

What if Jesus’ resurrection never happened?

If the resurrection of Jesus never happened God is a liar, we can throw out the Bible, and dismiss Christianity as a hoax. No resurrection equals no God, no Bible, and no Christians, because the underlying promise throughout the Old Testament is that one day God would raise his Servant in Israel to “bring my salvation to the ends of the earth” (Isaiah 49:3-6).

And the sign revealing who that servant would be was the promise in Psalm 16:10 that “you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay.”

That verse was then quoted in Acts 2:27 as evidence that Jesus was that Servant in Israel, because Jesus was not left to rot in his grave, exactly as promised in Psalm 16:10. It was used as clear proof in verse 24, that “God raised Jesus from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.”

This was the day that Christianity began, and it was based entirely on Jesus being resurrected from the dead exactly as promised by King David in Psalm 16. And how did David know God’s Servant would be raised from the dead? Because, verse 30, David was “also a prophet and knowing that God had solemnly sworn that a descendant of his would rule his kingdom, seeing far ahead, David talked of the resurrection of the Messiah” (The Message).

The only reason Christianity got started in the first place was because King David’s prophecy of the Messiah’s resurrection came true. The only question we’re left with, then, is how do we know Jesus was resurrected and his body didn’t rot in his grave?

The best answer we’ve got “that God has raised this Jesus to life,” verse 32, is Peter’s claim that “we are all witnesses of the fact.”We have the documented evidence of witnesses. They were there at the time of Jesus’ resurrection, saw with their own eyes the empty grave, and met with the very much alive and well Jesus for several weeks after his resurrection, and put it all down on record what they saw, and even what Jesus said.We have Jesus’ resurrection on record, therefore.

And the only way that can be refuted is by witnesses documenting their evidence to the contrary, that Jesus stayed dead and his body rotted and they can prove it. How? By producing his bones; clear proof we can all admit to.

And if it really was so important to people back then to refute Jesus’ resurrection, then they’d make sure they had undeniable proof of it, right? But I’ve never read or heard of such proof existing; have you?