Hospitals and the Holy Spirit
The past several days, I have been hanging out in St. Joseph's hospital in St. Paul, Minnesota with my wife's family. At this very moment, we are in the waiting room as Granny is undergoing open heart surgery. As we have been sitting here, I have been thinking about the Holy Spirit. This was prompted by a sermon that we listened to this past week but also by something else quite remarkable: witnessing the incredible number of "helpers" who have been ministering to my mother-in-law as she prepared to receive a new heart valve.
Yesterday, a steady flow of people came in and out of the hospital room. There was the nutritionist bringing dinner, a vanilla "Boost" drink, and a lacto-bacillus pill. A nurses' aide drew blood from Granny's finger to check on her sugar levels since she has needed insulin. The cardiologist came in to answer questions regarding the forthcoming operation. A respiratory therapist rehearsed the breathing exercises that would be required for the next several weeks of recovery. An anesthesiologist talked out the pre-op procedure. I came in at one point and another staff was rubbing down Granny's feet with a relaxing foot massage. Impressively, every single one of these people seemed compassionate and genuinely willing to answer any questions or to provide whatever was needed.
This brought to my mind the thought that this humane desire to "help" really serves as a reflection of the character and activity of our God. In particular, the Holy Spirit is called by Jesus "the Helper". In John 14:16, Jesus tells his disciples "And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows him. You know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you." By calling the Spirit "another Helper", we are meant to see that Jesus Himself has committed Himself to help us to turn from sin and brokenness and, by His grace, to live the life that God lovingly designed and desires for us. The Holy Spirit as the third person of the Trinity is busily at work to guide, to direct, to strengthen, to encourage, and to lead us in this new life that Jesus has secured for us by virtue of His death and resurrection.
Imagine for a moment, the Holy Spirit busily going to work in your life and my life seeking to kindle in our hearts a pure and passionate love for God. Like all those people coming in and out of the hospital room, the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus calls "the Spirit of truth", is teaching us and reminding us of those things that keep our hope fixed on God and our hearts set upon living for our Saviour. This really is a unique aspect of our Christian faith. God is not sitting in the heavens, arms folded, with a disapproving scowl, watching us fumble through life. He is present, speaking, helping, serving, and loving. The Spirit rolls up His sleeves, locks arms with us, and reminds and instructs us of God's truth, His promises, His gospel, His love, His wisdom and His ways.
This is why the apostle Paul urges the Christians in 1 Thessalonians 5:19 with these words "Do not quench the Spirit of God." Paraphrased, Paul is saying that we shouldn't dump a bucket of water on the Spirit's work in our lives. The Spirit uses the truth of God's Word to increase the degree and depth of our love for Jesus Christ. He brings specific application and awareness of God's ways and works in order to do in our lives what fire does to gold. Applied truth in every day life and trials is designed to burn off the dross and refine the gold. He is purifying us.
In 1 Thessalonians 5:20, Paul says these words "Do not despise prophecies." While there is a great deal of discussion about what he means by "prophecies", let me suggest to you an important foundational part of the meaning. Prophecies are personal applications of God's Word to our lives as believers by the direct influence of our Helper, the Spirit of God. This may come by means of the preaching of God's Word on a Sunday morning. It may be through the ministry of the Word in our small groups or personal devotions. A friend may come to us and tell us that God really laid a passage of Scripture on their hearts for us.
Whatever the case may be, Paul is urging us to lean into the Spirit rather than to quickly dismiss His helpful ministry in our lives. Last evening, MariAnne was reading Psalm 145 to Granny. The psalm ends with these words: "My mouth will speak the praise of the Lord and let all flesh bless his holy name forever and ever." As this passage fell on Granny's ears, I watched tears fill her eyes, and she mouthed the prayer "I want to do that." I believe the Helper was ministering the Word of God to her heart and she was not quenching His ministry. She was loving Him, listening to Him, and responding.
Paul writes to the Thessalonians "Do not despise prophecies but test everything: hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil." Many people take this to mean that we need to test every Word that is given to us. That is a good interpretation. However, I wonder if Paul really means that we ought to test everything in our lives by the truth of the Spirit. The way that we don't quench the Spirit is by leaning into the truth as He applies it to our lives. We search carefully what He is saying to us. We think about what the good is that He is encouraging and we think about the evil that He is telling us to avoid or to abandon. We should hold onto that which is good and we should abstain from every form of evil.
The sign of a long life of friendship with God is a speedy responsiveness to God the Helper as He brings counsel, conviction, correction, and encouragement to us directly. What a God! He daily helps us with the application of His Word by speaking to us personally by means of the Spirit if we are willing to lean in and listen and whisper like Granny "I want to do that!"