Previously we undertook a preaching series on the Holy Spirit: the identity of the Holy Spirit, fellowship with the Holy Spirit, the empowering of the Holy Spirit for ministry and the empowering of the Holy Spirit in relationships. I produced a booklet of that preaching series with an additional chapter on the experiences people describe when the Holy Spirit is present.
If we believe that God can do things through the Holy Spirit we need to provide an opportunity for God to do what he wants to do. For this reason, for more years than can remember, we have had a healing Eucharist on the morning of the fourth Friday of each month; providing an opportunity for the laying on of hands, anointing with oil, and prayer for whatever is of concern for those who seek it.
You may be aware that we have begun, what we are calling, Seeking the Spirit, on the second Wednesday evening of each month. The purpose of this group was to be intentional about worshipping the Holy Spirit and seeking the Spirit for the building up of the Parish and for praying for those things and people that need praying for in the Spirit. It has also been a time when we can talk about our experiences of the Holy Spirit so that others may realise that the Holy Spirit is at work in and through them without them realising.
We have also taken the opportunity to offer to pray spontaneously for people when a need is expressed. I continue to be amazed, perhaps ashamedly, about how many amazing things, dare I call them miracles, have taken place in the last month or so as a result of this willingness to provide opportunity for God the Holy Spirit to do what he wants to do through prayer ministry.
Some time ago we prayed for one of the Friday morning attenders shoulders. They have caused such pain. Although the pain has since returned, the following week they told me that for a whole weekend they were pain free.
Another member of the Friday morning congregation was recently diagnosed with an aggressive secondary cancer on the lung from a breast cancer previously in remission. While undergoing difficult and painful tests she found herself praying and the experience she described while undergoing examination can only be attributed to the Holy Spirit. As a part of the Friday morning service we prayed for her. At the next medical examination, before any medical intervention had begun, the doctor was surprised to declare that the cancer had already decreased in size.
After an 8.00 am Sunday service, one of the members of the congregation, who had been unable to stand when they normally would during the service, explained that they had pain in their back. The pain had been a long standing condition that had been particularly bad that day. I offered to pray for her, which she accepted. On the Monday night following she telephoned me to say that she had been pain free for two whole days and I have had no reports that the pain has returned.
Just this week I heard that another of the 8.00 am had an open wound on their leg for some time that would not heal. One of our parishioners offered prayer ministry for healing. Later the member of the 8.00 service reported that their next medical visit had revealed that the wound was finally beginning to heal.
I don’t know why there is sometimes healing and other times appears to be nothing. But these incidences are not things that have happened to people we do not know, in times now gone, and in far off places. They have happened to people we know, here in this place, and in our time.
I feel like Paul sometimes as he writes, ‘on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses. But if I wish to boast, I will not be a fool, for I will be speaking the truth. But I refrain from it, so that no one may think better of me than what is seen in me or heard from me, even considering the exceptional character of the revelations.’ (2 Corinthians 12:5-7)
Amazing things have happened to Paul. In this passage from 2 Corinthians, Paul is defending his credentials as an apostle, as we often find him doing. He is speaking of himself in the third person as having an experience of revelation by the Holy Spirit. He is probably doing this in response to his critics claiming credentials for themselves through their ecstatic experiences. By using the third person, however, he is not drawing focus on himself, he is calling the readers to identify those who are worthy by their being ‘in Christ’.
Rather, Paul owns his faults—he boasts of his weaknesses. He doesn’t want anyone to think more highly of him than he is, despite what they see happening in and through him, lest it causes them to focus on him rather than on Christ who is in him—‘so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.’ There is a hierarchy in the Christian Godhead. The Holy Spirit points us to Christ Jesus who, in turn, points us to the Father. We are not to draw attention to ourselves, but always be pointing others to Christ Jesus. Any revelations, any miracles, are not done by us, but are done through Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.
It is interesting that in the face of these amazing things that have been happening in our midst, I find myself amazed that they should be happening through me. They seem to be happening despite me. I have taken myself off to have some counselling because of some baggage I am carrying over from my marriage. My internal life is a mess. As a result of my messy internal life, my spiritual life is also a mess. Despite these things, God is doing some amazing things. Dare I say it, because of these things, God is able to act amazingly. My ego is not getting in the way. I can’t fall into the trap of taking credit for it. It is not because I am psychologically together, it is not because I am deeply prayerful; it is simply that God has the opportunity to do something.
I am constantly reminded that his strength made known in my weakness. Here is the paradox, ‘whenever I am weak, then I am strong.’
The point is this. If we want to see the things God can do, we need to enable the opportunities for God to act. We don’t have to be super-spiritual, we don’t have to be perfect, we don’t have to be deeply prayerful, we just need to be in Christ and respond as we best understand we should. It is not we who do it, it is Christ who does it, we need to accept what we can offer and let him get on with it. It won’t happen if we make it all about us and by our effort. His grace is sufficient for you, for his power is made perfect in our weakness.