By Shane Raynor
I have a deep conviction that the answer to many of our struggles in the Christian faith lies in our understanding of the Holy Spirit. The walls we often hit (and who hasn’t hit a spiritual wall at some point?) would fall if we took full advantage of the very gift God gave to equip us for life and ministry. Most of us know all about the Holy Spirit. We’ve got the doctrine down, and if pressed we could express our understanding on some visually appealing PowerPoint slides, or at least in a few bullet points on a napkin at Denny’s. But how much of that knowledge is second-hand and how much is from experience?
The cable channel Court TV became truTV last year, and it adopted the tagline “Not Reality. Actuality.” The two words have similar meanings, but one goes a step further than the other. The definition of realize is “to grasp or understand clearly” or “to comprehend completely or correctly.” Actualize means “to make actual or real; turn into action or fact” or “to realize in action or make real.” While in a loose sense, the words could be considered synonymous, based on these definitions, I see actuality as more of a heightened reality. So I could realize something with my intellect, even with great conviction if God reveals it to me, but I don’t necessarily actualize it until I experience it. Confused? Let’s try to make sense of it.
The biggest obstacle I’ve hit in my own understanding of the Holy Spirit is that I sometimes forget that the third member of the Trinity is no less God than the Father and the Son. That means he’s infinite and somewhat unpredictable. It also means he can (and does) operate outside of my own doctrinal rigidity and the boxes I build to contain him. Even Pentecostals and charismatics sometimes try to domesticate the Holy Spirit! A little theology (or pneumatology to be more precise) can be a dangerous thing. When I take doctrine that I’ve learned, combine it with my personal experience, and then try to project it upon others as normative, I’m in danger of limiting God.
That being established, there are certain principles and patterns that are common in Christian practice. One is the principle of expectation. Hebrews 11:1 tells us, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” While God can and does go beyond our expectations, sometimes our lack of expectation contributes to disappointing outcomes. I’m reminded of Jesus’ inability to heal in Nazareth (Mark 6:5). Mark doesn’t directly say that the reason is their lack of faith, but Matthew does. “And he did not do many deeds of power there, because of their unbelief” (Matthew 13:58). That’s pretty much explicit. I wonder how many of us don’t see much of God’s power because we don’t expect to see it.
In Acts 8, Peter and John pray for the Samaritans to receive the Holy Spirit by placing their hands on them. In Acts 19, Paul does the same with some disciples in Ephesus. The Ephesians may not have completely understood the Gospel at that point, but Acts 8 tells us that there were true believers among the Samaritans. But even so, they didn’t receive the power of the Holy Spirit until Peter and John showed up.
So what does this mean for Christians today? The Holy Spirit is indwelling every believer and working at some level, but I don’t think all believers have actualized the equipping power of the Holy Spirit. (Maybe some of us haven’t even realized that such power exists.) Some people use different terminology here (baptism with the Holy Spirit, release of the Holy Spirit), but the important thing is the principle itself. If we don’t see clear evidence of the Holy Spirit empowering us for service, I think we can ask God for this power. And we can seek out Spirit-filled Christians to pray for us to receive this power. Luke 11:9-13 tells us to keep asking, and guarantees that God will give us what we ask for, not something else.
Shane Raynor is a writer and publisher based in Austin, Texas. He is a certified lay speaker in the United Methodist Church and blogs regularly at www.WesleyReport.com.
World Mission in the Wesleyan Spirit
For years, missions-minded, evangelical Christians from the United Methodist and Wesleyan traditions yearned for a faith-based agency reflecting their priorities that would send missionaries to the largely unreached areas of the world to do evangelism, discipleship, church planting, and leadership training. Critics said it couldn’t be done, or that there was no need for such an agency. But the visionaries persisted, founding The Mission Society (www.themissionsociety.org) in 1984.
As was reported in the cover story in the last issue of Good News, The Mission Society has grown like a mustard seed. Today the agency recruits, trains and sends Christian missionaries to minister around the world. The Mission Society has more than 200 missionaries in 36 countries. It develops diverse programs and ministries in accordance with its missionaries’ unique callings and gifts, ranging from well drilling and the arts to more traditional ministries, such as teaching English and church planting. Its church ministry department provides seminars, workshops, and mentoring for congregations in the United States and overseas, helping equip churches for strategic outreach in their communities and throughout the world.
“The Mission Society has become a global entity, responding to spiritual and material needs throughout the world,” said Dr. Gerald H. Anderson, director emeritus of the Overseas Ministries Study Center in New Haven, Conn. and former United Methodist missionary. “While retaining its Wesleyan ethos and heritage, The Mission Society has expanded beyond its initial United Methodist orbit. Today it is working with 14 different denominations and independent churches, and its missionaries come from many different denominational traditions.”
Anderson is co-editor (along with Darrell Whiteman, PhD., Mission Society resident missiologist) of a new book that was released on September 11, World Mission in the Wesleyan Spirit, in which 31 scholars and Christian leaders examine how Wesleyan theological orientation has shaped the practice of world missions. Collectively, their essays examine the past, present, and future directions of world missions and provide the most comprehensive account of Wesleyan influence on world missions and evangelism published in the past 50 years.
World Mission in the Wesleyan Spirit is published by Providence House Publishers. To order, visit www.providencehouse.com or fax order requests to 615-771-2002.