REFLECTIONS & ENCOURAGEMENTS: understanding and growing through the covid-19 challenge.
Bishop Peter Brain Reflection 17: The Pentecost pan-endemic.
Almighty God, who taught the hearts of your faithful people by sending them the light of your Holy Spirit: grant to us by the same Spirit to have a right judgement in all things and always to rejoice in his holy comfort; through the merits of Christ Jesus our Saviour, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen
So runs the prayer for Whit Sunday, Pentecost, from the Prayer Book, with its timely reminders that the Holy Spirit is a person, who came as God’s gift through the merits of Jesus Christ, to all faithful people. Whit means gift, and what a marvellous gift of the Father and the Son, He is. God with us in the incarnation, is now God within us at conversion. He is the other counsellor, just like Jesus. At work in creation (Gen 1:2, Psalm 104:30), leaders (Ex 31:3; Nu 11:25; Jud 6:34 1 Sam 10:10; Neh 9:20), prophesied to come upon all believers (Is 57:15; Ez 36:26; Joel 2:28), promised by Jesus (John 7:37-39; 14:15-22, 25-27; 15:26; 16:5-16) came to its glorious fruition on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-47).
J B Phillips said “Every time we say, ‘I believe in the Holy Spirit’, we mean that we believe there is a living God able and willing to enter human personality and change it”. This change happened at Pentecost as Peter, once the coward, boldly preached of Christ, crucified and risen, and when the Holy Spirit convicted the hearers (as promised just 7 weeks earlier by Jesus in John 16:8-11). For us, as with them, this is what it means to be born again (from above NIV Margin), ‘the Spirit gives birth to spirit’ John 3:5-6). But this work of the Holy Spirit continues in us daily, making us more like Jesus (2 Cor 3:18; Titus 3:3-8; Eph 5:18; Gal 5:16-26, 6:7-10; 1 Thess 5:19-22; 1 Cor 12-13).
In light of the pandemic and the Holy Spirit the following thoughts come to mind:
- While the pandemic can unsettle us, even take our lives, we who trust in the Lord Jesus Christ as our Saviour and Lord, having been caught up into the greater pan-endemic, where repentant people from every nation, by relying upon Jesus find a settled assurance in this and every crisis. The Holy Spirits presence, endemic in all believers (Eph 1:13-14), is the sign and reminder that there is going to be a Day, at Christ’s return when all will be made new in Christ (Romans 8:18-25, 2 Cor 1:21-22).
- Far from causing us to despair, the Holy Spirit will drive us to prayer and help us to pray (Rom 8:26-27), reminding us not only that God is working all things for the good of His people (8:28), but that the good is that we may be conformed more like Jesus (8:29-30).
- The Holy Spirit will enable us to be servants of all people. This is the drift of the passage in Gal 6:7-10. We would be mocking God and pleasing our sinful nature rather than the Holy Spirit, if we did not do what we could for believers and unbelievers alike during our lives, including the pandemic. As the reports come from our persecuted brothers and sisters, often denied the general food distribution because they are not the majority religion, yet are shining examples of grace in the way they handle the pandemic, their poverty and the persecution. This is not natural behaviour but the work of the Holy Spirit, helping them to be Christlike. The Spirit has not left them as orphans, nor comfortless as our Saviour has promised (John 14:15-21).
- And how can we, for the most part so insulated from the persecution, poverty and ravages of the pandemic get a share of this wonderful comfort and witness? This is a question I have been asking myself? Will it be by our generosity to these very brothers and sisters, who will never be able to repay us, as we give through the well-established conduits of Barnabas Fund and Open Doors? By fulfilling the second half of Gal 6:10 we will meet the needs of our brothers and sisters and enable them to share the blessings of the first half. In this way we evidence the Spirit’s work, seen after Pentecost, in a radical sharing of our resources (Acts 2:44/5).
- The Holy Spirit’s great work of new birth will continue as we pray for the conversion of men and women through faithful and bold preachers who exalt Christ. This is what happened at Pentecost (Acts 2:22-41). Though Pentecost saw the gift of the Holy Spirit come upon all believers (Ehp1:13-14), it was primarily about Jesus. His death on the Cross (John 7:37-9) was essential to the One who is Holy being able to take up residence in our hearts. My own hope & prayer is that there will be many who have been rocked by the pandemic, whose hearts will be moved to embrace our Rock, our Saviour. We need to be alert to their enquiries and confident enough to point them to the Saviour, as the Holy Spirit was sent to do (Jn 16:5).
- The other great pan-national gift of the Spirit is the Scriptures in our own languages. As at Pentecost, through the faithful labours of translators & preachers alike, we have the Word of God in our own heart language (2 Peter 1:21). What a blessing to have had in our own hands, the Bible, during the pandemic, to calm our fears by centring us in Christ. What a disaster, if we have allowed worry or busyness or habitual carelessness to keep us from the comfort our Father would bring us through His word (Romans 15:4-6).
A prayer a hymn and some thoughts of fellow believers to encourage and lift our hearts.
Thou blessed Spirit, Author of all grace and comfort, Come work repentance in my soul; Represent sin to me in its odious colours that I may hate it; Melt my heart by the majesty and mercy of God; Show me my ruined self and the help there is in him; Teach me to behold my Creator, his ability to save, his arms outstretched, his heart big for me. May I confide in his power and love, commit my soul to him without reserve, bear his image, observe his laws, pursue his service, and be through time and eternity a monument to the efficacy of his grace, a trophy of his victory. Make me willing to be saved in this way, perceiving nothing in myself, but all in Jesus; Help me not only to receive him but to walk in him, depend upon him, commune with him, be conformed to him, follow him, imperfect but still pressing forward, not complaining of labour, but valuing rest, not murmuring under trials, but thankful for my state. Give me that faith which is the means of salvation, and the principle and medium of all godliness; May I be saved by grace through faith, live by faith, feel the joy of faith, do the work of faith. Perceiving nothing in myself; may I find in Christ wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, redemption. Amen (Valley of Vision page 66/67 Ed. Arthur Bennett. Banner)
Our blest redeemer ere he breathed
His tender last farewell,
A guide, a Comforter, bequeathed,
With us to dwell.
He comes sweet influence to impart,
A gracious, willing Guest,
Were He can find one humble heart
Wherein to rest.
And His that gentle voice we hear,
Soft as the breathe of even,
That checks each fault, that calms each fear,
And speaks of heaven.
For every virtue we possess,
And every victory won,
And every thought of holiness,
Are His alone.
(Harriet Auber Tune: St. Cuthbert)
- Every Christian should be a Christmas tree and a fruit tree: with gifts to use in a loving way. J Eddison
- The renewal of our natures is a work of great importance. It is not to be done in a day. We have not only a new house to build up, but an old one to pull down. George Whitfield
- The heart is naturally polluted, but when the Spirit comes into it, he works sin out and grace in. T Watson
- All other ways of mortification are vain, all helps leave us helpless, it must be done by the Spirit. J Calvin
- True discrimination between right and wrong does not depend on the acuteness of our intelligence, but on the wisdom of the Spirit. John Calvin
- The Spirit is active in us powerfully enlightening, animating, and transforming me along with others. He stirs our sluggishness, sharpens our insight, soothes our guilty consciences, sweetens our tempers, supports us under pressure and strengthens us for righteousness. J I Packer
- The aim of being filled with the Holy Spirit was not primarily that we may feel better but that God would make us more useful in His service. David Watson
- God does not fill with the Holy Spirit those who believe in the fullness of the Spirit or those who desire Him, but those who obey Him. F B Meyer
- Ephesians 5:18 is not just an experience to be enjoyed but a command to be obeyed. If we do not open ourselves to a daily encounter with the Holy Spirit, then the inevitable conclusion is that we are disobedient Christians. D L Moody
- The blood of Christ is not enough without the breath of God. Thomas Watson
- The Word is the chariot in which the Spirit of God rides. Thomas Watson
- Ordinances (Bible reading, prayer, church) are the conduit pipes of grace, but the Spirit is the spring. Thomas Watson
- There is no worse screen to block out the Spirit than confidence in our own intelligence. John Calvin
And a chorus/prayer: Spirit of the living God fall afresh on me (x2)/Melt me, mould me, fill me, use me/ Spirit of the living God fall afresh on me. (Daniel Iverson 1926)
Peter Brain 26th May, 2020