3rd June 2020 APC “The work of the Holy Spirit”
Welcome and Introduction
Good morning everyone and welcome to our midweek prayers and reflections. Last Sunday was Pentecost. A special day in the Christian calendar when we celebrate ‘the great beginning of the Church’, the day the Holy Spirit first came to confused and frightened disciples. Since that first Pentecost, every day is a Holy Spirit day because if we have trusted in Christ to forgive us for our sins, the Holy Spirit now lives within us. But why is that so special and why has God given the Holy Spirit to us for our day to day lives? Well that’s what we’ll be considering this morning. But before we do that let’s talk to God, let’s pray…
Living God, we rejoice today again as we contemplate the gift of your Spirit and the way you have breathed new hope, new faith and new life into so many people throughout the centuries.
But we also remember today, that not everyone responded gladly when you first sent your Spirit and not everyone welcomes his presence today.
In the apostles day there was scorn, ridicule and disbelief, suggestions that the apostles were drunk or even out of their minds. So too today some people are sceptical or even antagonistic when people experience the work of your spirit in ways that are miraculous or not easily explained.
Lord have mercy.
Living God, forgive us that we too can be guilty of a similar response. Instead of welcoming the spirit we greet him with cautious and suspicious hearts. Instead of opening our lives to the spirits movement we close our minds to anything which challenges our long held preconceptions. Instead of gladly receiving your spirits gifts we barricade our souls against change.
Lord have mercy.
Living God, you warn us to test what we think is the spirit and ensure it is of you; and there are times when we need to do that, when it is right to be aware of misplaced enthusiasm and false prophecy. Yet save us from ever quenching, obstructing or frustrating your spirit. Forgive us for all the times we have done that, and open our lives now to your Holy Spirits life-giving breath, so that we may live more truly as your people.
Lord have mercy.
So Lord, please teach us this morning more about why you have given us your spirit and how he can help us. So may we become more attuned to His still small voice in our lives. In the name of Christ we pray, Amen.
Our Father, which art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy name,
Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day, our daily bread, And forgive us our trespasses,
As we forgive those who trespass against us,
And lead us not into temptation, But deliver us from evil,
For Thine is the Kingdom, the power and the glory,
For ever and ever, AMEN.
Ezekiel 36: 25-27
5 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. 26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.
Galatians 5: 16-26
16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever[a] you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.
Reflection “The Work of the Holy Spirit”
Have you ever had something that could do lots of things that you never realised until someone showed you? Maybe it was the day your son or daughter showed you how to use the webcam on your laptop in order to Skype your grandchildren. Maybe it was the time a friend showed you how to use a special feature on your food mixer or a neighbour pointed out another use for your power washer. During the lockdown so many of us have learned how to ‘zoom’ on our phones and laptops.
Life is full of magical moments when we discover how something we’ve owned for a long time can actually do things that we never realised.
That’s the experience many of us have with the Holy Spirit. We may know that God has given Him to us as His most precious gift. We may accept that He lives within us. But perhaps no one has ever sat down and explained to us all that the Holy Spirit can and wants to do in our lives.
This morning I want to highlight from the bible, some of the reasons God has given us His Holy Spirit and some of the things He wants to do for us in our lives.
Last Sunday we learned how Jesus told His disciples that the main reason He and the Father would send the Holy Spirit was so that He could bring Christ’s presence to all believers everywhere in the world at the same time. It’s important that we restate that this morning because this is the foundation that we must always keep in mind when we are thinking or talking about any aspect of the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives. Whatever specific area of His work we are looking at we must never separate that from the Spirit’s overarching purpose of bringing Christ’s presence to us and in us.
The Holy Spirit’s main work or main role if you like, is to make us so aware of Christ’s presence with us that 3 things keep happening in our lives.
Those 3 things are that we enjoy an on-going personal relationship with Christ, that we continue to be personally transformed by Christ and that we become more and more certain of all that we are and have in Christ. Let’s look at each of these aspects of the Holy Spirit’s work for a few moments:-
The Holy Spirit begins that process by showing us our sin and helping us to understand that because of that sin we are in danger of being judged by God because He is righteous. Thankfully, the Holy Spirit doesn’t leave us in limbo. After He has shown us our sinfulness, He then begins to help us understand how Christ has made a way for us to escape the judgement of God and experience His forgiveness.
I don’t know how those of you who are married or going out initially got together. I don’t know whether you had a few family members or close friends behind the scenes doing a bit of match-making. That’s how it was for me and Emma. We were both invited separately to a friend’s wedding. But rather than simply focusing on their own big day, these two friends strategically placed us beside each other at the same table hoping that Cupid would work his magic. And as the man says, “The rest is history”- 18 months later we were engaged!
That’s what the Holy Spirit does. Once He has shown us our sinfulness and made us feel our need to have that sin forgiven, He begins to help us to see a beauty in Christ that we have never seen before. He begins to help us understand how Christ’s death and resurrection have made it possible for us to be cleansed by God and accepted by Him forever. Eventually that pull or ‘call’ of the Spirit of Christ is so strong that He causes us to repent and place our faith in Christ. For some people that change of mind and that believing in Christ can be a sudden experience, one that is characterised by a very significant and visible turn around in their lives. But for many people, particularly those who have grown up in a Christian home, that turning from sin to Christ is a very gradual, almost imperceptible process. Nevertheless, in either case it soon becomes clear that the Holy Spirit has given that person a new heart- He has implanted within them a new life, with new desires and new motivations that are God-focused and people focused. To use spiritual terminology the Holy Spirit has regenerated these people. They have been ‘Born Again’ by Him. And at that moment when someone repents and believes and is regenerated, they are also joined to Christ spiritually and permanently. In that sense the Holy Spirit is like the glue that unites us to Christ forever. To have Christ’s Spirit is to be joined to Christ now and forever.
Once we have been joined to Christ by the Holy Spirit, He stays within us and encourages us to stay in touch with Christ. He does that by giving us a desire to talk to God as we would talk to a loving parent. He also gives us a new desire to read the bible because it is God’s word to us. As we read the bible, we soon find that the Holy Spirit brings its words to life for us so that we now hear them as the words of Christ speaking to us, encouraging us, warning us and teaching us how to live. In these ways, the Holy Spirit enables us to enjoy a similar friendship with Jesus that the disciples had with Him when he was on earth. That includes having a desire to express our devotion to Christ in worship as well as facing the challenge of choosing to follow Him in ways that may be difficult or costly.
So the Holy Spirit enables us to experience a personal relationship with the living Christ. He does this by drawing us towards Christ, joining us to Him and encouraging us to maintain our friendship with Christ through worship, prayer and reading scripture.
2 The Holy Spirit helps us to become more like Christ:
Part of having an on-going relationship with the Lord Jesus is that He wants to teach us and help us to live in new ways that are more in line with what God wants. This includes focusing more on the needs of others than ourselves, as well as learning to work together and serve one another. This is the second thing that the Holy Spirit does for us as He brings the Spirit of Christ to us day by day. The Holy Spirit teaches us and helps us to become more like Jesus.
He does this in a number of ways. First the Holy Spirit helps us to understand the teachings of God and of Christ that we discover in the bible. You see the Holy Scriptures are writings that are inspired by the Holy Spirit. They are a record of God’s dealings with His people down through the centuries from the beginning of time. They include 4 biographies of the life and teachings of Jesus written by his closest friends. They also contain the teachings of Jesus passed on to a number of the early churches through His closest friends, the apostles. It is the Holy Spirit who helps us to understand these scriptures and who helps us to apply their teaching to our daily lives. As we pray and ask Him for help He also gives us the power that we need to change in our attitudes and actions so that little by little, every day we begin to put off ways that are not Christ-like and we begin to put on ways that are Christ-like. This process of change will be a lifelong process and it will be a constant battle. It will be something that will require effort on our part but also something that without God’s help we will not be able to achieve. Just as a farmer must plough and sow, fertilise, spray and harvest, so too we will only become more like Christ if we are willing to make the effort to read the bible and if we are willing to put into practice what it teaches. A farmer also knows that unless God sends the sun and the rain at the right times that all her efforts will have been in vain. So too we must also pray and ask God the Holy Spirit to give us the power to obey the things that we have learned through reading the bible. Part of this process may also mean that on specific occasions we need to ask Christ through His Holy Spirit to overcome the power of evil in someone’s life. At other times we may need to ask Him to deliver us from evil in whatever ways the devil may try to oppose us as we seek to live for God.
Part of becoming more like Christ will involve being given and being willing to use the gifts and abilities that Christ gives us in order to help each other and in order to bring the love of Christ to other people through our words and through our actions. It is always within this context of becoming more like Jesus in ministering to others and in spreading the gospel that we should look at the gifts that the Holy Spirit gives to every Christian. If you want to look at them at some time, these gifts of the Holy Spirit are listed in 4 passages in the bible- 1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12, Ephesians 4 and 1 Peter 4. Personally I don’t think that these passages are an exhaustive list of all the gifts and abilities that God gives to people. In a sense it does not matter what gifs God has given us. What is important, is to remember that He has given us all gifts and talents in order that we use them. Therefore it is essential that we stop and think about the gifts and talents that God has given us. It’s important for us to ask the questions, “What gifts and talents has God given me?” and “How am I using those gifts?”
It’s also vital to remember that these gifts are given to us so that we can help and complement one another just as the different parts of the body do. They are not given to us just to make us feel good about ourselves or to make us think that we are better, more spiritual or more important than someone else.
In all these ways - helping us to appreciate and understand the bible, giving us the power to put its principles into practice, delivering us from evil and giving us gifts to serve one another and bring Christ’s love to others, the Holy Spirit ministers to us just as Christ ministered to His disciples when on earth. In this way the Holy Spirit helps us to become more like Jesus little by little every day as we seek to live according to God’s ways and bring Christ’s love to others.
Maybe you’ve been told that your company is going to have to make some redundancies and you don’t know if that’s going to include you.
Perhaps you’ve thought you did well in an important exam but you are still waiting for the results to be sure.
Living with uncertainty and fear is something that can be very unpleasant and extremely stressful.
That’s why the third main job of the Holy Spirit in bringing Christ’s presence to us, is to give us an ever increasing assurance of all that we are and have in Christ. He does that by subjectively giving us an inner sense that we belong to God-something that as one Scottish lady explained it, “Is easier felt than telt.”
He does this by giving us a desire to talk to God and call Him “Father.”
He does this by helping us to understand and believe what the bible teaches us about all the things that God has given us in Christ. And what does the bible promise us about these things?
Well, it teaches us that because of what Christ has done we can be sure that God loves us. What greater love could God have for us than to take the judgement we deserved upon Himself in the person of His Son?
It teaches us that because Christ is both human and Divine He was able to live a perfect human life.
It teaches us that when we trust that Christ died on the cross, that the perfect righteousness of Christ is put down on our account and a declaration is made in the courtroom of heaven that we are not guilty forever.
It teaches us that when He died on the cross Jesus took the punishment for sin that we deserve so that we could escape that judgement.
It teaches us that through His resurrection Jesus has conquered the devil and death and that now that we are joined to the risen Christ by His Spirit we can overcome sin in our lives. Sure we will never be perfect and we will constantly have to struggle against sin. But we can make progress, we can be better and one day we will be perfect.
It teaches us that one day, either when we die or when Christ returns we will be transformed. We will share in Christ’s resurrection experience and we, along with all who love Him, will be allowed to share in His reign of the new Heaven and the New earth forever.
It teaches us that through Christ God has adopted us into His worldwide family and treats us as His very own sons and daughters.
It teaches us about the Christian characteristics that the Holy Spirit will begin to form in us- like the fruit of the Spirit, loving other Christians and having a desire to do what is right. As we see these things developing in our lives it gives us assurance that the Holy Spirit is indeed active in our lives.
It teaches us that despite our weaknesses and our many failures God will never show us the door and tell us to get out!
It is the Holy Spirit who helps us to understand these things and helps us to remember them. Through these and other scriptural teachings the Holy Spirit assures us that we are loved by God and reminds us of all the spiritual blessings that we have in Christ both now and in the world to come.
Ultimately it is this knowledge that will bring us real peace.
Having the Holy Spirit for many of us can be like having a precious possession whose abilities and potential we have never fully grasped. So why has God given Him to us and what can He do for us?
Above all He has been given to bring Christ’s presence to us and so that Christ’s presence might be in us.
He does that so that 3 things will happen in our lives continually:-
We will be drawn into and experience daily a personal relationship with the risen Christ.
We will be transformed day by day so that we become more like Christ.
We will be reminded and reassured of all the spiritual blessings that God has given us in Christ.
May God help us to understand and forever appreciate all that He has done for us, is doing for us and will do for us through the gift of His Holy Spirit. And to Him be all the glory, Amen.
Prayers for others
Heavenly Father, we want to thank you for all of the work of our outgoing Moderator, Dr William Henry over this past year. We pray that you would help him to settle back well into his congregational responsibilities despite the continued disruption to church life.
We remember the Clerk of the General Assembly, Rev Trevor Gribben and the Deputy Clerk, Rev Jim Stothers as they prepare themselves for meetings of the Standing Commission of the General Assembly during this week. Lord, even though the full General Assembly cannot meet, please give guidance to this Commission in its work. Help them to determine the best way forward on some essential items of business, and give them wisdom in considering how the church may manage its work through the current restrictions.
We pray for our new Moderator the Rev David Bruce, his wife Zoe and their family and ask that you will encourage and guide them as they start the task of leading our denomination in the year ahead.
Give David great wisdom and sensitivity as he responds to invitations to represent the church’s views on a wide variety of issues in the media this week. What we ask for David, we also pray for PCI’s Press Officer, Mark Smith as he prepares press releases, and offers advice to those asked for comment on behalf of the church. Lord may whatever is said, and how it is said, reflect well on you in our country and wider world. Through this public witness, may people be attracted to you and your church rather than repelled.
We pray for Conveners of PCI Councils and Committees who may be speaking to reports this week. Give them clarity in presenting their work for decision, and grant that these decisions would honour God, and assist the church in fulfilling its calling in the world.
We remember those responsible for the management of the finances of the church, both treasurers in congregations and PCI’s Financial Secretary, Clive Knox and the Committees he supports. Lord we ask that the financial capacity of the church to continue its work would not be curtailed during the current crisis.
We pray for the vital work of the Council for Social Witness, and specifically its work in Residential Homes which may be vulnerable to COVID-19 infection. Lord thank you for the dedicated and skilled work of staff in PCI’s care homes, and for their dedicated Christian witness.
We remember the work of the Council for Global Mission, and specifically in its current support for Global Mission Workers, some of whom have returned to Ireland while others remain in their overseas locations. Father, we ask that you will keep our overseas staff safe, healthy and in good spirit, despite being far from home.
We pray for the work of the Council for Mission in Ireland acting in support of the Home Mission, Irish Mission, Chaplaincy and other aspects of the Church’s outward face at home. Lord we ask that the important work of reimagining PCI’s mission in light of current events will bear fruit in coming years.
As the first of the new Moderator’s online worship services will be available this Sunday morning, we pray for the team working on these services each week, including the technical people, musicians, readers and other participants. Lord, we pray that you would be honoured through these services each week.
Take a few moments in quiet now to pray for yourself and other people who come to mind…
It’s been a joy and privilege to share with you again today. Thanks again for logging on.
I hope you are beginning to experience the benefits of having the Holy Spirit living inside you more and more each day.
This Sunday coming is Trinity Sunday. We will reflecting on the mystery that God is 3 yet 1 and why it even matters.
Please continue to look out for everyone who is in need and if there is any way that I can be of help to you or anyone else please let me know. I want to say a big thank you to Kate O’Sullivan who has recorded a beautiful rendition of Amazing Grace on the Baritone which you can listen to at the end of today’s broadcast. So stay logged on for that. For now, let me share the benediction, after which I invite you to say the grace together…
Our worship has not ended it has only just begun for God is with us every moment of every day. Go then and offer the worship he desires – act fairly, love kindness and walk humbly with God every step along your way.
“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all now and for evermore, Amen.”
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.