Releasing the Spirit

When I told my friend that she had empowered me, she replied in surprise: “I have never empowered anyone in my life.” I didn’t know how to respond to her. I only knew that I did not have the courage to do what the Spirit was asking of me, but after her affectionate embrace before Mass I found the courage.

Thanks to Bill Johnson, Pentecostal pastor and author of Hosting the Presence, I now have an explanation. Johnson states that the Spirit lives in all who are born-again believers, but the Spirit does not rest upon every believer. The Spirit is in us for our sake, but He rests upon certain individuals for the sake of others. Ever so briefly, the Spirit had rested on my friend who  released the Spirit’s empowerment of me.

Jesus, the Model. Jesus’ lifestyle was the relentless and consistent hosting of the Holy Spirit. His ministry of compassion for others flowed out of His relationship with the Spirit. Take the example of the woman with the issue of blood who touched the edge of Jesus’ clothing, Jesus realized that anointing, the Presence of the Holy Spirit was released from Him. He was conscious of the Spirit’s presence, even when he was walking and talking, listening to people’s comments and questions.

Johnson pictures the woman as watching Jesus work and coming to the conclusion that He carried something on His person that could be accessed through touch. She observed something unseen and responded with faith. Faith sees and responds to unseen realities: something rested upon Jesus. And the Spirit’s power was released to her.

Jesus, the Teacher. Here is what Johnson has to say about Jesus’ commissioning of the 70 disciples: “If the truth be told, in most our churches this group of unqualified people wouldn’t be allowed to be ushers or to direct traffic, let alone head up evangelistic campaigns.” Intentionally, Jesus sent them in over their heads. They would be forced to rely on a Higher Power. His goal was for them to learn to work with the Holy Spirit who was with them. Jesus was more interested in connecting them to the process of hosting the Spirit’s Presence than in results.

Interestingly, Jesus gave these disciples the instruction to let their peace come upon a household. Not just a command to greet people with Shalom. Peace is a Person: presence of  someone—the Holy Spirit. Jesus added another command: take back their peace if people were not worthy. Did the Holy Spirit rest upon them? Were they responsive to the Spirit or not? That was the criterion.

Jesus’ statement in the Gospel with reference to John the Baptist has always puzzled me: “The one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” What makes this possible? Johnson explains that John lacked the one essential gift from God—baptism of the Holy Spirit. Baptism makes it possible for every New Testament believer to be greater than John, to be greater than the greatest of the Old Testament prophets. This is fire at a whole new level. And this fire is the Presence of the Spirit.

Losing the Spirit. Earlier we said that the Spirit lives in all who are born again believers, but that the Spirit rests upon certain individuals for the sake of others. It is this power to empower others that we can lose. Johnson gives an Old Testament example of King Saul. At first, Saul was anointed and he became the man God needed in that position. However, through a series of disastrous choices–like his efforts to kill David—Saul became the untrustworthy king of Israel. “Now the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul.” 1 Samuel 16:14.

How do we lose the Spirit? St. Paul says: “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God.” Ephesians 4:30. And in Thessalonians 5:19 he says: “Do not quench the Spirit.” Johnson explains that we grieve the Spirit through sin in thought, attitude or action. Quenching the Spirit means to stop the flow of and refers to the passion part of our walk with God. Losing passion for God always affects our ability to allow the Holy Spirit to flow from us to change the world around us.

Further, we lose passion for the Spirit because our churches have lost passion for the Spirit. Unfortunately, in Catholic circles the Spirit is the Forgotten God. That deadens our sensitivities to the Spirit. Johnson states that so many people have no one to go to when God touches them in an unusual way.  The common response with many is to try to stay average, so our experience of God gets dumbed down to the lowest common denominator.

Welcoming the Spirit. We can’t give what we don’t have. Generally, we can’t release the Spirit to others unless we first steward the Spirit’s Presence. Of course, the Spirit can make exceptions. When the Spirit rests upon a certain individual for the sake of empowering others, it is generally because He has been made welcome. Signs of welcoming the Spirit are:

  • Giving the Spirit priority in our spiritual life. Fr. Jules Toner, SJ. states: “Human life is Christian life in the measure that it is lived under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit of Christ.”  Does that criterion reflect our attitude toward the Spirit? What about our actions? Is the prayer, Come Holy Spirit, or some such prayer, on our lips throughout the day?
  • Seeing our spiritual journey as a continuous process of expanding our relationship to the Spirit. We might begin our relationship with the Spirit as our mentor and guide in our discerning process when we are seeking God’s will or direction. We might then advance with the Spirit’s help to discerning the movements of our hearts—whether they be holy or unholy, calculated only to hinder the Spirit’s work within us.
  • Understanding the Spirit’s interior work. Let us call it the spiritualization process, and the Spirit is the catalyst of that process. The Spirit is at work within us growing our capacities to love and to hope, and for developing our faith. Let this process become the subject of our daily prayer to the Spirit.
  • Realizing our powerlessness. God has programmed us for relationship with Him—an Infinite Being, an Infinite Lover. But we are powerless to relate to such a Being on our own. God has put Himself out of our personal reach. Only the Spirit of Love can make encounter possible. Besides, we are even powerless to access our capacity to love. It resides at the center of our being. That too is out of our reach. Again, we need the Spirit who resides at our center to unleash our capacity to love.
  • Acknowledging the Spirit’s scope. The Spirit is not just our personal possession. The Spirit is the Cosmic Spirit. The agent of all human creativity that inspires the beauty in our world. The agent of all human inspiration that reveals all our knowledge and insight. The agent of all human love’s aspirations that create communities of love and goodness in hearts.

Releasing the Spirit. Above are just some of the signs of welcoming the Spirit. Their focus has centered on our personal relationship. This is where we must begin. However, Johnson’s book, Hosting the Presence, offers us a dramatically new dimension to our relationship with the Spirit. It is at a whole new level!

He states that as we grow in relationship to the Spirit, He will allow us the increasing privilege of releasing His Presence and powers into various situations and people’s lives. Just becoming aware of this privilege has caused me to act as if the Spirit has already rested on me for the sake of others. Awareness has that kind of power to set us on fire.

Isn’t this spiritual reality awesome? Through the Holy Spirit, we can empower others, anoint others. We can host the Presence of the Holy Spirit for the sake of others. The Spirit will rest on us without withdrawing if we make the Spirit welcome. That really is the biggest challenge of our Christian life. After all, the Holy Spirit is Jesus’ greatest gift to us. What we do with that gift is our greatest gift to God!