Usually I try and get my piece for the Digest to Carolina by the beginning of the week and that is what I did this week, yet its Friday morning and here I am writing something for the Digest. I had previously written some thoughts on gentleness which I think are still worth sharing but that is not what I want to share with you now, this week. This morning I came into the office on what is normally my day off to tie up some loose ends and as I had a coffee my eyes were drawn to a book I bought a couple of years ago and have dipped in and out for sermons. The book is called OPEN TO THE SPIRIT and is by the American New Testament scholar Scot McKnight.
I felt what I can only describe as an urge to get it off the shelf and read but I resisted as I had a few things to do and just wanted to have some coffee before getting on with them. OK I now see the irony of feeling prompted to read a book called OPEN TO THE SPIRIT and resisting that prompting! Thankfully the prompting of the Spirit is more persistent than the deafness of my heart and being unable to shake the feeling that I should read the book I picked it up and began to read. I stopped reading when Scot McKnight quoted Prof James Dunn another NT expert from his commentary on the book of Acts. Here is what that quote said
“The prominence of the Spirit in Luke’s narrative from Pentecost onwards makes clear beyond doubt that for Luke the mission of the Church could not hope to be effective without this empowering from God (the Spirit of God) which transcends human ability and transforms human inability.”
I’m not sure I can full convey to you the impact that the final section of that quote made on me. There are times, and I wish they were more often, where I know without a shadow of a doubt that I have heard God speak clearly and personally to me. (I guess this is what we call “prophecy” hearing God speak clearly and directly into our lives about a particular issue.) As I read these words from Jimmie Dunn, I heard God’s voice “the mission of the Church could not hope to be effective without this empowering from God (the Spirit of God) which transcends human ability and transforms human inability.” I have been the pastor at Westlake now for over 6 months and I have found it incredibly fulfilling and challenging to return to local church leadership. In recent weeks I must confess that I have been struggling with two thoughts. Firstly, that leading Westlake through the REVisioning process we are currently in is so important and such a complicated task that I wondered if I have the ability as a leader to do it successfully. The other thing that has been heavy on my heart in recent weeks are some situations that I am aware of which seem so enormous and complex and difficult that humanly speaking I can’t see anyway for them to change. I feel like I have done my best to help and my best hasn’t helped. So, I have become acutely aware of two things, the limitations of my abilities and the reality of my inabilities. You can now understand why God interrupted my morning coffee.
Scot McKnight’s comment about Dunn’s words is worth pondering,
“The Spirit empowers us beyond what we could do on our own and transforms our existing gifts, abilities, and talents to advance God’s Glory. The Spirit takes us beyond ourselves taking what we have and making it better and taking what we don’t have making it something.”
I have realised afresh this morning that when I do my best my best is the best I can expect, and my best isn’t good enough for what I am called to do but I can go beyond my best. I have heard God’s voice in Prof Dunn’s words reminding me that the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit in me and in us as a community can “transcend my human ability” and “transform my human inability.” The Holy Spirit has called me here and He can help me do what I do well, better and do what I otherwise couldn’t. And that applies to you to and us together.
I am surely not the only one who is painfully aware of their human ability not being good enough for some things they face and their complete human inability when faced with other situations and problems? I wonder if you felt your heart stirring as you thought of possibilities that lie in Scot McKnight’s words, I know I did, I hope you did and am praying that all of us will. “ The Spirit takes us beyond ourselves taking what we have and making it better and taking what we don’t have making it something.” I need the Spirit to take me beyond myself, we as Westlake need the Spirit to take us beyond ourselves, beyond what we can do, what we can achieve to what only He can do and achieve through us. Some of the issues we face as a community are so difficult and deep seated that they will only change if the Spirit changes them. It’s the same in my life and ministry. Maybe you need the Holy Spirit to take you beyond yourself in some area of your life, for his empowering presence to transcend your ability and transform your inability?
How does all this happen? How do we move beyond what we can achieve to what only the Spirit can do? I think I am going to have spend a bit of time thinking about that, but I know the starting point. I know the one thing it won’t happen without, I know at least one indispensable element, prayer.
The great South African pastor Andrew Murray when talking about this subject said this “When we pray for the Spirit’s help … we will simply fall down at the Lord’s feet in our weakness. There we will find the victory and power that comes from His love.” Will you join me at our Lord’s feet to confess our weakness, the limits of our human ability, the reality of our human inability? Will you join me at Christ’s feet to confess our need for the empowering presence of His Holy Spirit to once more fill us and teach us to walk in step with Him? I don’t want to be over dramatic but I really believe our future personally and corporately depends on how we answer that question.