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The Holy Spirit helps us in our distress
The passages below are taken from Max Lucado’s book “Come Thirsty,” published in 2004 by W Publishing Group.
Why anyone would pester Hannah Lake is beyond me. If the sweet face of this ten-year-old doesn’t de-starch your shirt, her cherubic voice will. But, according to her dad, a grade school bully tried to stir some trouble. Intimidation tactics, pressure---the pest tried it all. But Hannah didn’t fold. And in the end, it was not her dimples or tender voice but her faith that pulled her through.
The older student warned Hannah to prepare for battle. “Any day now I’m coming after you.” Hannah didn’t flinch or cry. She simply informed the perpetrator about the facts. “Do whatever you need to do,” she explained. “But just know this: God is on my side.”
Last word has it that no more threats have been made.
Elementary school bullies don’t await you, but funeral homes do. Job transfers and fair-weather friends do. Challenges pockmark the pathway of your life. Where do you find energy to face them? God never promises an absence of distress. But he does promise the assuring presence of his Holy Spirit.
At first blush, a person might assume that the Holy Spirit is all about the spectacular and stupendous. We’ve seen the television images of sweating preachers, fainting and falling audiences, unintelligible tongue speaking, and questionable miracle working. While no one would deny the pupil-popping nature of the Holy Spirit’s work (tongues of fire over the apostles’ heads), a focus on the phenomenal might lead you to miss his quieter stabilizing work.
The Holy Spirit invisibly, yet indispensably, serves as a rudder for the ship of your soul, keeping you afloat and on track. This is no solo journey. Next time you feel as though it is, review some of the gifts the Spirit gives. For example, “you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance” (Ephesians 1:13—14 NASB).
The Spirit seals you. The verb sealed stirs a variety of images. To protect a letter, you seal the envelope. To keep air out of a jar, you seal its mouth with a rubber-ringed lid. To keep oxygen from the wine, you seal the opening with cork and wax. To seal a deal, you might sign a contract or notarize a signature. Sealing declares ownership and secures contents.
The most famous New Testament “sealing” occurred with the tomb of Jesus. Roman soldiers rolled a rock over the entrance and “set a seal on the stone” (Matthew 27:66 NASB). Archaeologists envision two ribbons stretched in front of the entrance, glued together with hardened wax that bore the imprimatur of the Roman government----SPQR (Senatus Populusque Romanus)---as if to say, “Stay away! The contents of this tomb belong to Rome.” Their seal, of course, proved futile.
The seal of the Spirit, however, proves forceful. When you accepted Christ, God sealed you with the Spirit. “Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit” (Ephesians 1:13 NIV). When hell’s interlopers come seeking to snatch you from God, the seal turns them away. He bought you, owns you, and protects you. God paid too high a price to leave you unguarded. As Paul writes later, “Remember, he is the one who has identified you as his own, guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption” (Ephesians 4:30 NLT).
In his delightful book The Dance of Hope, my friend Bill Frey tells of a blind student named John, whom he tutored at the University of Colorado in 1951. One day Bill asked John how he had become blind. The sightless student described an accident that had happened in his teenage years. The tragedy took not just the boy’s sight but also his hope. He told Bill, “I was bitter and angry with God for letting it happen, and I took my anger out on everyone around me. I felt that since I had no future, I wouldn’t lift a finger on my own behalf. Let others wait on me. I shut my bedroom door and refused to come out except for meals.”
His admission surprised Bill. The student he assisted displayed no bitterness or anger. He asked John to explain the change. John credited his father. Weary of the pity party and ready for his son to get on with life, he reminded the boy of the impending winter and told him to mount the storm windows. “Do the work before I get home or else,” the dad insisted, slamming the door on the way out.
John reacted with anger. Muttering and cursing and groping all the way to the garage, he found the windows, stepladder, and tools and went to work. “They’ll be sorry when I fall off my ladder and break my neck.” But he didn’t fall. Little by little he inched around the house and finished the chore.
The assignment achieved the dad’s goal. John reluctantly realized he could still work and began to reconstruct his life. Years later he learned something else about that day. When he shared this detail with Bill, his blind eyes misted. “I later discovered that at no time during the day had my father ever been more than four or five feet from my side.”
The father had no intention of letting the boy fall.
Your Father has no intention of letting you fall, either. You can’t see him, but he is present. You are “shielded by God’s power” (1 Peter 1:5 NIV). He is “able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy” (Jude 24 NIV).
Drink deeply from this truth. God is able to keep you from falling! Does he want you living in fear? No! Just the opposite. “The Spirit we received does not make us slaves again to fear; it makes us children of God. With that Spirit we cry out, ‘Father.’ And the Spirit himself joins with our spirits to say we are God’s children” (Rom. 8:15—16 NCV).
What an intriguing statement. Deep within you, God’s Spirit confirms with your spirit that you belong to him. Beneath the vitals of the heart, God’s Spirit whispers, “You are mine. I bought you and sealed you, and no one can take you.” The Spirit offers an inward, comforting witness.
He is like a father who walks hand in hand with his little child. The child knows he belongs to his daddy, his small hand happily lost in the large one. He feels no uncertainty about his papa’s love. But suddenly the father, moved by some impulse, swings his boy up into the air and into his arms and says, “I love you, son.” He puts a big kiss on the bubbly cheek, lowers the boy to the ground, and the two go on walking together.
Has the relationship between the two changed? On one level, no. The father is no more the father than he was before the expression of love. But on a deeper level, yes. The dad drenched, showered, and saturated the boy in love. God’s Spirit does the same with us. “The love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Romans 5:5 NKJV). Note the preposition of. The Holy Spirit pours the love of God in our hearts, not love for God. God hands a bucket of love to the Spirit and instructs, “Douse their hearts.”
There are moments when the Spirit enchants us with sweet rhapsody. You belong to the Father. Signed, sealed, and soon-to-be delivered. Been a while since you heard him whisper words of assurance? Then tell him. He’s listening to you. And---get this!— he’s speaking for you.
The Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness. We do not even know how we ought to pray, but through our inarticulate groans the Spirit himself is pleading for us, and God who searches our inmost being knows what the Spirit means, because he pleads for God’s own people in God’s own way. (Romans 8:26—27 NEB)
The Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness. What a sentence worthy of a highlighter. Who does not need this reminder? Weak bodies. Weak wills. Weakened resolves. We’ve known them all. The word weakness can refer to physical infirmities, as with the invalid who had been unable to walk for thirty-eight years (John 5:5), or spiritual impotence, as with the spiritually “helpless” of Romans 5:6.
Whether we are feeble of soul or body or both, how good to know it’s not up to us. “The Spirit himself is pleading for us.”
I witnessed a picture of the strong speaking for the weak during a White House briefing on the AIDS crisis. While most of the attendees represented relief organizations, a few ministers were invited. The agenda of the day included a Q and A with a White House staffer charged with partial oversight of several billion dollars earmarked for AIDS prevention and treatment. There were many questions. How does one qualify? How much can an organization hope to receive? What are the requirements, if any, for using the moneys? Most of the questions came from organizations. Most of us ministers were silent.
But not Bob Coy. Bob serves a large congregation in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. From earlier conversations, I knew of his heart for AIDS victims. When he raised his hand, I expected a policy question. Wrong. He had a personal question. “One of my friends in Miami is dying from AIDS. He spends two thousand dollars a month on medication. With insurance balking at coverage, I’m wondering if I might find him some assistance.”
The White House policy staffer was surprised, but polite. “Uh, sure. After the meeting I’ll put you in touch with the right person.”
The minister, determined to bring the problem to the top of the food chain, remained standing. He held up a few sheets of stapled paper. “I brought his documents with me. If more is needed, I can run them down.”
The government official remained polite. “Absolutely. After the meeting.”
He had fielded another question or two when he noticed the minister from Florida had raised his hand again. This time the preacher went to the bottom line. “I’m still thinking of my friend,” he explained. “Who signs the checks?”
“Who signs the checks? I just want to talk to the person who makes the decisions. So I want to know, who signs the checks?”
My initial response was, What audacity! The minister seizing a White House moment to help a friend. Then I thought, What loyalty! Does the bedridden friend in Florida have any idea that his cause is being presented a few hundred feet from the Oval Office?
Do you have any idea that your needs are being described in heaven? The Holy Spirit “prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will” (Romans 8:26—27 NLT).
The AIDS-infected man has no voice, no clout, and no influence. But he has a friend. And his friend speaks on his behalf. The impoverished orphan of Russia, the distraught widow of the battle-field, the aging saint in the convalescent home--—they may think they have no voice, no clout, no influence. But they have a friend---a counselor, a comforter---the blessed Spirit of God, who speaks the language of heaven in heaven. “He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He . . . keeps us present before God” (vv. 26—27 MSG).
It’s not up to you to pray your prayers. None of us pray as much as we should, but all of us pray more than we think, because the Holy Spirit turns our sighs into petitions and tears into entreaties. He speaks for you and protects you. He makes sure you get heard. He makes sure you get home.
Now, suppose a person never hears this, never learns about the sealing and intercession of the Spirit. This individual thinks that salvation security resides in self, not God, that prayer power depends on the person, not the Spirit. What kind of life will this person lead?
A parched and prayerless one. Fighting to stay spiritually afloat drains him. Thinking he stands alone before God discourages him. So he lives parched and prayerless.
But what about the one who believes in the work of the Spirit? Really believes. Suppose a person drinks from this fountain? Better still, suppose you do. Suppose you let the Spirit saturate you with assurance. After all, “we can’t round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit!” (Romans 5:5 MSG)
Will you be different as a result? You bet your sweet Sunday you will. Your shoulders will lift as you lower the buckling weight of self-salvation. Your knees will bend as you discover the buoyant power of the praying Spirit. Higher walk. Deeper prayers. And, most of all, a quiet confidence that comes from knowing it’s not up to you. And you, like Hannah, can tell the pests of the world, “Do whatever you need to do. But just know this: God is on my side.” (79-86)
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