Do you know what we’re asking when you pray, “Come Holy Spirit”?Do you understand just how risky it is?
It seems safe enough. It’s a prayer spoken in lots of churches these days. But do we know what we’re getting ourselves into? Do we realize we’re stepping into a mystery that involves letting go. Turning us into trapeze artists, flying into God’s hands in an unfolding moment of trust. “Come Holy Spirit”becomes an invitation letting God have his way with us; inviting him do whatever he wants with our lives, any way he wants to do it…
The first person I ever heard pray, “Come Holy Spirit” was Lonnie Frisbee. Lonnie’s sort of a legend. He was one of a kind. A hippie mystic, birthed out of the Jesus People Movement, who by the time I met him in 1981, was traveling with John Wimber, the founder of the Vineyard movement. You might say he was an incendiary,in the mold of an Old Testament prophet, complete with piercing eyes, shoulder length hair and full beard. He would call down the power of God setting churches aflame with the Spirit. The unique thing about Lonnie’s ministry was that the fire would remain burning after he left. The Spirit’s empowering work continued on without him, like radioactive fallout in the aftermath of a nuclear blast.
I remember the night Lonnie visited our little church in Brooklyn and caused a holy ruckus… After giving his testimony he had us fold-up our chairs and stand in the middle of the room. Nobody knew quite what to expect next…
He then shouted, “You’ve been ignoring the Holy Spirit and it’s offended him. Repent! He wants his church back!”, followed by, “Come Holy Spirit!” and then silence. The air in our small chapel grew quiet and eerily still. There was weight to it like a gathering storm. Then suddenly, like a bomb going off, all heaven broke loose and we were introduced to a side of the Holy Spirit we’d never known: His wild, untamed side.
An irresistible force filled the room. People started wailing and dropping to the floor under the power of the Spirit! It was frightfully wonderful! I imagine this is what the gospel writers were referring to when they reported that after witnessing of one of his miracles, Jesus’ disciples were left befuddled, awestruck and frightened. We were suddenly in the disquieting presence of the all-powerful Beyond… beyond explanation, control, and uncontainable. Like Peter after the miraculous catch of fish, God’s holiness made me painfully aware of my sinfulness while at the very same time it seemed I was surrounded by an ocean of love. One moment I was sobbing, the next laughing…
When I think back to that evening, and Lonnie’s prayer, something the author and poet, Annie Dillard wrote captures the moment well:
… Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return. (from Teaching A Stone To Talk)
We were never the same after that night. We were “drawn out to where we could never return”. I was ruined for the presence of God. Life and ministry would never return to business as usual. Nothing in life or ministry trump God’s presence. I understood in a new way what the psalmist meant when he sang:
As the deer pants for streams of water,
so my soul pants for you, my God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When can I go and meet with God?
Now all this is good and right but if we’re not careful because of our flawed sinful natures, we can cross a line and take “Come Holy Spirit” for granted. As Eugene Peterson observed, “We get bossy and begin speaking and acting for God; we start trying to control God and along the way we take over God’s work for him and take charge of making sure things go right.We get a false sense of self-importance, because we’ve spent so much time around God.”
There’s always the temptation to try to manage the Spirit. Make things happen. Substituting our own agendas, ego-needs, convenience and comfort for intimacy, worship, surrender and presence. If we’re not careful, “Come Holy Spirit” can become a way of ordering God around rather than an act of self-surrender.
Truth is we’re never in a position to control God, God controls us That’s the essence of “Come Holy Spirit”. He’s not a God to be tamed or managed. We need to cultivate the freedom of childlike surrender and trust. This letting go give us access to a life that exceeds our capacity to dictate or control. It allows us to live on the edge of mystery, up on the trapeze, being open to God’s Spirit flowing around and through us. Spirit-controlled, Spirit-filled living. A life attentive to God rather than to our self-importance. Worship uninhibited by our ego.
“Come Holy Spirit” isn’t a religious slogan, or a doctrine we talk and sing about. It’s an invitation to a person by whom we’re led and cared for; who puts electricity in our faith and makes our worship an acrobatic letting go landing us smack dab in God’s loving arms.
So a warning: Be careful when you pray, “Come Holy Spirit”. It’s a dangerous to our egos and self-interests. It challenges us to trust God and venture out beyond ourselves and our ability to control in order to take risks for the sake Christ and others.
Walter Brueggemann, preeminent OT scholar put it this way, “Taken most simply, Holy Spirit refers to the intruding, invasive, energizing power from God that comes like the wind to blow us beyond ourselves, to take actions, to dare dreams, to run risks that in our accustomed powerlessness are well beyond us… The wind of God will blow us to freedom and courage in spite of our tired fearfulness…”
I want to live with Jesus, up on the trapeze in this daring and exciting way. How about you? “Come Holy Spirit” …