When our faith seems to grow weak, we need the work of the Holy Spirit.
Last summer, my five-year-old learned to ride a two-wheeled bike on his own. He was proficient with training wheels. He had all the right safety equipment. He just needed to get on his bike and do it. So, that’s what we did. I ran with him. I held the seat. We developed discipline to keep his hands on the bars, feet on the pedals, and eyes on the destination. We also worked on his focus—not to let the chattering squirrels distract him—and his perseverance to get back on the bike even after he fell.
After Jesus ascended, I wonder if the disciples felt what my son felt the first time I let go of the back of his seat. Sure, they had three years of seminary training with Professor Jesus. They knew Jesus would always be with them (Matthew 28:20) and that he had “all authority in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18). But still, they were on their own.
And then the Holy Spirit showed up.
The Holy Spirit’s work
The Holy Spirit had already worked within them through the words of Jesus to bring them to faith. It was time to work in the hearts of others. Through the gospel spoken and written by those first disciples, many men and women believed. The Holy Spirit changed hearts—sometimes, like on Pentecost, the hearts of thousands and sometimes the hearts of a few. The kingdom was built. Churches established. Missionaries sent.
But did the Holy Spirit stop there? Are we left alone without his power? Has he grown stale? If the Holy Spirit is the wind in the sails of his people, do your sails hang limp with only the occasional breeze to make them flap before they fall flat again?
I know my sails often hang limp. I check the boxes, do the things that a good Christian does. But all my checklist does is make the Holy Spirit look more like an old black-and-white tube TV than a living, moving, and vibrant person of the almighty Trinity. Does all the doing keep me from his power? Is there a way to realize his presence, see his person, know his power in a way that doesn’t feel like watching a grainy image from yesteryear?
You don’t have to go far to find people trying to recapture the emotional high of Pentecost. Yet they try to do it with new revelations, new prophets, new Scriptures. But if we are going to take John seriously, we know those who add or offer something new, or a correction, run into the territory of unbiblical and anti-Jesus (Revelation 22:18,19). They substitute their emotional high and energy for the Spirit’s power.
What if the Holy Spirit filled your sails with his power but used old, even ancient, habits of God’s people?
Meditate on the gospel
Martin Luther guided his friend Peter Beskendorf in his short instructional manual “A Simple Way to Pray.” After walking through how to pray the petitions of the Lord’s Prayer, Luther says, “It may happen occasionally that I may get lost among so many ideas in one petition that I forego the other six. If such an abundance of good thoughts comes to us we ought to disregard the other petitions, make room for such thoughts, listen in
silence, and under no circumstances obstruct them. The Holy Spirit himself preaches here, and one word of his sermon is far better than a thousand of our prayers.” Checking the boxes without thinking of what the gospel says may rob us of the Spirit’s insight and power.
But go even further back to the pages of Scripture, and one practice stands out as the Holy Spirit’s tool to quicken the pulse of a drowsy believer: meditation on the gospel.
Let’s be clear: This is not the same as the secular practices of mindfulness or the meditation of Eastern religions. Eastern meditation goes deeper into the self in order to find the truth within. Biblical meditation couldn’t be more different. Take a look.
One practice stands out as the Holy Spirit’s tool to quicken the pulse of a drowsy believer: meditation on the gospel.
Early in his book, Joshua called his readers to “keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it” (1:8). The way Joshua uses the word “meditate” has the idea of muttering, murmuring, or growling. It’s like mumbling as you chew over the writings of God.
This is the beauty of Christian meditation. Christian meditation enjoys every moment of sitting down to a feast with the gospel and the Spirit. The Holy Spirit invites us to savor every morsel, enjoy every nuance. This kind of meditation delights in every word from God; it turns it over and considers it from every angle. This kind of meditation doesn’t move on until the truth has had a chance to shake up our lives and settle into our very being.
Another word the psalmists use (three times in Psalm 77, six times in Psalm 119, once in Psalm 145) that shows up in our English translations as meditate gives a different picture. This word has the sense of speaking out, teaching, instructing with an emphasis on teaching myself, correcting my own heart, opening my own eyes. It’s speaking truths out loud that my heart needs to hear. Sometimes I might need to say God’s promises out loud and hear them so that the Holy Spirit might work to renew my trust and faith.
Maybe you’ve heard that old maxim that the longest journey in the world is the 18 inches from head to heart. I’ve found that to be so true, especially when it comes to the faith that the Holy Spirit established in my heart at my baptism. I may know the truths: I’m able to recite them, even explain them to someone else. But to live as if they were true? Or even more difficult—to abandon the lies that pop up even in the heart of Jesus’ followers? I need to speak his truths and meditate on them. Then the Holy Spirit can take them from the surface of my mind and screw them down into the deepest parts of me. As I meditate, the Holy Spirit throws open the windows of the basement in my soul so that the light and fresh air of God’s love can invade the spaces occupied by the moldy boxes of pride, fear, anger, insecurity, and hypocrisy.
Meditation is not just an Old Testament thing. What do you think Jesus was doing after feeding more than five thousand but right before walking on water? “After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone” (Matthew 14:23).
I’ll admit, it takes discipline, focus, and perseverance—the same keys to success my five-year-old needed on his bike. I’m working on those three things as I meditate on God’s promises. I’m still working on them. But having the Holy Spirit work on my weary heart through the gospel—well, that’s better than any bike ride anywhere. So, let’s meditate and notice the Holy Spirit’s work within.
Author: Benjamin P. Workentine
Volume 109, Number 06
Issue: June 2022