Today we continue our series, “We Believe: What Christians Believe and Why it Matters.” We are taking a closer look at the essential beliefs of our faith and how they apply to our lives today. What we believe is important because our beliefs determine our attitude and behavior.
As our guide we are using one of the oldest creeds in the church, The Apostles’ Creed. This creed dates back to about 390 A.D. It has been used by Christians of all traditions to name the core beliefs that shape and guide us.
Today we are going to take a closer look at the next statement of the creed. It is short, only 6 words, but very important. In fact, everything we say in the creed is made possible because of these 6 words:
I believe in the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is the spirit of God that lives inside those who give God permission to guide them. It was the Holy Spirit that motivated most of you to get out of bed this morning and come to worship. It is the Holy Spirit that inspires you to serve and love others. It is the Holy Spirit that guides you to make wise decisions. And it is the Holy Spirit who convicts you when you need to change. The Holy Spirit is God’s very presence inside of you, moving you, guiding you and shaping you.
But how do we know when the Holy Spirit is guiding us? How are we supposed to know when we are being motivated by the Spirit and not something else? How do we know when it is God who is trying to speak to us and not another impulse inside us? There are a lot of voices inside and outside of us clamoring for our attention. How do we know which one is the Holy Spirit?
I remember studying John 10 with a group of youth. We got to the part when Jesus said, “The sheep follow him because they know his voice.” And this young man raised his hand and said, “Pastor, I pray to Jesus all the time but he never talks back. How am I supposed to know his voice when he never talks to me?”
Have you ever wondered what the Holy Spirit’s voice sounds like? James Earl Jones? Or does it sound more like the woman’s voice on your smart phone’s GPS system? Or does the Spirit’s voice sound like the character who plays God in The Shack?
Well, the truth is if we are literally hearing audible voices we probably need to take a trip to the psychiatrist, not the sanctuary. I am not saying it’s impossible to hear an audible voice, but God doesn’t usually operate like that. Instead, God, through the Holy Spirit, speaks to us through passion, desire, instinct, conviction and circumstance. To say we are hearing the Spirit’s voice means we are being moved by the Spirit in some way.
But, again, how are we supposed to know we are being moved by the Holy Spirit? There have been times in my life when I have been faced with a decision or desired guidance. When I made my decision or chose my path I thought I was being guided by the Spirit but I was not. The whole thing blew up in my face. I prayed about it. Read scripture. I felt great about it. I did all the right things, but it was clear I made the wrong decision. I thought, “What did I miss? Where did I go wrong?”
Ever been there? Ever been confident that the decision you made was the right one, the one the Spirit was guiding you to make, and then disaster hit and all signs pointed to a bad decision? Maybe you are faced with a decision today and you need some kind of guidance. You’re in worship seeking some sign of the Spirit, some nudge in the right direction but you are not really sure how you will know when it is the Holy Spirit guiding you. Or maybe you have made a decision and you want evidence from God that it was the right decision but you don’t know what to look for.
This morning I am going to reveal how you can be sure 99 percent of the time that the Holy Spirit is guiding you. I am going to show you how you can be sure whether or not the decision that you made was the right one. I am going to show you how you can confidently know you are being moved by the Holy Spirit.
I discovered something huge along my journey about how the Holy Spirit works. Through trial and error, reading scripture, listening to wise counsel I learned the key to knowing when I am going in the direction of the Holy Spirit. This key has helped me avoid a lot of mistakes.
Learning this key will help you avoid a lot of mistakes too! More importantly it will help you find God’s path for you. When you hear this key you are going to think, “Well, of course! That makes so much sense!
To help us discover this key I want us to take a look at something Jesus says to his disciples about the Holy Spirit. These words appear in the fourteenth chapter of John. Jesus is comforting his disciples in the Upper Room. They know something bad is going to happen. Jesus is trying to break the news to them that he is going away and he is trying to comfort and encourage them.
Jesus says something in the midst of his comforting sermon that I think is one of the most outrageous things he ever said. Let’s take a look:
“Very truly I tell you (“I can guarantee this”), whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” –John 14:12
The first time I saw that I thought, “Whoa! Do greater works than Jesus? What is he talking about? Jesus healed the sick, walked on water, made the blind to see, and raised the dead! How in the world can any of us do greater works than Jesus?”
What is even more confusing is Jesus says then says, “Because I am going to the Father.” I am sure the disciples were thinking the same thing that I was thinking. “Wait, don’t we need Jesus to do all of these amazing things? How can we do great things if he is leaving us? That doesn’t make any sense.” Jesus brings some clarity by saying this:
“If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—the Spirit of truth.” –John 14:15-17
Here Jesus is introducing the Holy Spirit. This is when the light bulb went on for me. We are able to do greater works than Jesus because when Jesus ascended to the Father his Spirit began to live in each of his followers. This means Jesus’ power and influence multiplies and multiplies throughout the earth. So when you compare all the work the church has done over the last 2,000 years to what Jesus did by himself on earth for 3 years it is much greater.
Jesus uses some interesting words to describe the Holy Spirit. Jesus calls it an advocate. The Greek word there is a powerful description. It was used to describe a witness who was called in to be a witness in your favor in a court of law. Or it could also be used to describe a lawyer who pleads your case against serious charges. So say you were accused of a crime you did not commit and you needed the best attorney to prove your innocence. That attorney would be your “advocate.” An advocate was also used to describe someone who rallied the troops or motivated athletes who were discouraged or fatigued.
Jesus also the Holy Spirit the “Spirit of Truth” because the Spirit guides us into truth and reminds us what Jesus taught. Later Jesus describes the Spirit like spring water that flows within us.
How are we supposed to know the what is bubbling up inside of us is the Holy Spirit and not something else? How do we recognize the Spirit when we need to make decisions, find wisdom, or be guided through difficulty?
Well take a look at what Jesus says next:
“The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.” –John 14:17
Jesus is saying the world, those who live as if there was no God, can’t recognize the Spirit because they interpret everything that happens out of their own ability. But Jesus his followers know him because he will be with them and in them. In other words, the difference between us and the world is that we see things based on what God is able to do through us.
So we recognize the Holy Spirit’s work by its ability, not our own. When I made this conclusion these words from Jesus just a few verses later popped out at me:
“Apart from me you can do nothing.” –John 15:5
So this was my conclusion:
When you find ability beyond you the Spirit is with you. (Point)
This is the key to being sure the spirit is moving in your life. This is the key to knowing when the Holy Spirit is guiding you. When you find power beyond you, the spirit is with you. When you find wisdom beyond you, the spirit is with you.
When you know you could not have accomplished something on your own, you can sure it was the Holy Spirit. When you have been led to a place you would have never found on your own, you can be sure it was the Holy Spirit. When you found strength to do something that seemed impossible, you can be sure it was the Holy Spirit.
When you are attempting to do something that requires God’s help to get it done, you can be sure you are in the right place!
(Making the Answer Concrete)
I think of the Spirit’s work like being on a swing as a child. Do you remember that? I do. I could not wait to get to the park to swing on the swing set. I loved to go really high. But as a kid I would sit on the swing and try to get the swing moving on my own but couldn’t. So I would call out to my mom or dad, “Can you give me a push?”
My mom would show up and gently push me back and forth and get me going. However, when my dad showed up he knew I liked to go really high so he would pull me up high and let me go! I needed the push or the big pull to get me going and to reach the heights I wanted to go.
The Holy Spirit works like that. Sometimes it is a nudge and sometimes the Holy Spirit pulls us way up and lets us go. But one thing is always the same. It is the power of the Spirit that enables us to swing high and fly.
Many Christians are not operating on full power because they are not relying on the Holy Spirit. The Spirit does not force itself on us. We have to be open to it. We have to call out, “Holy Spirit I need help. I need a push.”
I remember mowing the lawn as a kid growing up in Atlanta. We had a big front yard and back yard. The back yard had a big hill. It was hard work. I remember my dad buying a new Toro lawn mower for me. “Thanks Dad! How thrilling!” He said it was supposed to make it easier to mow. Well, that thing was heavy. It was the twice the size as the old one and twice as difficult to move. I kept wondering why my dad thought it would make it easier to mow. I was breaking my back trying to move the thing.
One day my dad saw me struggling with mower. He came up to me and said, “Charley, don’t you know this thing has motorized wheels?” I replied, “No dad! Thanks for telling me!” He showed all I had to do was pull down a lever below the handle bar and pull it back up and that thing would almost walk itself. You could control the speed and everything. I don’t know how I missed it, but when I activated those wheels it felt like an easy stroll through my yard.
When you find ability beyond you the spirit is with you.
This may be the missing piece in your life as a Christian. Maybe you are not finding the strength or wisdom you seek because you have not activated the Holy Spirit that lives within you. Every follower of Christ has the Spirit of God within them. John Wesley believed that even nonbelievers have the Spirit of God inside them but it lies dormant. We must give the Holy Spirit permission to work. When was the last time you activated the Spirit within you? What are you attempting right now that only the Holy Spirit could accomplish through you? What are you doing right now that you know without God would lead to utter failure?” If we are not living our faith in this way we are missing out on one of the great joys of being a follower of Christ.
The church needs this message too. If the church is not relying on the Holy Spirit we are not a church. We are an entertainment center or just another charity, but we are not a church. Being open to the movement of Spirit is essential to being a healthy and thriving church. A church can survive for a time on a good band or choir, a motivational speaker and a Facebook page but without the work of the Holy Spirit a church cannot sustain itself. It cannot be the vessel God calls it to be.
Charles Spurgeon said, “Without the Spirit of God, we can do nothing. We are as ships without the wind, branches without sap, and like coals without fire. We are useless.”
In 1983 Australia threatened to take the America’s Cup from the United States. The United States had retained the coveted cup of yacht racing for years but that year Australia mounted a serious challenge. Australia and the United States were tied with one race to go. The day came for the final race. Scores of people came to watch the race. Television cameras from all over the world were there. The boats were ready. The crews were ready. The yachts pulled into place at the starting line. All was ready, but there was no race! Why? There was no wind. In yachting, no wind means no race.
The same thing is true for our faith. No wind means a weak faith. Nothing happens without the wind. Did you know that in the Bible the Hebrew and Greek word for Spirit literally means “wind”? Jesus said it is like a mystery, like the wind. You don’t see the wind, and yet you know when it comes and when it goes.
It was the wind of the spirit that blew through the early church and spread the gospel like wild fire. It was the wind of the spirit that created Pasadena Community Church and continues to guide and empower it. It is the wind of the Spirit that will guide and empower your life if you let it.
Are you looking for the wind of the Spirit in your life? Pray: Lord, help me to see the evidence of you at work in my life and where it is pointing me. Open my eyes to see your hand in my life. May I sense where you are working beyond me and trust that is where you are guiding me.
When you find ability beyond you the Spirit is with you.
When the wind of the spirit is blowing it is an exhilarating and powerful thing. When the wind is with you there is no greater experience. I know the wind is blowing with me when someone comes up to me and says, “Your message changed my life.” That was the Holy Spirit. I have the task of preaching to so many different people. How can one message meet the needs of so many? Not by my power, but by the power of the Holy Spirit. I know the wind is blowing with me when I think of someone and call them and they say, “I was just about to call you. Do you have time to talk?” I know the wind is blowing with me when I feel a nudge to text someone and they reply, “Perfect timing. I need your prayers right now.” I know the wind is blowing with me when I must rely on God’s power to accomplish what is before me.
Right now I know the wind is blowing with me and Brandy as our baby Paul prepares to enter this world. 18 years of being told we could never have children and then this? God did not get that memo. Paul was not conceived by the Holy Spirit. I certainly played a role! But I can tell you this: We could not have done it without the Holy Spirit.
When you find ability beyond you the Spirit is with you.