Anyone who knew me during my high school years knows about my “go with the flow” and “organic” ways. I was all about being flexible enough to bend and move at the unction of the Spirit’s leading. I’d consider the institutional and structural modes of the faith to ring with a tone of legalism. A lifeless sound that would stifle any movement of the Spirit. I’d read passages in scripture about how God always seems to use the weak, the foolish and the childlike, and it made me wonder how I’d be able to function in such a state as I grew older. How can you develop in your knowledge and abilities while maintaining a dependence on the Spirit? I heard stories of seminary students who lost their “fire” as they dug themselves in history and theology books. It left me determined to resist any kind of structure that would harden me from the Spirit. However, as I grew up, I couldn’t help but get exposed to more literature and theology, and I couldn’t avoid gaining more experience in the ministry. So although my soul knew that I could not function without the Spirit, my flesh began to rely more on my new knowledge and skills. After preaching for several years, it’s easy to fall back on old methods that seemed to work in the past. I wasn’t as lost as I was in my adolescents. I felt less of an urgency to get God’s input. As you age, you begin to trust your instincts a lot more than God’s direction. So I kept coming back to the same question; how can I grow in my knowledge and abilities without compromising my reliance on the Spirit? How does one remain poor in spirit after gaining a sum of wealth?
Charles Spurgeon wrote a sermon on the Holy Spirit that helped me to make sense of these questions. He uses the illustration of a sail boat navigating its way through the sea. He makes an important distinction between the wind and the vessel. This analogy opened my eyes to see how you can grow up while remaining dependent on the Holy Spirit. He writes,
“We cannot rule the winds, nor create them. A whole parliament of philosophers could not cause a capful of wind to blow. The sailor knows that he can neither stop the tempest nor raise it. What then? Does he sit still? By no means. He has all kinds of sails of different cuts and forms to enable him to use every ounce of wind that comes; and he knows how to reef or furl them in case the tempest becomes too strong for his barque. Though he cannot control the movement of the wind, he can use what it pleases God to send. The miller cannot divert that great stream of water out of its channel, but he knows how to utilize it; he makes it turn his mill-wheel… Thus, though we cannot command that might influence which streams from the omnipotent Spirit of God; though we cannot turn it which way we will, for the ‘wind bloweth where it listeth,’ yet we can make use of it; and in our inability to save men, we turn to God, and lay hold of his power.” – Charles Spurgeon
We cannot determine the winds movements, nor can we change the rivers current, but what we can do is grow in our understanding of how to use its force. We can strengthen the vessel in which we use to navigate through the waters. A Spirit-led life is not a passive one. We’re not suppose to simply wait twiddling our fingers for the wind to carry us to our next destination, we need to continuously be prepared for the working of the Spirit within us. Our work in strengthening our vessel does not move us forward, but it does prepares us to catch the wind of God. That is the key distinction that makes all the difference. We are the vessel, not the wind.
So there’s no need to keep yourself stupid and empty in order for the Spirit of God to work in your life. Learn theology, read your Bible well, be regular in the spiritual disciplines, do it all in efforts to prepare yourself to catch the wind of the Holy Spirit. When we read the scriptures we expand our sails, we catch more wind and give God more data to work with in speaking to our hearts. Listening to his voice becomes easier because the scriptures help us detect God’s tone and intentions. When we cultivate a life of prayer, we grow in our discernment of where the wind is blowing and which direction we should take. Build a strong ship that will be able to utilize the Spirit’s power. Patch those holes in your sail and take out the water that has spilled into your boat. Being led by the Spirit is no excuse for being lazy in the disciplines. “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy and you are that temple” (1 Cor. 3:16). Maintain your vessel. Keep it pure and ready for God to use. Just be sure to never perceive such efforts as a source of your power.
That’s the distinction I had trouble with throughout my spiritual journey. I’d always be afraid of killing the flow of the Spirit in my life when it came to doing the spiritual disciplines or growing deeper in my knowledge of theology. I just couldn’t have it both ways. I had created an unhealthy and false dichotomy in order to make sense of a life dependent on the Spirit. But things became a lot more clear as I embraced the distinction that Spurgeon lays out. The problem only arises when our vessel begins to function independently from the wind. It’s the moment we buy an engine and scrap the sail.
As we grow older and smarter, the temptation is to begin to treat sails as a method of the past, a tool used in our adolescents. It was good back then, but we’ve grown up right? Why waste time and energy catching the wind when we can just turn the key and start up our engines. What’s the point in gauging the winds current when we can force our way through natures resistance?
If we acknowledge that God is the treasure and that we are the clay, we will always remain humble in the understanding that he is the thrust behind our sails. So there is a way to remain childlike as we grow and mature. We are weak knowing that our vessel is powerless without the wind, but we must also remain disciplined in the way we maintain our vessel.
The link below is a sermon I heard that recently reignited my relationship with the Holy Spirit and inspired this blog post. I highly recommend all of you to take some time to listen through the whole sermon. It is an excellent teaching on the Baptism of the Holy Spirit:
Contending for Spiritual Baptism by Ian Ashby
The link below is a sermon I recently preached that continues the thoughts from this post:
Sailing Without the Wind (Sermon) by Jesse Sudirgo