Twenty-twenty was for many, including myself, a difficult year. I think the thing that got to me the most was the sense of anxiety – anxiety because things were unpredictable and fluid; the economy (in Western Australia at least) was stable but always teetering on the edge, as if it could all change in an instance.
When people asked me how 2020 was, I would reply “I’m glad and relieved to have survived it”. But it would be illusory to think that in the clicking over of the clock by a minute, the world has reset.
But the start of the year is always a good (and convenient) time to reflect and re-assess.
As a church, Faith Community Church is embarking on our vision to re-introduce the Person of the Holy Spirit. On its face, this seems like a ridiculous proposition: to “bring back” the Holy Spirit into the church. But I believe it is critical in the current growth journey of our church.
I grew up in a Charismatic church (where I spent the first 21 years of my Christian life). Over that time, I witnessed the manifestation of the Holy Spirit in the midst of our worship gatherings and prayer meetings, even times when major decisions were navigated in the atmosphere of His presence as manifested through prophetic words, visions and dreams galvanised by the united prayer of the people. But I also saw examples of spiritual abuse in the name of the Holy Spirit and strange behaviour masquerading as the work of the Holy Spirit.
So, when I first joined Faith Community Church in 2012, I found the naturalness of proceedings quite refreshing. Decisions seem to be made by an exercise of the intellect with the consensus of the group in a very “normal” way, without all the pomp and ceremony of spiritual genuflection.
These days, I am no longer satisfied with the Holy Spirit being on the sidelines. Without His supernatural intervention and involvement, the church is nothing more than a benevolent organisation with a volunteer base, trying to make a positive difference in society (at best) or satiating our personal longing for community, belonging and identity.
During the last service of 2020, I was particular moved by Dr Dan Mo’s message on “Chasing the Anointing”, which in my view, put this next chapter of our church’s journey into context. Sharing from the story of how Elisha inherited Elijah’s spiritual mantle and anointing in 2 Kings 2, Dan drew our attention to Elisha’s cry in verse 14: “Where now is the Lord, the God of Elijah?“
Here, Elisha seeks affirmation that the anointing of God was upon him. But the significance of his use of the name “God of Elijah”, rather than “God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob” alluded to the God who encountered Elijah on the mountain and brought restoration to the prophet. In that encounter, God was not in the fire, the earthquake or the wind (i.e. the outwardly impressive manifestations) but in the “still, small voice”. A voice that Elijah had to lean in close to hear. This, according to Dan, was a picture of intimacy.
As I reflected on Dan’s message, one evening, I found myself at home on my own, experiencing the ennui of Netflix browsing for a good 45-minutes or so, never landing on anything that I actually wanted to watch or to which I could commit myself for the next two hours. I was finally prompted to go on Youtube instead but with a more noble purpose.
Years ago, I was a devout collector of sermon video tapes (which would cost something like $20 a tape). One of my favourites was a video by Jack Deere called “Conspiracy Against the Supernatural“. Given it’s been some time since I last heard Jack Deere teach, I decided to scour Youtube for Deere’s teachings and I came across this:
What I loved about Jack Deere was that he was a person who knew how to marry the Word and the Spirit together, having been a theologian who believed in cessationism and who then came into an understanding of the Holy Spirit through a thorough re-reading of Scripture with fresh lenses.
What Deere shared in the Youtube video resonated with me too, perhaps as a personal and simple response to Dan Mo’s challenge to cultivate intimacy with God.
Here, Deere points to two prayers that he prays everyday:
First, that we would be one of Jesus’ best friends and feel His affection.
In John 15:15, Jesus said to His disciples, “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends…”
And Deere says, even better to be like John, “the disciple whom Jesus loved”, who was known to lie on Jesus’ chest and to whom Jesus would reveal his secrets.
Second, that we would be dazzled by God’s beauty.
In Psalm 27:4, the psalmist says “one thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.“
God is a God of infinite beauty, but so often, we take this beauty for granted. When we actually think about it, God does reveal His beauty in the creation around us, in our everyday interactions, in seemingly mundane things of life. We need to be more aware, less critical, more thankful.
So these are two prayers I am endeavouring to pray over myself in 2021, that I might experience a renewed intimacy with the Person of the Holy Spirit.
Come, Holy Spirit.