Surprised by God
When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting.
This past Sunday was Pentecost. And I forgot.
Let me say that again. As a pastor who finds real value in the church calendar, I forgot to even mention that this was Pentecost Sunday and why it's so important! I thought about it several times the week before but it never made it into my notes, and my message wasn't specifically on that theme... and I just outright overlooked it. Maybe it was that I was distracted, or I wasn't feeling overly charismatic, teaching alone in my basement studio (thankfully for the last time!). I don't know. Either way, though, it's horribly embarrassing.
And now it's got me thinking.
Pentecost is the day that the Spirit came down on the early Church. The disciples were all together, trying to figure out what was next, and waiting on Jesus. First came the sound. It was like a blowing wind (contrary to cinematic depictions, Acts 2 never says that there was actually any wind... only a sound like blowing wind). Then a flame-like substance entered the room, separated, and came to rest on each disciple. The Spirit gave them each the gift of unique languages, and they began to speak of God's beauty in the native tongues of the diverse people who were nearby. Those people were astounded at hearing their own native tongue giving praise to a God they didn't even know! And more people trusted Jesus.
A Christian worldview that values the Holy Spirit as a fully equal member of the Trinity (the wildest member, I should add), understands that there's something Pentecost must teach us over and over again. And it's about openness.
The disciples had no idea what to expect when Jesus told them to hang tight and keep alert for his coming gift. But we can assume they didn't expect a flash course in multilingual communication. Yet look at what God did through this surprising moment! And it wasn't just a moment. It's worth noting that we are never told that the Spirit left them afterwards.
That's because the Spirit never left. Ever.
James Smith, in his book Thinking in Tongues, writes about a pentecostal attitude being one that "makes room for the unexpected" with God. It is linked deeply to an attitude of receptivity. If I want to interact with the Holy Spirit, I'm going to need to be receptive to surprise and expect the unexpected. In other words, I have to acknowledge that God might actually work in new ways.
We are slowly emerging from a whole year of unexpectedness. The things we had come to expect changed dramatically in our work, family, and social lives.
Now, as we begin to look up to the year ahead, how open will we be? What unexpected or surprising things did God teach you? What things were revealed in your life? What new directions or priorities are emerging? Where is Jesus challenging your assumptions of what life must consist of?
Every disciple of Jesus would do well to become a little more Pentecostal this season. Our world is being remade right now, and Jesus will want to teach each of us something new as we participate in it. Is your desire to go back to the way things were, or is your desire to listen for the Spirit's sound and receive whatever surprising direction that it may lead you in?
Far too many Christians have lost space for God teaching them something new. They are sure of everything, and as such, miss the sound of the wind when it blows. They have decided what the rest of their lives should look like (which is often just identical to basic American values) and struggle to imagining Jesus teaching or sending them somewhere fresh and new new. It's quite possible to say we follow Jesus, but in reality we've already mapped it all out ourselves.
Today we take a moment to ask ourselves how much room we are willing to make for God's unexpectedness.
What if the Spirit is blowing you toward new caring relationships in you neighborhood?
What if the Spirit is blowing you toward a new career?
Toward a healthier rhythm of life that honors your limits?
Toward adopting a child?
Toward learning about a different culture so that you can love better?
Toward giving a ton of my money away to those in need?
Toward initiating new spiritual friendships?
Toward crossing a cultural boundary that you've never entered into before?
Toward a new deeper experience of God's grace toward you?
Are you open? Are you available?
Or did you forget that the surprising Spirit came down at Pentecost, like I did this week?
Jesus, I commit to making room for whatever surprises your Spirit may have for me. Help me be receptive to your Kingdom today.
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