June 7, 1992
WAITING FOR THE WIND
“Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about.” (Acts 1:4)
A boy was trying to fly his kite on a windless day. He stood on a long, grassy stretch, laying out the tail of the kite, adjusting the bow of the cross pieces, and making sure the guide string had just the right amount of slack. Then he ran across the grass, and as he ran, the kite climbed into the air. When the boy reach the end of the grass, he stopped, and the kite came fluttering to the ground.
The boy wound his string around the stick and studied the kite. He checked the tail, the cross pieces, and the guide string. He decided the tail was too long, so he shortened it. Once more he took off across the field, and again the kite began to fly. But the moment he reached the end of the clearing and stopped, the kite fluttered to the earth once again.
Still not discouraged, the boy once again examined the kite and this time increased the bow in the crosspieces. He was bound and determined to fly that kite, and he was obviously an expert on how to adjust the thing for better flight. Again, he poised himself and charged across the field as fast as he could run. The kite lifted a little higher than it had before, but then it made a papery, jiggling sound and swished to the ground.
Another boy, who had been standing on the edge of the clearing watching all this, called out, “You’ve got to wait for the wind.” “I know, I know,” said the boy, winding up his string. But the disappointment on his face was obvious. It frustrated him that all his efforts were not enough to make the kite fly.
“You’ve got to wait for the wind.” That’s true if you’re trying to fly a kite, and it’s also true if you’re trying to get your spiritual life off the ground. Human preparations are no substitute for divine power. You can read the latest books and try all sorts of things to improve yourself; if you’re a church leader, you can try new strategies and techniques to make your church more exciting and effective. It may even seem to work for a little while, but without the work of God’s Holy Spirit, everything you try will eventually come fluttering back down to the ground. Unless the breeze of God’s Holy Spirit is blowing, nothing of lasting spiritual importance can happen in the life of any individual or any church.
That’s the way it is, and that’s the way it’s always been. Jesus himself made this very clear. After the Lord’s resurrection and shortly before he ascended into heaven, he told his followers,
“Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 1:4-5).
Jesus was telling his disciples to wait for the wind. Jesus didn’t have many followers, and the ones he did have weren’t very impressive or influential. There was no way they would accomplish anything worthwhile through their own efforts. They might as well go fly a kite without any wind as try to win people to Jesus without the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit. The church would never soar upward and stay aloft merely through the efforts of this rag-tag band of disciples, no matter how hard they might try. That’s why Jesus told them to wait.
He promised them that very soon the wind of the Holy Spirit would begin to blow, and then amazing things would happen. Jesus told the disciples, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). This little, obscure group of people would trigger a movement that would sweep across the world. Or, to put it more accurately, the Holy Spirit would do it through them.
In Acts 2 the Bible tells us that on the day of Pentecost, the disciples
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. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. (Acts 2:1-4)
And what happened as a result? By the time the day was over, Peter had preached a powerful sermon, and about 3,000 people turned from their sins and put their faith in Jesus. That’s right. In just one day, in response to just one sermon, three thousand people were baptized and added to the church. Less than two months earlier, many of those same people had been part of the mob that called for Jesus to be crucified, but here they were, crying over their sins and trusting in the risen Christ. If Peter had preached to them just one day earlier, before the Spirit came, they would either have ignored him or lynched him. But on Pentecost, it was a different story. God’s Holy Spirit touched their hearts and changed their lives.
Today, nearly 2,000 years later, it is still as true as ever that the church of Jesus can prosper and do the Lord’s work only through the Holy Spirit. That’s true not only of the church as a whole, but also of every individual person.
I began by sharing a story I came across about a boy who tried in vain to fly his kite on a day when the wind wasn’t blowing. That boy found out that it doesn’t matter what sort of kite you’ve got or how good you are at flying kites if there isn’t any breeze. The only thing that can overcome the power of gravity and keep a kite aloft is the power of the wind.
In our spiritual lives, too, we need the power of the wind. We need the Holy Spirit. In the Bible’s original languages, the word we translate as “spirit” is also the word for breath or wind. In fact, Jesus himself compares the working of the Spirit to the blowing of the wind in John 3:8, where Jesus says, “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” Jesus is saying that we can’t control the Holy Spirit or see him, but we can see the results of his work in the lives of those who have been born again to new life in Jesus. Just as the wind is powerful and mysterious and unseen, but nevertheless very real, so it is with the Spirit.
It was appropriate, then, that when the Spirit was pouring out on Pentecost, he came with the sound of a mighty rushing wind. The wind of the Spirit would be the driving force and the life’s breath of every true Christian and every true church throughout history. Time after time, he would overcome the powerful gravity of sin and selfishness and lift another soul to faith in Jesus. He would be the fresh air that enabled the church to live and breathe. He would be the driving force to carry the gospel of Jesus throughout the world. At times, when the church seemed about to die, he would be the breath to resuscitate and revive it.
When the Bible compares the Holy Spirit to a powerful wind or to the breath of life, we might be tempted to think that the Spirit is an impersonal power. But that would be a serious mistake. The Holy Spirit isn’t just a power; he is a person. Before Jesus left his disciples, he didn’t say, “May the Force be with you.” He promised them: “I will ask the Father and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever–the Spirit of truth” (John 14:16-17). The Holy Spirit is a personal Counselor, not just an impersonal force. The apostle Paul tells us that the Spirit groans with us in our times of weakness (Romans 8:26), and he also tells us not to grieve the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:30). Only a person can groan or be grieved. That’s not possible for an impersonal force or power. So it’s clear that the Holy Spirit is a person.
It’s also clear, of course, that the Spirit isn’t just any person. He is nothing less than a divine person, the third person of the Holy Trinity, together with God the Father and Jesus the Son. Jesus commanded his apostles to baptize new Christians “in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). And the Nicene Creed, one of the church’s most ancient confessions, says, “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life, who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified.”
As the third person within the deep and mysterious unity of the one God, the Holy Spirit never acts on his own. He always works in unity with the Father and the Son, and when he enters your heart, he draws you into a relationship with the Father and the Son as well as himself, since the three divine persons always act as one God. If you have the Holy Spirit living in your heart, you will also have a deep love for the Father and a personal trust in Jesus Christ and all that he accomplished through his death and resurrection.
The Holy Spirit, then, is a person, a divine person, the third person of the Holy Trinity.
This Holy Spirit is the one Jesus told his disciples to wait for. Notice that Jesus didn’t tell his disciples to wait for a sensational preacher. He didn’t tell them to wait for a well-planned mission strategy. He didn’t tell them to wait for an exciting new music director. He didn’t tell them to wait for a great scholar to give convincing arguments in favor of Christianity. He didn’t tell them to wait for a new daycare center or a helpful support group to attract people to church. He told them to wait for the outpouring of his Holy Spirit in power. These other things might be okay, but the one thing necessary to bring genuine spiritual life and power is the Holy Spirit of the living God.
It’s pretty easy for us to forget that. Many churches today have much better resources than the early church had. We’ve got money and technology, seminaries, and study committees. Not only that, but we even have access to surveys which tell us what people are looking for in a church. If you’re a church leader and you’re well-versed in sociology and sound business principles, you probably won’t need any help from God to increase the number of church-goers. All you need to do is find out what people want and do your level best to give it to them. For a business to succeed, you need to identify what the customer wants and provide it, and for a church to increase its list of customers, it simply needs to follow the same basic principle.
The disciples weren’t able to take that approach. Even if they had managed to do a survey of the felt needs among the people of Jerusalem, they probably wouldn’t have been able to meet those needs. Most of the first Christians were poorly educated, so they couldn’t meet the expectations of people who wanted scholarly lectures. The disciples weren’t trained in public speaking or drama, so they weren’t exciting and creative enough to please the people who were looking for an entertaining speaker. They weren’t experts in family counseling. They couldn’t afford new buildings and fine musical instruments to attract people who preferred high culture and lofty liturgy. So when Jesus told the apostles to wait for help from above, what else could they do?
The first Christians couldn’t base their ministry on some how-to manual for building successful churches in the power of the flesh. They just didn’t have the resources to do it. Today, on the other hand, we actually have the ability to get people interested in church without any help whatsoever from the Holy Spirit. We simply need to give people what they want to have and tell them what they want to hear, and we often have the resources to do it. However, one thing we are still unable to do is to change a heart and lead someone to genuine repentance and faith in God. For that, we still need the Holy Spirit. We may be able to produce satisfied customers, but only he can produce changed lives.
Sometimes Christians, with excellent intentions of leading other people to Jesus, frantically try this, that, and the other thing to get people involved in church. I’m not saying that many of these things aren’t good. Many of them are wonderful. The church should seek to be as attractive and helpful and hospitable as possible, and we should use every resource at our disposal.
But let’s not fool ourselves. When we coax people into our churches sheerly by our own efforts, what we end up with are churches full of happy, well-adjusted sinners, not Spirit-filled saints. We may be giving people just enough religion in their lives to make them immune to the real thing. They may join the club, but the reality and vitality of the Holy Spirit just isn’t there. If we call that a “successful church,” we’re offending the Holy Spirit, we’re deceiving ourselves, and we’re shortchanging those who need new life in Jesus. Jesus told some religious leaders, “You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are” (Matthew 23:15). There’s no use luring people by all sorts of methods into joining your religious group unless you are leading them into a real relationship with God.
So if you’re involved in the leadership of a church, I challenge you to put all of your how-to manuals for successful church leadership back on the shelf for a while. Ask yourself what your church needs more right now: one more program that worked for some growing church in some other place, or a spiritual revival and renewal in the Holy Spirit. The Spirit who converted three thousand people through the simple message of an uneducated fisherman like Peter may be waiting until you give up on your own power to make anything happen and learn to wait for him.
Fall before the Lord in prayer, pleading that the Spirit may dominate every part of your life and ministry. Pray that he may come upon your congregation afresh, convicting of sin, guiding in truth, pouring out his boundless love, flooding you and your congregation with joy and peace, and empowering you to be vibrant disciples of Jesus.
Once that happens, once the wind of the Spirit starts to blow afresh, then maybe you can take another look at what strategies and plans and programs might be appropriate in reaching out to others who aren’t yet part of the church. Then again, maybe you won’t need them at all.
On Pentecost, Peter didn’t borrow a chapter from How to Win Friends and Influence People. He spoke about Jesus, and he told the crowd that they had been dead wrong for rejecting the Lord. Nobody came up to Peter afterward and told him, “I really enjoyed your sermon.” Peter didn’t preach to be enjoyed.
The Bible tells us that when Peter preached his sermon on Pentecost, the people who heard him were “cut to the heart” (Acts 2:37). That’s what the Holy Spirit does to sinners. He doesn’t simply address the needs you feel; he makes you feel a need that you may never have felt before. When the Holy Spirit is at work, he doesn’t make you comfortable right away. He first cuts you to the heart. He gives you an overwhelming desire to be different. He creates in you a deep hatred for sin and a powerful desire to please God. He helps you understand and accept the message of the gospel, which before sounded like nonsense to you.
That was certainly true of the people in the crowd that was listening to Peter. Before that day, these people had assumed that they were already right with God, and they considered Jesus a heretic. They didn’t need anything that Peter had to offer. But when Peter confronted them with their guilt and declared in the Spirit’s power that God had made his Son Jesus both Messiah and Lord, they were “cut to the heart.” Why? Because the Holy Spirit himself was at work. He convicted them of their sinfulness. He moved them to ask in desperation, “What shall we do?”
That’s when Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” About three thousand people responded to Peter’s invitation. They found that the very Spirit who had cut them to the heart and made them miserable about their sins had now come into their hearts, assuring them of God’s forgiveness and peace and love through Jesus.
Only the Holy Spirit can convict people of their sin and draw them to God. In Romans 8:9 the Bible says, “If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.” So beware of any religion which simply panders to your preferences. If all you’re looking for in a church is something that makes you feel comfortable, that meets your personal needs and tastes, you’ll probably get what you’re looking for–but you may still miss out entirely on the supernatural life and power of the Spirit of God.
In our enlightened age, people who feel guilty are called “neurotic,” those who believe the Bible are labeled “old-fashioned,” and people who are born again are branded as “fanatics.” But the gospel of Jesus still insists that we repent and believe. Jesus himself says that no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born again through the Holy Spirit (John 3:3,5).
Without the Holy Spirit working in your life, sin is just a word that is overused by preachers; God is just a vague unknown; Jesus is only somebody who lived long ago and far away; the Bible is just words on a page; the church is just a social club with some religious trappings. If that describes your spiritual condition, you are in desperate need of the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is capable of transforming you into a genuine Christian. Don’t settle for anything less. When the Spirit breathes his life into you, you recognize your own sin as the repulsive reality it is; you begin to know God as he really is; Jesus becomes the most important person in your life; when you read the Bible, you hear the voice of the Lord speaking to you; you experience the church as a spiritual fellowship of people who have been born to new life and are determined to be like Jesus.
Is the wind of the Spirit blowing in your life? Or are you still trying to soar without him?
Lord Jesus, teach us to wait for the wind and realize our need for your Holy Spirit. All our efforts to know you are useless unless your Spirit leads us into truth, and all our efforts to serve you are in vain without your Spirit to carry us.
I pray, Lord God, for a mighty outpouring of your Spirit upon your church all around the world, and I pray that you will work the miracle of new birth and spiritual vitality in the hearts of many who are listening to me right now. Amen.
By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.