15, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16, And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper,to be with you forever, 17, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.”
25, “These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. 26, But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” (John 14).
As I was up early this morning, I read this verse that reminded me of the story I’m about to share with you from a pastoral perspective. It’s hard to keep Jesus’ commands to love unless we’re fervently in love with Him, but His commands are not burdensome for He has given us the Helper- the Spirit of truth.
A few years ago, while I was studying in a theological institution, I would spend time sharing and praying with friends from different parts of the world (we would do this apart from the normal chapel and morning prayer times). Since seminaries tended to academize the faith, I had to get away from all the intellectual exercises and fight for my time alone with God and like-minded friends. There was always the need to constantly engage our minds and our hearts so that we are constantly ignited afresh for the glory of Jesus Christ. The Bible training center I once attended in India had great emphasis on the gifts, discipleship and evangelism, while this Theological college was completely on the other end of the spectrum. This convergence later on brought a balance into my theology & life. The first two years were rather dry, hard, and long for me spiritually because of cross-cultural challenges. But on the 3rd year the breakthrough came while I was reading Charles Hodge’s Systematic Theology on the Holy Spirit at our school library (By the way, some of his latin words bored me to death- since I don’t read latin).
During my final year, as I was finishing up my thesis, I remember one day studying in a small computer room with some friends. On my left was Johnny (anonymous), a very tall man. I had first met Johnny when he came to the theological college as a freshman. He was passionate and strong in the scriptures. He’d share the Bible relentlessly. But overtime, I began to notice Johny slowly loosing his passion. He was running spiritually dry (as we all do) and slowly started drifting away. He passion for God faded and he mellowed gradually. I knew something was wrong. I could not put my finger on it. But Johny had lost his joy. If you’re a theological student like me: interning at church on weekends, getting up at 3:00 am to distribute newspapers, involved in campus ministry and outreach, you would have no time for friends. So I had forgotten about Johny. This went on for a year. I didn’t think it was a big deal and thought Johny might eventually come back to himself. But he didn’t. So one day, as he was sitting right next to me in that computer room, I had the urge to say something to him. I got up from my chair; laid my hand gently on his shoulder and said,
“Make of it what you will, but I want the Johny that I once knew –back. I want Johny back, the one I knew was passionate about God and the scriptures. I just sensed I needed to tell you that!” (This is not the Johny I knew).
I didn’t even add: “Thus saith the Lord” 🙂 I didn’t have time to think whether this was from the Spirit, but I had a strong urge to say it to him at that point. It all came on the spot. And even if I had thought it was from the Spirit, I would want him to test it; and hold fast to what is good (1 Thessalonians 5:21). But after I said this to him, Johny gave me a startled look. Then he laughed out loud, calling me: “Prophet! Prophet!” And then I left the room. I had thought he was joking. Sometime after I graduated from there, I was invited back to speak at one of their regular prayer meetings one evening. I remember I had preached from Ecclesiastes 2. I shared about how Solomon’s sense of emptiness was a recurring theme as he described every pursuit he had undertaken, ranging from his accomplishment in wisdom, sexual pleasures, work and material gain. After I finished the sermon, one of the students (Johny’s girl-friend) came up to me and asked if she could have my manuscript.
What I didn’t know all this time was- Johny and his girlfriend had been living in sexual sin. A few months later I was told by a friend that the girl had gotten pregnant and that they had to be sent back home. I was deeply saddened by the news. And I immediately wrote an email to Johny, reminding him to put his hope on the God of all grace. I got no response; and I had not heard from Johny since.
I’m reminded of how much we need the Holy Spirit to be effective in our everyday life & ministry- no matter what we do or where we go. I wish my friend had listened to the Holy Spirit’s conviction then (John 16:8). But I believe the best of Johny & hope that God’s sovereign grace had restored them to Himself by now. Only in brokenness before our very own sins, and having received & tasted the gift of the Holy Spirit can we minister to others who are truly in need of grace.
As my pastoral responsibilities begin to grow, God had laid an increasing burden on my heart to spend prolonged periods in His presence. Japan is a tough mission field. It’s easy to get sucked dry through work and ministry. Some missiologists have called it: The Missionary Graveyard. As true as this may be,Japan is a Grace-yard. There’s grace for the grave- because Jesus has conquered death and risen again. And His Spirit is with us and in us. Jesus said, “[the Spirit] dwells with you and will be in you.” Thank God for the gift of the Holy Spirit. How crucial it is that we stay sensitive to the leadership of the Spirit for our lives and ministry. “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God” (Romans 8: 14).