Sunday was Pentecost, the day set aside to remember the coming of the Holy Spirit. Did we even notice? In the day-to-day ordinary of forking down eggs and jotting down plans and building up a life, God’s Spirit remains unseen.
By His very nature, the Spirit of God operates invisibly. Even the Bible refers to the Spirit in word pictures for lack of an image (what we English teachers call similes.) At the baptism of Jesus, He descended “like a dove.” In the book of Acts, He came in a rush of wind appearing “like flames of fire” on the disciples’ heads. But the Spirit, while He is a living, moving person, cannot be seen anymore than I can see your spirit or you can see mine. The Spirit is the living essence of God, the Voice that Guides us, the powerful Helper promised by Jesus Christ.
I find it difficult to identify the Spirit in my own life. I catch myself wondering, “Do I really have the Holy Spirit within me? Am I really listening to Him and letting Him guide me?” Anabaptists are usually stoic people. We watch our Pentecostal brothers with a mixture of scandalized shock and tentative envy.
Still, just because the Holy Spirit isn’t noisy, doesn’t mean He’s not speaking. Jesus explained, “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8, NKJV).
Every Sunday from Easter to Pentecost, I photographed a few different plants and watched their development. Each plant has its own cycle. Some weeks there was very little visible growth, but in the fullness of time, they each leafed or bloomed according to their kind. This is how the Spirit works—sometimes dramatically, sometimes subtly, always moving.
I’ve come to realize that just because I can’t identify the work of the Holy Spirit in my life, doesn’t mean He isn’t working. The Spirit’s job is to speak what He hears from the Father and to glorify Christ. As such, His work may be unseen even by the person He’s guiding. In a podcast I listened to this week, Jeannie Cunnion mentioned that we can identify a Spirit-filled person, because they will continually point us to Jesus and their lives will bear the fruit of the Spirit. She emphasized that this fruit is of the Spirit, not of our own strength.
This brings me to our soul song for the month. As I thought about Pentecost and the Holy Spirit, I wondered, “What songs talk about the Spirit?” This was the first one that came to mind.
Spirit of God, descend upon my heart; Wean it from earth; through all its pulses move. Stoop to my weakness, mighty as Thou art, And make me love Thee as I ought to love. I ask no dream, no prophet ecstasies, No sudden rending of this veil of clay, No angel visitant, no op’ning skies, But take the dimness of my soul away. Hast Thou not bid me love Thee, God and King? All, all Thine own, soul, heart and strength and mind. I see Thy cross; there teach my heart to cling: Oh, let me seek Thee, and, oh, let me find! Teach me to feel that Thou art always nigh; Teach me the struggles of the soul to bear, To check the rising doubt, the rebel sigh; Teach me the patience of unanswered prayer. Teach me to love Thee as Thine angels love, One holy passion filling all my frame; The kindling of the heav’n-descended Dove, My heart an altar, and Thy love the flame.
As I examined the lyrics, I realized that this has indeed been a soul song of mine for a long time. In multiple places in my journal, I’ve written phrases from the last verse. This is a demanding song: it’s a prayer asking the Spirit to step in and help. It’s also a humble song: it acknowledges that without the Spirit of God at work within us, we cannot love God as we “ought to love.”
I find this arrangement by Lloyd Kaufman an especially lovely interpretation of George Croly’s lyrics (although it leaves out the fourth verse). Below, I’ve expanded the text. I think it could work well to listen to the music and read the expansion separately or simultaneously.
Spirit of God, the communicating powerful presence of God, descend upon my heart. Come down to me and live in my innermost being. Wean it from earth. As a descendent of Adam, who was formed of the earth by the Hand of God, I too easily look to the stuff of this world instead of the Maker of the world for my sustenance. Through all its pulses, move. Breathe life into my love in every moment of my living. Stoop to my weakness, mighty as Thou art, because I cannot come to You and I need Your strength; and make me love Thee as I ought to love.
I ask no dream, no vision of Jesus in the night, no prophet ecstasies to bring You near. I ask no sudden rending of this veil of clay. In this flesh-and-bone body I can love you. I ask no angel visitant, no op’ning skies where the physical barrier between us is gone, but take the dimness of my soul away.
Hast Thou not bid us love Thee, God and King? You’ve commanded us to love You, wooed us toward You as a Person of great authority Who—unexpectedly—desires our hearts. You deserve for us to be all, all Thine own, soul, heart, and strength and mind. How can we love you this way? I see Thy cross, that ultimate expression of Your sacrificial love. There, teach my heart to cling, to sacrifice myself to love You more. O let me seek Thee, and O let me find.
Teach me to feel that Thou art always nigh. I know you’re always near, but my feelings often deceive me. Teach me the struggles of the soul to bear, and while I know that You long to hear and hold our questions, help me to check the rising doubt, the rebel sigh. Believing You are sovereign and always on time, teach me the patience of unanswered prayer.
Teach me to love Thee as Thine angels love—purely, completely, singly, one holy passion filling all my frame, not just my heart but my mind and body as well. Through the baptism of the heav’n-descended dove, the power of the Holy Spirit, make my heart an altar—open, ready, and waiting for Thy love the flame.