Category Archives: spirituality

Understanding the term ‘spirit’ in context

‘The Egyptians will lose heart, and I will bring their plans to nothing; they will consult the idols and the spirits of the dead, the mediums and the spiritists.’ (Isaiah 19v3)

‘The Lord has poured into them a spirit of dizziness; they make Egypt stagger in all that she does, as a drunkard staggers around in his vomit.’ (Isaiah 19v14).

When I first began this exploration of the different uses of the term ‘spirit’ in the Old Testament, little did I imagine the wealth of understanding that would be picked up along the way. Some are obvious like the reference to God’s Spirit. Others less so where the  term  refers to an emotional state such as my ‘spirit was crushed.’

In the first of these two scriptures (Isa 19v3) we learn that the people achieve nothing because rather than seeking the living God they focused their efforts on consulting idols and the dead. This may have partly  inspired by the idea that the dead – having transited this world to another – might be in a place where they could affect change for the petitioner – though it may just as easily be superstitious nonsense. However, the people’s  approach to spiritists would have been an act of disobedience as they were instructed to have nothing to do invoking such people – as seen in King Saul’s visit to the witch at Endor to ask her to elicit Samuel from the dead so that he could seek advice (I Sam 28). The fact that Saul disguised himself for the trip so that he would not be recognised , tells us everything we  need to know about his conscience and how he knew what he was doing was wrong.

In the second scripture, the ‘spirit of dizziness’ (Isa 19v14) is no spirit at all and is better rendered a  ‘sense of panic and confusion coming upon them.’  Here, it is important to note that nothing evil resides in God. The sense of uneasiness that came upon them was attributed to God as if like a spirit  flowing from God and into them – but , in reality,  the Egyptians were overwhelmed by a sense of fear that rendered them incapable and paralysed to act  – in the same way that people become incapable when drunk. The spirit that came upon  them was not from God but a manifestation of  guilt, fear and consequence about themselves and their actions.

 


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‘You give them something to eat?’

‘The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him— the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord.’ (Isaiah 11v2)

This scripture  ends in the Jerusalem Bible with the words ‘ The fear of Yahweh is his breath.’ Actually, in the verses that follows  we learn that …

 

‘...God does not judge by appearances, he gives no verdict on hearsay, but judges the  wretched with integrity and with equity gives a verdict for the poor of the land.’ ( v3-4)

 

Now, here’s the rub. While this Scripture foretells the future coming of One in whom the Holy Spirit lives that will right the wrongs of injustice of the world for the glory of God, for the christian believer (today) who has received the same spirit from God, the same is expected of us. It is also our calling  to

  • not judge by appearances
  • not sanction hearsay as truth
  • judge in favour of the poor, downtrodden and displaced

How different is this to the world we live in today where  the successful are lauded, people admire the wealthy who have made millions exploiting others or  have corrupted or done away with the systems that were established to address the needs of the poor and vulnerable.

Yet the work of the Holy Spirit is the converse of this – yes, in our lives we may experience the gift of tongues, prophesy and all manner of other things but we are a hollow gong if we are not driven by  the essence of love.  Why? Because God’s love is revealed through us to those who are mentally physically, spiritually and emotionally destitute. Rather like the thousands of people who found themselves drawn many miles away from their homes and families to a desolate place so that they could  listen to Jesus speak…but then found themselves without food and with no shelter. The same words that flummoxed the disciples that day who when telling Jesus to send the people  away because it was late and they  had no food to eat, still ring true for us today. ‘You give them something to eat!’ (Matt 14)


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The how’s and why’s of God’s Spirit of judgement and fire?

‘… he will cleanse the bloodstains from Jerusalem by a spirit of judgment and a spirit of fire.’ (Isaiah 4v4)

It is easy in this verse to misunderstand what is being said by the prophet. The reference to a spirit of judgement and a spirit of fire seems to suggest that multiple spirits are in operation – each with their own particular function. And yes, our New Testament understanding is that there is One God and One Spirit so how are we to understand this?

For me, this passage speaks of the future way in which God will operate in the world – a time that was heralded at the first Pentecost in which the visitors from many nations came to Jerusalem are were cut to the heart by Peter’s words (Act 2) as he tells them the way to God is through Jesus Christ who was crucified by one and all who fail to believe his message. ‘What must we do?’ comes the collective reply of the visitors who are mortified and experiencing judgement as the spirit touches them. ‘ Repent and be baptised,’ replies  Peter as God’s Holy Spirit, like a fire descends on the visitors, who then go back to their communities taking the message of God. In short, in this instance – One Spirit- two functions: to help people recognise their need for forgiveness and (once achieved) to physically, mentally and spiritually receive God into their lives as the Holy Spirit indwells them as Counseller, Guide and Enabler (to name but a few). Be blessed and know God’s Spirit lives within

 


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Understanding ourselves?

‘Do not be quickly provoked in your spirit, for anger resides in the lap of fools.’
(Ecclesiastes 7v9)

Many years ago, I read Watchman’s Nee’s book ‘Release of the Spirit’ then later on his epic ‘The Spiritual Man.’ Both of which have helped to think of the ‘soul’ as the receptacle in which God’s Spirit operates. Now, while this verse seems strange in the sense that it suggests our spirit can be provoked to anger, there are three things to consider here:

  1. During the time of Ecclesiastes- long before the day of Pentecost – the Holy Spirit did not live within the person but came upon them at God’s direction to facilitate  ‘one off’ acts to achieve God’s will.
  2. Because of this, it’s quite possible the term ‘spirit’ is used here to reference a sense of the person’s emotional response as to what is happening.
  3.  The understanding of our own human spirit is different to that of God’s Spirit. The human spirit being carnal in nature as easily influenced by our human (carnal) nature.

However you understand the term ‘spirit’, one thing is sure – we as humans can easily be provoked to anger where rash actions land us in trouble. That is why we can say something that is cruel in the heat of the moment or hold on to a grudge even though slighted by someone many years earlier. In such times, the advice offered in the wisdom Book of Ecclesiastes is to not be quickly provoked because ‘anger resides in the lap of fools.’

 


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Fashioned by humans or God?

‘Finally, Daniel came into my presence and I told him the dream. He is called Belteshazzar, after the name of my god, and the spirit of the holy gods is in him.'(Daniel 4v8)

Who would have thought so much could be found in such a  short verse? Daniel and the Israelites have been captured and removed from their land to another country to begin the collective process of being assimilated into the Babylonian  culture. At the helm of this decision  is Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon.  But right from the start, Daniel is on the offensive as he refuses the meals of meat he’s offered, preferring to stick to a diet of vegetables rather than eat that which has been offered to idols.

 

Whether Daniel is deliberately late for Nebuchadnezzar we don’t know but the kings’s exasperation is evident in the word ‘finally.’ Possibly, Daniel (aka Belteshazzar) was on time but the King’s desire that he interpret the dream immediately may have got the better of him. However it is read, the most interesting insights that come at the end of v8 in which we learn that

  1. Daniel has been renamed ‘ Belteshazzar’ after Nebuchadnezzar’s  god (and)
  2. the spirit of the holy gods is in him (Daniel).

Now, I find it really interesting that although Daniel has been renamed ‘Belteshazzar,’ the king also observes that the spirit of a holy god(s) lives within him – it is an important distinction to note because if the king believed the opposite he would have said that ‘Daniel has been renamed Belteshazzar after Nebucahdezzar’s holy god that dwells within him – but he doesn’t say that. Why?  Because even the king has a growing awareness  that the capabilities of Daniel’s God goes far beyond the lifeless, mute idols that adorn the palace. A truth that as we shall see, has even greater implications for both of them.

 


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When all strength disappears?

“When they ask why you are groaning, tell them, ‘I groan because of the terrifying news I have heard. When it comes true, the boldest heart will melt with fear; all strength will disappear. Every spirit will faint; strong knees will become as weak as water. And the Sovereign Lord says: It is coming! It’s on its way!’” Ezekiel 21:7 (NLT)

However you understand this scripture – whether as a terrifying event that will shake all people of the world to their very core of their being – or as an event unparalleled in ancient history, the truth is that it’s monumental. The people should be scared and rightly so.

Interestingly, the author of Ezekiel makes an interesting analogy of the spirit as possessing the ability to faint and  – by extension – presumably the ability to be restored and roused to its proper state once again. But what we also see here is that God is active in the process and while the spirit of man might comprehend, it cannot endure when faced with the enormity, magnitude and holiness of God. After  all, as Jeremiah observes (17v9), ‘ the heart is sinful and beyond cure – who can comprehend it?’


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The Necessity of God’s Holy Spirit?

God’s people had been having a bad day at the office – actually, years, weeks, months, days, hours, minutes…You get what I’m saying. The problem? Despite their best efforts, they were  unable to keep the laws and decrees that God had given them. What to do?

Well, for the people it was a case that either God had underestimated their ability and set the bar too high or they were doing something wrong because resist as they might, they just kept yielding to temptation – which in this instance was disobedience and failure to God’s law/instruction.

Now, strangely, the solution God brings to the table is a surprise one because it seems the  peoples’ failure relates to a lack of God’s presence within them. In other words, their human strength was never going to be enough to refrain from temptation. What they needed was God living within them and this through an outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit.

Whichever way for read this passage – that is, as a foretelling of events at Pentecost in which the Holy Spirit falls upon and mobilises the believers  OR a temporary infilling ofGod’s  Spirit into the  people of Ezekiel’s time so they can do God’s work, the point is human strength and ingenuity is not always enough to evade temptation.

Oscar Wilde is famously quoted for saying ‘ I can resist everything but temptation.’ For  christians, the same is true, except for one caveat:

‘We can resist everything but temptation (which we are all susceptible to) however, when we wholly rely upon God’s Holy Spirit and his gracious provision to strengthen our otherwise weak resolve, we can experience victory over temptation, albeit one challenge at a time. Hence, why Christian believe that Christ lives within each of us, guiding us towards decision making that will lead us even further into actions to achieve Christ’s glory.  And on that positive note, be blessed!

 


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Irrevocable change – the work of God’s Holy Spirit

‘I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.’   (Ezekiel 36v26)
Continuing our series on the work of the Holy Spirit in History – that is, the period preceding Jesus – we come to this interesting passage that foretells what is to come for all when the Holy Spirit will enter into the disciples and change their world and lives irrevocably.

Of course, this outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit upon all people comes at great expense as it requires Jesus to return to heaven in order that the Spirit might replace Him on earth. Now, while it is amazing that the Holy Spirit who is part of the Godhead Trinity who was present at the start of Creation hovering over the waters  – it is even more remarkable that God uses his life-force to equip the disciples to think, act and be present like Jesus in their thinking, answers and actions.

Hence, Jesus’ promise to remove the peoples’  cynical and jaded hearts and replace them with ones that are more malleable, echo the real promise that each believer will soon receive – namely: Christ in you.., the hope of glory! (Col 1v27) In short, God’s transformation that will transform lives, equip and revolutionise his followers to reach a nation and lead others, also has the provision for a direct ‘one to one’ relationship with God via the Holy Spirit..
The promise that God will place within each wayward believer, a new spirit and a heart  of flesh has been proven by many believers over the centuries as they have found God to be true. Hallelujah!

Continue reading Irrevocable change – the work of God’s Holy Spirit


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God’s search for those who live as exiles?

‘The Spirit lifted me up and brought me to the exiles in Babylonia in the vision given by the Spirit of God. Then the vision I had seen went up from me.’ (Ezekiel 11v24)
Okay, there are better theological minds than mine who could attempt to explain what’s happening here but for me it speaks of God’s active engagement in our world. Putting the scripture in context with the verses that go before, we read:

 

‘Then the cherubim, with the wheels beside them, spread their wings, and the glory of the God of Israel was above them. 23 The glory of the Lord went up from within the city and stopped above the mountain east of it.24 The Spirit lifted me up and brought me to the exiles in Babylonia in the vision given by the Spirit of God.’

In short, it doesn’t matter how the people of Israel fare in regard to their obedience to God because at the end of the day His Glory will prevail. Not only that, but He is mindful of those who are exiled and isolated – a salient encouragement and reminder for us in these times of  Covid 19 and lockdown.

The reality is God loves you and me. Yes, we will fail Him because like sheep we will stray from time to time but that does not diminish His Love or concern for us who find ourselves locked up and in exiled. Why? Because the essence of His Being is to save and see us flourish. Be blessed!

Continue reading God’s search for those who live as exiles?


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Are you allowing God’s Holy Spirit to access and influence your life?

‘Then the Spirit of the Lord came on me, and he told me to say: “This is what the Lord says: That is what you are saying, you leaders in Israel, but I know what is going through your mind.’ (Ezekiel 11v5)
In this verse, there are three things that strike me about the Holy Spirit’s influence over Ezekiel in that:
  1. It is immediate! No sooner has the Spirit come upon Ezekiel then he is ready, willing and waiting.
  2. Ezekiel – like all prophets – is a conduit that God can use to speak to the leaders.   (note that when receiving a word or revelation, prophets are often burdened until they reveal it to others. Sometimes, verbal; other times as some sort of living metaphor [Hosea 1])
  3. The spirit discerns the heart and actions. That’s why God (and Ezekiel by extension)  is aware of how God’s words to Israel’s leaders is fallingl short when it comes to eliciting their action because he knows they are conflicted to do what God tells them.
Of course, this verse has application for us today as we (if we’re honest) also can be rebellious, holding out for what we would like to see happen rather than seeking God’s will in a situation. Understanding this and applying it in our lives is the beginning of spiritual wisdom. Be blessed!

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