Choking. Gasping. Wheezing. Panicking. I can't breathe! What do I do?
As a thirteen year old asthmatic, I was trying to stay calm. It wasn't working. With no rescue inhaler and stuck where I was, I wasn't sure what to do.
Saturday morning had dawned clear and cold with a strong north wind as a blue norther ripped through west Texas. Dad and I had loaded his old open horse trailer with bales of hay and hauled them to the place he and a friend kept cattle. His friend had also brought a horse trailer and pick up full of hay. We started stacking the hay in the second floor of an old white-frame farm house. The sun fought its way through the years of accumulated dust on the old wood frame windows. Dust and small pieces of grass danced in the rays of the sunlight as we hauled the hay up the stairs. After about 45 minutes, my hundred and ten pound body had run out of strength to haul the hay up the stairs, so my dad and his friend Wyman brought the hay up the stairs for me to stack in the three small rooms upstairs.
We were almost done when my lungs began to close down. Too much dust, grass, and pollen on the north winds sent my system into shut down mode.
Choking. Gasping. Wheezing. Panicking. I can't breathe! What do I do?
I rushed over to one of the old windows. I tried to push it open, but it was stuck. I banged on the wood frame of the window as hard as I could without breaking the glass. Little-by-little I felt the window loose from the sill. Another hard bang on the movable part of the window and I was able to half-open it.
Immediately my panic eased and I stuck my head out the window. I was coughing and wheezing but the fresh north wind hit my face and filled my lungs with cool, clean air. The tightness in my chest eased and my body relaxed. The waves of panic subsided. My shoulders unclenched. My breathing slowed. After ten minutes, I was fine and ready to finish my part of the job... only I made sure all the windows in the upstairs rooms of the old house were open so the fresh wind could flow and I could breathe!
Maybe you are like a lot of folks — you need something fresh. Not just a new lap around the track and certainly more than another set of New Year resolutions you likely won't keep. You need a fresh start. The old patterns are too ingrained and the bad habits are too routine. You're tired of the religious slogans and the mind games needed to will yourself to a better year and a better you. You need fresh Air from heaven's Wind. You need genuine Holy Spirit renewal.
When we open the book of Acts, Jesus' closest followers were with the Lord shortly before he left them to return to the Father. Luke describes the scene for us this way:
On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: "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).
By almost any standards churches use today, the apostles were ready to begin their new ministry. They had a great message about experiencing the resurrected Lord after his crucifixion. They had spent several years of learning from him — heard what he taught, saw how he treated people, and how he stayed on mission. Jesus had given them power and authority to preach, teach, cast out demons, and do miracles. Their minds had been opened to understand how Jesus' story and their story fit into God's story in the Scriptures. They had their mission outlined to them by the Lord: they were to make disciples by going into all the world and baptizing people and teaching those new disciples how to obey Jesus. Yet Jesus' final words stopped them from beginning their work with two simple words, "...but wait..."!
Wait? Wait for what? They had a message. They had authority. They had their mission. Wait? Why wait?
This is where we must pay attention. In a Christian landscape where big box churches market ways to get a lot of people into their buildings, the truth of the matter is very clear: the number of people who are actually following Jesus in most developed countries is decreasing rapidly. A few big churches are attracting audiences, but very few are growing disciples. What's wrong? Do we blame culture? Do we blame our methods? Do we question — God forgive our language — our marketing plan?
So we must notice Jesus' command, "...but wait..."! Then we need to listen to Jesus' answer why waiting was so important for his first disciples and for us:
...wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about... 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 1:6; Acts 1:8; emphasis in bold added).We need fresh Air from heaven's Wind. We need the power of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus gave birth to his church through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1-17). Jesus has given birth to each new disciple through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:3-7; cf. John 3:3-7). Without the Holy Spirit, God's Breath of heaven's fresh air, we do not have the freedom or power we most need to be who we want to be (2 Corinthians 3:17-18; Romans 8:1-13).
Paul knew this and he let the disciples in a city obsessed with power know this. He prays early in his letter for them with these words:
For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all God's people, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come (Ephesians 1:15-21; emphasis in bold added).
And in case they forgot what he had prayed for them early in his letter, he prayed something similar again in the middle of the letter:
For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being... (Ephesians 3:14-16; emphasis in bold added).
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen (Ephesians 3:20-21; emphasis in bold added).
Paul prayed for them to be strengthened and empowered by the presence of the Holy Spirit within them! These were not apostles. These were not eyewitnesses of the earthly ministry of Jesus from the baptism of John through the Lord's return to the Father. These were mostly Gentile Christians who lived far away from the places of Jesus and decades after his death, burial, resurrection, and return to the Father. Their power to live the life of Jesus was the Holy Spirit, just like the first disciples! So shouldn't that be the source of our power?
So how do we release that "fresh Air from heaven's Wind" into our lives and the lives of other believers? If we listen to the passages above, there are three basic principles for releasing the Holy Spirit into our own lives, into the lives of other believers, and into the life of our congregation:
We need to believe that Jesus longs to fulfill his promise about the Spirit's presence and power within us as his disciples (cf. Luke 11:13; Acts 2:38-39).
- Personal Prayer:
We need to be like those disciples who waited by praying until the Spirit came (Acts 1:12-14).
- Intercessory Prayer:
We need to pray for each other and our churches, missional communities, home groups, and Jesus' gatherings to be strengthened, empowered, and led by the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 3:14-21).
Rather than a slogan or a program, imagine what would happen if a tidal wave of believers began to practice these three principles and taught them to other! Imagine what would happen in your own life if it were refreshed and empowered by "fresh air from heaven's wind"!
Far too often, we as believers unintentionally act like unbelievers. We start out to serve the Lord and fulfill our God-ordained mission with good intentions, but proceed using worldly strategies and perspectives. Then we recognize that we are called to do the impossible and we realize that we cannot do it with our current resources, strategies, and wisdom. On a spiritual level, we realize this is like trying to fly a kite on a day without wind — we are trying to design it up, will it up, plan it up, but only the Spirit can be the Wind that flies our kite! We must rely on the power of the Holy Spirit or we will not do and cannot do what we are called to do. So let's start a revolution of "fresh Air from heaven's Wind" by releasing the power of the Holy Spirit into our own lives and the lives of other disciples!