August 15, 2015

Listen for it. Listen for Him.

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? 

These words jumped from their immediate context (I Cor.6:19) to arrest my thoughts one day  not too long ago and their significance keeps echoing in my heart…

Have I fathomed this? The eternal, Almighty, Holy-holy-holy God has sent His own Spirit to take up residence in this very perishable, earth-bound, sin-prone shell that I inhabit.  He has in fact designed it for His habitation  and because of His presence here I have been given the chance to showcase His glory.  (I Cor.6:19-20)  It’s unfathomable.

And yet,  surely there are day-to-day, moment by moment implications to this reality?!  Too often I live oblivious to them, not so very unlike Eve who took for granted getting to walk and talk with God in the Garden and soon was listening to the wrong voice in her ear…

That voice did not come from one who had her best interests at heart,  although he knew her interests very well. He also knew her vulnerabilities, better than she knew them herself—or she might not have wandered so far alone…She might not have been so eager to listen to a stranger… At first perhaps she listened out of curiosity, or wonderWho’s ever seen a talking snake?!  But the first words from his mouth should have clued her in that this was an enemy: “Did God actually say?”
This beautiful enemy was a poser; pretending to care about her interests, he only used them to exploit her.

I know this story backwards and forwards but I don’t often transpose it to my own backyard and the temptations that play on the mental swingsets there… For this is my enemy too. He (and his hordes) knows my interests… knows I’m eager to be ‘righteous’, to learn to pray ‘well’, to be ‘good’… How might he exploit  even these interests to distort my understanding of God and prayer and righteousness?  The direct approach might not do—the enticement to blatant immorality.  But perhaps, clothing himself as an angel of light, he might suggest I focus on technique, or on trying harder, or on shaming myself into action? Or he might suggest I read just one more book before I get started—a book on prayer, of course.  And then ‘tsk-tsk-tsk’ when I show no signs of improvement.  And “do you really think God is pleased with you ‘as-is’?  You really had better get your act together, pray more, try harder… maybe then…”  We could really get this swing-set in motion, he and I, with my  vulnerability to do-it-yourself-righteousness and my incorrigibly distorted view of prayer as dire duty more than relationship.   I may not even need his help. 

But I do need help to avoid the pitfalls of my nature, that’s just it.  And before we took that excursion into the Garden and my being not so very unlike Eve… I was considering the implications of having Almighty God dwelling in my earthly tent—this body of mine.  Here is one of them.  He is present, my HELPER, there to nudge me away from error and into truth.  He is there beneath the undercurrent of life’s busy-ness or idle-ness, there in the moment of temptation, there always, acting on my behalf for His great glory.

I like the way Richard Lovelace describes a normal relationship with God in his book:  Dynamics of Spiritual Life—“…as we move through life the presence of his Spirit is the most real and powerful factor in our daily environment; …underneath the momentary static of events, conflicts, problems and even excursions into sin, he is always there like the continuously sounding note in a basso ostinato.’

I had to look up that term.  It’s the musical term used to describe a repeated theme of notes in the bass line of a composition that undergird the variations in the upper notes.  I like that—the Spirit always there, sufficient for everything we face.  Our constant companion.

And I find these days that I want to be more attentive to His presence, more sensitive to His promptings, more responsive to His corrections. (This too is His Work! )  He is at work in each of us more than we realize—prompting, enabling (to do what God calls us to do), directing, reassuring, illuminating truth, assuring of the Father’s love, making our lives to be salt and light… It’s all too easy to miss Him and to arrogantly chalk our successes up to our own cleverness, to attribute pleasant surprises to ‘coincidence’, to thank our ‘lucky stars’ rather than the God ‘in whom we live and move and have our being’!

What if instead we assumed God’s Spirit’s work in us and responded with hearts of gratitude, awe, and praise—like the melody notes above the steady voice of the basso ostinato?  How different would our days be if, with humble hearts and  ears inclined to believe, we listened for the bass line of the Spirit, listened ready to say “Yes! I see. Yes, you’re right. Yes, Jesus is amazing!”; listened at the sink, in the car, at the desk, in the line and believed Him to be present…

For myself, I suspect it would save me from a great deal of useless self-effort, self-reproach, and just plain self-ish-ness.  I suspect it would lead more readily to a glad repentance and a new way of praying—without ceasing, with joy.  And I suspect this kind of attentive listening would begin to develop in us all a more humble dependence on the One who alone can produce spiritual growth in us.  We can attempt to do all the right things, to grow ourselves up, but apart from the Spirit’s illumining instruction and empowering we are hopeless orphans. This is not God’s intention.

"I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you,” Jesus said. Jn.14:18

Again I found Lovelace’s insights helpful:

“We should particularly recognize that growth in holiness is not simply a matter of the lonely individual making claims of faith on the basis of Romans 6: 1-14. [“We know that our old self was crucified with Him…consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus”]  It involves moving about in all the areas of our life in dependent fellowship with a person:  “Walk by the Spirit and you will not fulfill the lusts of the flesh…” (Gal.5:16 NASB).  When this practice of the presence of God is maintained over a period of time, our experience of the Holy Spirit becomes less subjective and more clearly identifiable, as gradually  we learn to distinguish the strivings of the Spirit from the motions of the flesh.” –Richard Lovelace, Dynamics of Spiritual Life, p.131

I have a little object lesson here I’d like to suggest.  What follows is an audio recording of a familiar classical piece.  It is a great example of a sustained ‘Basso Ostinato’.  The opening bars introduce the theme.  Listen for it, and keep listening for it as the melody progresses. As you listen think of how the Holy Spirit is always at work in the score that is your life-song, sustaining the rhythm, performing His designs to perfect God’s  will in your life.  Listen for it.  Listen for Him.


For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. Rom.8:6

For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Rom.14:17

“… For we are the temple of the living God.” II Cor.6:16

“Where shall I go from your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from your presence?…”


P.S. If you, like me, sometimes  get side-tracked by notions that are not from the Spirit, may I offer this excerpt from the writings of John Owen, a highly regarded Puritan theologian (1616-1683).  I have found it very helpful. He suggests four ways we can distinguish the leading of the Spirit from other impressions.

  1. The leading of the Spirit, he says, is regular, that is, according to the regulum: the rule of Scripture. The Spirit does not work in us to give us a new rule of life, but to help us understand and apply the rule contained in Scripture. Thus, the fundamental question to ask about any guidance will be: Is this course of action consistent with the Word of God? 
  2. The commands of the Spirit are not grievous. They are in harmony with the Word, and the Word is in harmony with the believer as a new creation. The Christian believer consciously submitted to the Word will find pleasure in obeying that Word, even if the Lord’s way for us is marked by struggle, pain, and sorrow. Christ’s yoke fits well; His burden never crushes the spirit. (Matthew 11:28-30)
  3. The “motions” of the Spirit are orderly. Just as God’s covenant is ordered in all things and secure, (2 Samuel 23:5) so the promised gift of that covenant, the indwelling Spirit, is orderly in the way in which He deals with us. Restlessness is not a mark of communion with the Spirit but of the activity of the evil one. Perhaps Owen had particular members of his congregations in mind when he wrote:

We see some poor souls to be in such bondage as to be hurried up and down, in the matter of duties at the pleasure of Satan. They must run from one to another, and commonly neglect that which they should do. When they are at prayer, then they should be at the work of their calling; and when they are at their calling, they are tempted for not laying all aside and running to prayer. Believers know that this is not from the Spirit of God, which makes “every thing beautiful in its season.”

  1. The “motions,” or promptings of the Spirit, Owen says, always tend to glorify God according to His Word. He brings Jesus’ teaching into our memories; He glorifies the Savior; He pours into our hearts a profound sense of the love of God for us.

--This excerpt is taken from The Trinitarian Devotion of John Owen
by Sinclair Ferguson

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