The Holy Spirit is Like…: Three Images of the Holy Spirit in Scripture

In Scripture there are three basic descriptions of the Holy Spirit. These symbols of the Holy Spirit’s presence help us understand who the Holy Spirit is and what the Holy Spirit does.

image 2 - wind

The Holy Spirit is Like Wind
The first of these images or symbols is wind. We read about this on the day of Pentecost in the book of Acts:

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. (Acts 2:1-2)

When the believers are gathered together in obedience to Jesus’ command to wait for the Spirit to come, they first of all encounter the wind or breath of God. Throughout the Hebrew Bible, the Hebrew word that ruach is translated as breath, wind, or spirit. It is this word used in Genesis 1:2, where we read of God’s creative work in creation: “and the Spirit [ruach] of God was hovering over the waters.” This is the word used in Genesis 2:7 where we read: “Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath [ruach] of life and the man became a living being.” The Holy Spirit is the basic breath of life – the spirit – that animates all creation and human beings.

Beyond bringing natural life, the Holy Spirit also brings spiritual life in the midst of humanity’s spiritual death through sin and ruptured relationship with God. In Ezekiel 376, when the prophet preaches to the valley of dry bones, they represent the spiritually dead people of God spiritually dead. It is the breath and wind that blows this mass of death into a living army of God. This is likely the idea behind Jesus’ words to Nicodemus in John 3:8: “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit” (John 3:8). The Holy Spirit is like wind that breathes life into us, spiritually restoring us with God through Christ.  So, when the violent wind rushes into the house where the disciples were gathered on Pentecost Sunday in Acts 2 we see that the Holy Spirit is coming in fulfillment of prophesy to breathe God’s divine life back into humanity.

image 3 - fire
The Holy Spirit is Like Fire
Secondly, the Holy Spirit is described as fire. Here are the next two verses in Acts 2:

They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. (Acts 2:3-4)

Throughout Scripture, fire is a symbol of the presence of God. When Moses knelt at the burning bush (Exodus 3) or Elijah battled the prophets of Baal at Mt. Carmel (1 Kings 18), fire symbolized the presence of God in holiness and power. Fire is a symbol of God’s leading presence, such as when God led His people out from slavery in Egypt to the Promised Land with a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. Fire also conveys God’s purifying presence, as when Isaiah had a vision of God and a coal was taken from the heavenly altar of God to purify Isaiah’s lips (Isaiah 6).  Lastly, fire is a symbol of God’s passionate presence, seeking after people. When he received a message from God, the prophet Jeremiah heard these words, “I will make my words in your mouth a fire” (Jeremiah 5:14). Later on, Jeremiah exclaimed, “His word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones” (20:9)

And so, when the Holy Spirit comes upon the early disciples of Jesus in Acts 2 in the form of tongues of fire, He is kindling His presence within His people. That presence is for guidance, holiness, and passion for people into the early disciples.

image 4 - water

The Holy Spirit is Like Water
Thirdly, the Holy Spirit is described as wind. Earlier in the book of Acts, just before His ascension, Jesus says to His disciples:

For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit. (Acts 1:5)

βαπτίζω (baptizo) means literally to immerse, and so Jesus is telling His followers that they will be washed or submerged in the Holy Spirit as we with water.  The Apostle Peter echoes this later, after the Pentecost arrival of the Holy Spirit, when preaches with  reference to the words of the prophet Joel, saying, “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people” (Acts 2:17).

The Holy Spirit is like water poured into our lives from God. This reminds us of the Genesis account of Creation where the Spirit of God was hovering over the primordial waters of the cosmos that was still formless and void. The primordial deep was met with God’s Spirit to bring life.

It also calls to mind two episodes from Jesus’ life and ministry. The first is Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan Woman by the well in John 4. Moving from the earthly waters of Jacob’s well, Jesus says:

Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life. (John 4:13-14)

The second episode occurs when Jesus is at a great Jewish festival, the feast of tabernacles, in John 7. Speaking in the midst of a great crowd, Jesus says, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.”  John offers this explanatory statement immediately following: “By this He meant the Spirit, whom those who believe in him were later to receive” (John 7:37b-39). The Holy Spirit is a gift like water that brings life to our souls and cleanses our dry and thirsty world.

These three images – wind, fire, water – help us understand who the Holy Spirit is and what the Holy Spirit does. If the church wants to live and thrive, we must seek to live by the Holy Spirit, who breathes life into us, who sets us ablaze with God’s power, and revives us with waters of life.

[This is an excerpt from my message, “Activated by the Holy Spirit,” preached at Eastbrook Church on September 6/7.]

Activated by the Holy Spirit

This past weekend at Eastbrook Church, we begin a new five-week series called “Roots.” This series is an opportunity for us at Eastbrook as we celebrate 40 years as a church to look back at what have been the roots of our church. It also offers us the chance to look forward to how we can continue living from these roots as we move forward for years to come.

This weekend we looked at how the Holy Spirit activates the church. Since our inception, we have said that we wanted to be a church that could only be explained by the power of the Holy Spirit. This is really supposed to be true of any local church, and was definitely true of the early church in Jerusalem.

You can watch my message from this past weekend and follow along with the message outline below. You can also engage with the entire series here or download the Eastbrook mobile app for even more opportunities for involvement.

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Prayer as Mission: The Early Church in Acts

I continued our series on prayer, “Great Prayers of the Bible“, at Eastbrook Church this past weekend by looking at four themes on prayer from the early church in the book of Acts. I try not have a romanticized view of the early church that leads into an impulse to “recover the true church.” However, I do believe we can learn some important lessons on prayer from the earliest believers who walked with Jesus.

You can view the message video and the sermon outline below. You can follow the entire series at our web-site, through the Eastbrook app, or through our audio podcast.

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24-7 Prayer at Eastbrook

Summer-of-Prayer-Ads_App-Wide-2.pngThis Sunday, July 15, at 6 AM we begin a week of 24-7 Prayer here at Eastbrook. This is part of our Summer of Prayer in July where we are focusing on learning how to pray together with others. Holy Grounds Coffeehouse will be open for prayer with others during this entire week for prayer.

Participants can participate with interactive prayer stations (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication) that will encourage personal prayer, as well as create space for groups (families, life groups, etc.) to pray together. Plan to spend about an hour in the various stations.

Holy Trinity Brompton shares this in their booklet History Belongs to the Intercessors:

Some of the most remarkable moments in church history have been marked by 24-7 prayer:

  • When the Holy Spirit visited a 24-7 Prayer Room in an upper room in Jerusalem, the church was born!
  • Monastic communities have practiced the laus perennis – perpetual prayer, for centuries
  • During the eighteenth century, Moravians in the German village of Herrnhut prayed continually for more than 100 years. From that remarkable prayer meeting they sent out missionaries all over the world, even converting John Wesley
  • The Pentecostal movement began in 1906 when the Holy Spirit was poured out on a multiracial 24-7 Prayer Room in Azusa Street, Los Angeles

If you want to dig more deeply into how to pray, you may enjoy accessing the resources pulled together from the 24-7 Prayer movement, including the Prayer Course.

 

7 on Mission (discussion questions)

becoming-7-series-gfx_app-squareHere are the discussion questions that accompany my message, “7 on Mission,” which is the second part of our series, “Becoming 7,” this past weekend at Eastbrook Church.

Discussion Questions:

  1. When have you felt most energized in your life with God? What was going on and what led you to that place?
  2. This week we continue our series “Becoming 7” by looking at what it means to become “7” on outreach. We will turn to the Book of Acts and the Gospel of Luke. As you begin your study, ask God to speak to you through His word. Then, whether you are with a group or on your own, read Luke 24:46-49 and Acts 1:1-11 aloud.
  3. Background: The Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts fit together as a two-part work by Luke, an early Christian and a physician, writing the first century. The Gospel of Luke focuses on the life and ministry of Jesus, moving from Galilee to Jerusalem. The book of Acts continues the story after Jesus’ resurrection, following the work of God through the church, moving from Jerusalem to the nations (and Rome, specifically).
  4. As Luke recounts the events after the resurrection, he tells of Jesus’ activities until the time He returns to the Father. What is Jesus doing and for how long is He doing these things (verses 1-3)?
  5. Looking at verses 4 and 5, what does Jesus ask of the disciples? Why do you think Jesus is making this sort of request of the disciples? What other options might they have considered?
  6. The Holy Spirit is the personal presence of God in the life of every person who reaches out to God through Jesus Christ by faith. What do you think it means for us to wait for the power of the Holy Spirit in our own lives?
  7. The disciples ask a question in verse 6 that Jesus redirects in verse 7. What was the disciples’ concern and what is Jesus’ teaching on this point?
  8. Acts 1:8 is a pivotal verse in this chapter and the history of God’s people. How would you outline what Jesus is calling these apostles to in this verse?
  9. Compare the words of Acts 1:8 to the teaching of Jesus in Luke 24:46-49, which is often called Luke’s “Great Commission.” How do they fit together?
  10. The book of Acts traces the early believers as they live out what Jesus calls them to do here in Acts 1:8, witnessing to Him from Jerusalem to Judea to Samaria and to the ends of the earth. This is a universal call for the good news about Jesus to go out to all people, high and low, rich and poor, near and far. If this is our calling, how are you living out this calling right now? What are some ways you think you could live the calling out more fully in your everyday life?
  11. What is one specific thing that God is speaking to you through this study about being called by God as His witnesses? How will that shape your life in the coming week? If you are with a small group, discuss that with one another and pray for one another. If you are studying on your own, write it down and share it with someone.

William Borden – an activated Christian

WilliamBordenThis past weekend in my message, “Called,”the first part of our Activate series at Eastbrook Church, I mentioned the story of William Borden, whose short life is a powerful example of someone called to Jesus and His Kingdom, who then lives for the mission of God by the Holy Spirit’s power. Much of what I read was taken from an old missionary biography, Borden of Yale by Mrs. Howard Taylor (now out of print), but can also be accessed in Warren Wiersbe’s 50 People Every Christian Should Know.

Here’s an excerpt, but you can read the full story here.

     In 1904 William Borden graduated from a Chicago high school. As heir to the Borden family fortune, he was already wealthy. For his high school graduation present, his parents gave 16-year-old Borden a trip around the world. As the young man traveled through Asia, the Middle East, and Europe, he felt a growing burden for the world’s hurting people. Finally, Bill Borden wrote home about his “desire to be a missionary.”
One friend expressed disbelief that Bill was “throwing himself away as a missionary.”
In response, Borden wrote two words in the back of his Bible: “No reserves.”
Even though young Borden was wealthy, he arrived on the campus of Yale University in 1905 trying to look like just one more freshman. Very quickly, however, Borden’s classmates noticed something unusual about him and it wasn’t that he had lots of money. One of them wrote: “He came to college far ahead, spiritually, of any of us. He had already given his heart in full surrender to Christ and had really done it. We who were his classmates learned to lean on him and find in him a strength that was solid as a rock, just because of this settled purpose and consecration.”
During his college years, Bill Borden made an entry in his personal journal that defined what his classmates were seeing in him. That entry said simply: “Say ‘no’ to self and ‘yes’ to Jesus every time.”

During his first semester at Yale, Borden started something that would transform campus life. One of his friends described how it began: “It was well on in the first term when Bill and I began to pray together in the morning before breakfast. I cannot say positively whose suggestion it was, but I feel sure it must have originated with Bill. We had been meeting only a short time when a third student joined us and soon after a fourth. The time was spent in prayer after a brief reading of Scripture. Bill’s handling of Scripture was helpful. . . . He would read to us from the Bible, show us something that God had promised and then proceed to claim the promise with assurance.”
Borden’s small morning prayer group gave birth to a movement that soon spread across the campus. By the end of his first year, 150 freshman were meeting weekly for Bible study and prayer. By the time Bill Borden was a senior, one thousand of Yale’s 1,300 students were meeting in such groups.

Borden’s outreach ministry was not confined to the Yale campus. He cared about widows and orphans and the disabled. He rescued drunks from the streets of New Haven. To try to rehabilitate them, he founded the Yale Hope Mission. One of Bill Borden’s friends wrote that he “might often be found in the lower parts of the city at night, on the street, in a cheap lodging house or some restaurant to which he had taken a poor hungry fellow to feed him, seeking to lead men to Christ.”

Borden’s missionary call narrowed to the Muslim Kansu people in China. Once he fixed his eyes on that goal, Borden never wavered. He also challenged his classmates to consider missionary service. One of them said of him: “He certainly was one of the strongest characters I have ever known, and he put backbone into the rest of us at college. There was real iron in him, and I always felt he was of the stuff martyrs were made of, and heroic missionaries of more modern times.”
Although he was a millionaire, Bill seemed to “realize always that he must be about his Father’s business, and not wasting time in the pursuit of amusement.” Although Borden refused to join a fraternity, “he did more with his classmates in his senior year than ever before.” He presided over the huge student missionary conference held at Yale and served as president of the honor society Phi Beta Kappa.
Upon graduation from Yale, Borden turned down some high-paying job offers. In his Bible, he wrote two more words: “No retreats.”
William Borden went on to do graduate work at Princeton Seminary in New Jersey. When he finished his studies at Princeton, he sailed for China. Because he was hoping to work with Muslims, he stopped first in Egypt to study Arabic. While there, he contracted spinal meningitis. Within a month, 25-year-old William Borden was dead.
When the news of William Whiting Borden’s death was cabled back to the U.S., the story was carried by nearly every American newspaper. “A wave of sorrow went round the world . . . Borden not only gave (away) his wealth, but himself, in a way so joyous and natural that it (seemed) a privilege rather than a sacrifice” wrote Mary Taylor in her introduction to his biography.
Was Borden’s untimely death a waste? Not in God’s perspective. Prior to his death, Borden had written two more words in his Bible. Underneath the words “No reserves” and “No retreats,” he had written: “No regrets.”

Called (discussion questions)

Activate Series Gfx_ThumbHere are the discussion questions that accompany my message, “Called,” from this past weekend at Eastbrook Church. This is the first part of our series, “Activate,” where we are looking at what it means to be individual Christians and a local church set into motion by God’s power and presence for God’s work in the world.

Discussion Questions:

  1. When have you felt most energized in your life with God? What was going on and what lead you to that place?
  2. Following our exploration of Jesus as the way, truth, and life, we are beginning a new series this weekend at Eastbrook entitled “Activate” about the church energized for God’s mission. This week, we are looking at Acts 1:1-11. Take some time to pray, asking God to speak to you as you read His word.
  3. Background: The book of Acts is the second of two works that Luke, an early believer and a physician, wrote in the first century. The first of those books, the Gospel of Luke, focuses on the life of Jesus in Galilee and Jerusalem. The book of Acts picks up after the resurrection of Jesus, charting the life of the first followers of Jesus. Both books are addressed to Theophilus, whose name literally means ‘lover of God.’As Luke recounts the events after the resurrection, he tells of Jesus’ activities until the time He returns to the Father. What is Jesus doing and for how long is He doing these things (verses 1-3)?
  4. Looking at verses 4 and 5, what does Jesus ask of the disciples? Why do you think Jesus is making this sort of request of the disciples? What other options might they have considered?
  5. The Holy Spirit is the personal presence of God in the life of every person who reaches out to God through Jesus Christ by faith. What do you think it means for us to wait for the power of the Holy Spirit in our own lives?
  6. The disciples ask a question in verse 6 that Jesus redirects in verse 7. What was the disciples’ concern and what is Jesus’ teaching on this point?
  7. Acts 1:8 is a pivotal verse in this chapter and the history of God’s people. How would you outline what Jesus is calling these apostles to in this verse?
  8. The book of Acts traces the early believers as they live out what Jesus calls them to do here in Acts 1:8, witnessing to Him from Jerusalem to Judea to Samaria and to the ends of the earth. This is a universal call for the good news about Jesus to go out to all people, high and low, rich and poor, near and far. If this is our calling, how are you living out this calling right now? What are some ways you think you could live the calling out more fully in your everyday life?
  9. What is one specific thing that God is speaking to you through this study about being called by God as His witnesses? How will that shape your life in the coming week? If you are with a small group, discuss that with one another and pray for one another. If you are studying on your own, write it down and share it with someone.

[Next week: We continue the “Activate” series by exploring Acts 1:12-26, with special attention to the prayers of the early believers.]