The beginning of Acts tells about Jesus’ ascension into heaven. Following that epic transition, God sends the Holy Spirit—our helper, comforter, counselor, and advocate. This is what Jesus had promised to his disciples all along. The Holy Spirit comes (initially in the form of flames of fire) to guide, remind, convict, and empower his disciples—and he does the same for us today.
Although we can’t see the Holy Spirit, God has given us a great deal of information about the Spirit’s nature. Scripture reveals that the Holy Spirit is the source of power that enables Jesus’ followers to be effective witnesses for him in this world. Best of all, the Spirit dwells within us and strengthens our faith, so we’re never alone. And the Spirit’s primary job description is to teach us about the heart and mission of Jesus—that’s the point Jesus was trying to make to his disciples just before he went to the cross:
There is so much more I want to tell you, but you can’t bear it now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own but will tell you what he has heard. He will tell you about the future. He will bring me glory by telling you whatever he receives from me. All that belongs to the Father is mine; this is why I said, ‘The Spirit will tell you whatever he receives from me.’”
In a nutshell, the Holy Spirit helps us by:
- empowering us to talk about our faith;
- reminding us of the truths Jesus came to proclaim;
- convicting us of sin or empowering us to resist temptation; and
- showing us how to live out the heart of Jesus in everyday life.
The Holy Spirit is commonly known as the “third person in the Trinity.” But that doesn’t do justice to the broader role and personality that Jesus describes as he’s preparing to go to the cross:
But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because people do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned. I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you” (John 16:7-15).
Simply, the Spirit’s primary job description is to “guide us into all truth” and reveal the heart and mind of Jesus. The “much more” that Jesus has to say to us is delivered through the abiding influence of the Spirit in us. We cannot live the life Jesus has called us to without a growing dependence of the Holy Spirit—it’s that plain.
In 2007, the Ryder rental truck company launched something called “RydeSmart technology.” Inside the cab of every Ryder truck sits a little box that tracks the truck’s location, speed, and fuel efficiency. It can even read and report back on “check engine” lights. It’s a comprehensive system that gives the driver quick and comprehensive information to make smart and timely decisions. It’s like having a “truck doctor” on board who’s continually diagnosing the “patient” and offering prescriptive help. And followers of Jesus who are, every day, leaning into an abiding, dependent relationship with him can trust the “Ryder Box” inside them, otherwise known as the Holy Spirit. When we are branches abiding in the Vine, we pay better attention to what Jesus says and does, and how others react to him, simply to get to know him more deeply. And in knowing him we see him better, and in seeing him better we trust in him more deeply, and in trusting him more deeply we align ourselves with him, and in aligning ourselves with him we live our lives in an atmosphere of sensitivity to his Spirit.
In the Jesus-centered life we trust our own “Ryder Box,” the Holy Spirit, not our suspect ability to propel our own growth or manage our sin. Instead of following formulas or recipes, we follow the Spirit. But that’s a choice. According to Acts 7:51, however, people can choose to resist or ignore the Holy Spirit’s guidance.
The Holy Spirit is in your life, working to lead and guide you. Will you quiet your own will enough to hear the Spirit’s whisper? Will you obey the Holy Spirit’s promptings to grow and change?
In 1 Corinthians 6:19, the Apostle Paul says:
“Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God?”
This Bible passage communicates our priceless value because we’re allowed to be vessels of the Holy Spirit. But it goes even deeper than that. In the Old Testament, God intricately describes his temple’s beauty and complexity. He provides each and every detail so we can fully see how special the structure had to be; after all, it would house God’s presence. All that value becomes much more meaningful when we embrace the truth that we are that temple now.
All that detail, complexity, and beauty exists in us, not just in an ancient physical building. God purposely designed and created each of our bodies to be his vessel. Our health matters on a greater scale than just being able to serve and live well. God gives us the responsibility of caring for his temple, where his Spirit resides.
Let this truth become a real part of you. Remember that you are Christ to this world—certainly through your words and actions, but also through the very temple he created you to be.
Paul, in Galatians 5:22-23, says:
The Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!”
Only through the Holy Spirit can followers of Jesus produce these varieties of fruit. They’re an offshoot of our faith, which is dead without works (James 2:17). The Apostle James also advises us to detect faith-growth in others by observing their “works” (James 2:14-26).
Caution: When the church has strayed into abuse, it’s often down the path of surface and cursory judgments. As we consider the fruits of growth in students’ lives, we must resist the temptation to serve as judge, jury, and executioner. The key question is simple: “What am I doing to help young people slowly, progressively begin to yield to the Spirit in their lives—to live out their relationship with Jesus in everyday life?”
Consider these biblical points:
- Good works are so central to the Christian life that God created us to do them (Ephesians 2:10). Thus, kind acts always accompany salvation (Galatians 6:9-10). And helping the needy was so central to Christian ministry that when Peter and John gave their blessings on Paul’s mission, the only thing they asked him to do was “remember the poor,” which he was “eager” to do (Galatians 2:9-10). Whenever we help the needy in practical ways (for example, visiting prisoners, feeding the hungry, giving lodging to a stranger), we’re actually serving Jesus (Matthew 25:31-46).
- Good works pay well. When we offer kindnesses with no strings attached, we overcome slanders about Christians (1 Peter 2:12). Many people resist Christianity because they see us as narrow-minded, bigoted, mean, homophobic hypocrites. Free pizza followed by a gospel presentation won’t help that image. But volunteering at an AIDS clinic will.
- Our good deeds will eventually become known (1 Timothy 5:25). By helping the needy, we honor God (Proverbs 14:31), make our prayers effective (Proverbs 21:13), lend to the Lord (Proverbs 19:17), receive a blessing from God (Proverbs 22:9), and store up treasure in heaven (Luke 18:22).
The bottom line. In our personal lives and in our practice of youth ministry, we are zealous about doing good deeds (Titus 2:14) and meet pressing needs around us (Titus 3:14) because we are filled up with the fruit-producing life of the Spirit. And we’re to share those fruits not just with Christians, but with all people (Galatians 6:10).
Just before listing the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5, Paul addresses the opposite: the desires of our sinful nature:
The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants.… When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:17, 19-21).
The way to avoid “doing what your sinful nature craves,” Paul says, is to “let the Holy Spirit guide your lives” (verse 16). The result? Followers of Jesus who are on fire for God.
Youth leaders are called to be “fire-starters,” engaging God’s power within us to spark something big in teenagers for him. You know you want to do that; the question is how? Acts 2:1-4 provides a clue:
On the day of Pentecost all the believers were meeting together in one place. Suddenly, there was a sound from heaven like the roaring of a mighty windstorm, and it filled the house where they were sitting. Then, what looked like flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on each of them. And everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in other languages, as the Holy Spirit gave them this ability.”
It’s interesting (and kind of weird) that when the Holy Spirit came to the early disciples in the Upper Room, he appeared as tongues of fire. A dove might make sense, but fluttering tongues of fire? Maybe, by inference, God is using this visual to remind us that when we yield ourselves to the Holy Spirit, he sets our tongues on fire with the gospel.
What’s exciting is that once teenagers’ tongues are set on fire with the gospel, their minds are set on fire for the truth. Evangelism starts a fire in kids’ hearts to pray, study God’s Word, and depend on the Holy Spirit for strength to share the good news with others.
Want to start a fire in the hearts of your teenagers? Have them each identify three friends they will share the gospel with during the next 30 days. You do the same. The “fire” will begin as you depend on the Spirit of God, the ultimate Fire-Starter.
Mindful of the Spirit
We associate courage with epic acts of valor, but its “natural habitat” is in the subtle, nearly unrecognizable choices we make in everyday life. Nowhere is this lean-in/lean-out choice more vital than the way we pay attention to the God we serve.
Earth’s crammed with heaven.
And every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees takes off his shoes;
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.”
The difference between appreciating the “fire of God” around us (in the stories and challenges and triumphs of the people we engage every day) and spending our days “plucking blackberries” hinges on our courage. It’s the courage to pay eccentric attention to the nuances of those stories and to the nudges of the Spirit, and then do something.
Another way of describing that is “mindfulness”—a New Agey word that Christians tend to despise before they fully understand what it means. Ellen Langer, a Harvard psychologist and author of Mindfulness, advocates a way of living that has a direct connection to courageous ministry: “When you’re being mindful, you’re simply noticing new things,” she says. Mindfulness is what you’re doing when you’re at leisure. If you are on a vacation, you’re looking for new things. It’s enjoyable rather than taxing. It’s mostly energy-begetting, not energy-consuming.”
Mindfulness in ministry and in the faith journey is the determination to engage when disengagement would be easier. It might look like this:
- When you pray with or for a teenager, stopping first to ask the Spirit how to pray before you open your mouth, then waiting until you feel nudged in a particular direction. (“Trust in the Lord with all your heart. And do not lean on your own understanding”—Proverbs 3:5).
- When students struggle to understand a spiritual truth, resisting the urge to be their “answer-person,” asking questions that force them to wrestle it out first, instead.
- Stopping long enough to consider how you’re experiencing the kids or adult leaders in your ministry, then describing the reflections of God’s glory you see in them.
- Listening to understand rather than listening to build ammo for a defense when an angry or frustrated or disappointed parent wants to speak to you.
- When it comes to the choices kids are making with their “entertainment options,” asking far more “why” questions than you typically would do.
When we’re mindful of Jesus’ Spirit guiding us, courage is the air we breathe. For a surprising twist on mindfulness that is focused on Jesus, not ourselves, check out Episode #2 of the Paying Ridiculous Attention to Jesus podcast and check out this blog post from the podcast’s co-host Becky Hodges here.