Poverty is perceived as a great evil in the world which Christians and people of goodwill must respond to. Certainly, the material deprivation that is the tragic feature of so much of our world, signals our lack of compassion for fellow humans, the paltry reach of justice and our self-centred greed. There is no doubt, physical and financial destitution is a global consequence of our ingrained selfishness and sin. Thus, Christian agencies routinely summon us to give our resources to support foodbanks and other well-intentioned schemes so that we “make poverty history”.
Nevertheless, there is a desperate deficiency, an impoverishment that afflicts the people of God that rarely reaches the front of web pages or finds itself central to the appeals of Christian agencies.
That’s a fancy way of saying that we are Holy Spirit poor, that we face a famine of epic proportions, the crisis of spiritual powerlessness. In the UK we are not short of analysis and expertise, education and connections yet we fail to spiritually thrive. We may be education rich but we are spiritually “wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked”. (Rev 3:18)
Not so the churches that Paul served. Corinth and Rome, Philippi, Antioch and the rest, were brimming over with Spirit-empowered life. Miracles of transformation and provision, healing and liberation were the norm, strengthening believers and fascinating pagans. So it remains across much of the world today as God brings people to himself through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. Not so much here. Could it be that we have grown so complacent or arrogant that we imagine we can do God’s work without summoning God’s presence and power?
James S Stewart, reckoned to be one of the 20th century’s best preachers noted, presciently, in the 1940s of the pressing need of the church in the UK to seek the Holy Spirit for the crucial task of reaching the nation.
“Today the demand is radical and basic. It is spiritual resurrection: it is, under God, the creating of life. To confront a bewildered and dishevelled age with the fact of Christ, to thrust upon its confusion the creative word of the cross and smite is disenchantment with the glory of the resurrection-this is the urgent, overruling task. “Son of man can these bones live?” There is therefore no place today for a church that is not aflame with the Spirit who is the Lord and giver of life, nor any value in a theology which is not passionately missionary.”
How much more do these words speak of our situation today?
Paul lived and shared the presence and power of the Spirit. Romans 8 opens our hearts to the vast treasure that life in the Spirit affords – a supernatural life free from the deathly down-drag of condemnation, the assurance of the affection of God the Father and the compelling presence of the Spirit propelling us into the groaning world in prayer and action.
This and much, much more is the spiritual wealth deposited to us in God. Yet we act as spiritual paupers, depending on our own meagre resources rather than drawing from the unfathomable riches of God.
In Christ we have everything, yet we clearly are not living out of the fullness of what we have received. Sadly, we content ourselves with something far less than God intended for us and then dial down scripture’s promises to the level of our experience.
Billy Graham observed from his global ministry:
“the most desperate need today is that men and women who profess Jesus be filled with the Holy Spirit”
We each and all need more of the Spirit: a continual, repeated, deepening, experience of the Spirit of God that enlarges our vision of God, deepens our love for God and empowers our service and witness to God in the world.
That’s my prayer – may it be yours too.