This week's "thought" comes to you from a superb yet not-so-well-known book by William Barclay. It is entitled: "The Promise of the Spirit." Barclay is known mostly for his popular "Daily Study Bible Series" covering the entire New Testament. Yet the "Barclay Prayer Book" and this volume about the work of the Spirit, are also good resources to have around on your shelf.
Today's selection has to do with the power and work of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament. It focuses on His moving in both extraordinary and everyday ways. I trust his words might challenge and encourage you. And for those who may be put off by the exclusively "male" language, please remember it was written in a time (1959) when no one really gave it much thought, and the terms "man" and "men" had a more generic "person" or "people" connotation. Enjoy!
Men of the Spirit
"No man who asks for, and receives, the guidance of the Spirit can ever be an irrelevant teacher or preacher. The Spirit of God is always looking for men who will be messengers to their day and generation. There is no moment without its message from God, there is no crisis without its word -- if a man can be found by the Spirit to bring that message and that word... It is the conviction of the Old Testament that no man can prophecy without the Spirit. No man can teach others unless he himself is taught. The Spirit is God's witness in any human situation. It is through the Spirit that with the need there always comes the power. And it is the Spirit who gives the prophet the strength and courage to bring to men the message of God, whether that message be consolation or condemnation.
Great as the work of the Spirit is in creation in the Old Testament, still greater is the power of the Spirit in the lives of individual men. The great leaders of the Old Testament are all men who possess the Spirit, have been possessed by the Spirit, and in whom the Spirit dwells... When God has some great task to give a man, He gives it to a man whose equipment for the task is the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. The conviction of the Old Testament is that no man can do the work of God without the Spirit of God, and that no man can lead his fellow men unless he himself is led by the Spirit of God...
In general the work of the Spirit is connected with the extraordinary and the abnormal. The work of the Spirit is not so much a daily power and presence as it is an abnormal phenomenon and manifestation.... It is not everyday life with which the Spirit is connected, but with the unrepeatable moments. Even in the case of prophecy, the prophecy in early times tends to be ecstatic and abnormal... The manifestations of the Spirit are wonderful and miraculous. [Dreams, interpretation of dreams, visions, prophecies, miracles, tremendous feats of strength, victory over enemies, etc. Such things begin to happen when, or after, it is said: "The Spirit of the Lord came upon him..." Gen. 41:38 / Numbers 11:16-17 / Numbers 27:18 / Judges 3:10 / Judges 6:34 / Judges 11:29 / I Sam. 11:6 / I Sam. 16:13 / Isaiah 42:1...]
Yet, as we shall see, it is not always so... It is possible to over-stress the element of abnormality in the idea of the working of the Spirit in the Old Testament, for the Spirit also stands for the universal presence of God. The Spirit stands for the fact that it is neither possible to lose God in trouble, nor escape God in sin (Psalm 139)... In Exodus 31:1-3, God told Moses to set Bezaleel aside for the work of building the tabernacle, because, “I have filled him with the Spirit of God, in wisdom, and in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship, to devise cunning works, to work in gold, and in sliver, and in brass, and in cutting of stones, to set them, and in carving of timber, to work in all manner of workmanship.”
Here is something new. Craftsmanship is the gift of the Spirit. Here is something which in an illuminating flash transfers the Spirit from the realm of theology to the realm of life, from the stillness of the Church to crash of the hammer and the buzz of the saw and the noise of the chisel on the stone in the workshop. Here the Spirit is indeed in the midst of life and living. We do well to remember that, whatever gift a man has, of mind or heart, of brain or eye or hand, that gift is the gift of the Spirit. It is not only the theologian in his study, the priest in his church, the prophet with his message, who is working in the power of the Spirit. The man at the bench and at the machine, the man in whose hands wood and metal become obedient, the mechanic, the engineer, the carpenter, the fitter, the mason, are all men of the Spirit, and can, and must, serve God in the Spirit."
Anyone who has been in ministry for any amount of time knows that apart for the power, presence and unction of the Holy Spirit attending our words and efforts, there is little or no lasting (and definitely no eternal) transformational result. As Spurgeon once said in all earnestness in regard to the task of preaching: “We might preach till our tongues rotted, till we should exhaust our lungs and die, but never a soul would be converted unless there were a mysterious power going with it—the Holy Ghost changing the will of man. Oh Sirs! We might as well preach to stone walls as preach to humanity unless the Holy Ghost be with the word, to give it power to convert the soul.” To believe otherwise is to miss the point of divine grace and the indispensability of Spirit's work in the hearts of people.
As Barclay states in his introduction of this book: "It is my prayer that those who read this book will by their own study come more and more to know the Holy Spirit, not as a doctrine, but as a Person, and that they will thereby experience more of His power in their own lives." That is my prayer as well.
In His Service, Pastor Jeff