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The Unpredictable, Inexplicable, Uncontrollable Presence


Ted Schroder
May 15, 2005

“Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the house where they were sitting…. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:2,4)

Have you ever sung in worship:

“Surely the presence of the Lord is in this place,
I can feel his mighty power and his grace.
I can hear the brush of angel’s wings,
I see glory on each face;
Surely the presence of the Lord is in this place.” (Lanny Wolfe)

Could this not have been what the apostles’ experienced on that day of Pentecost in Jerusalem? They were meeting in fellowship and prayer when the presence of God was experienced as the blowing of a violent wind which filled the house, and filled them. God was recreating them.

In the beginning we are told that “the LORD God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being.” (Genesis 2:7) At biological birth we take in our first breath. At spiritual birth we are filled with the Holy Spirit. It is like God doing spiritual CPR on our bodies to bring us into his kingdom.

Jesus predicted this when he was counseling Nicodemus. “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ 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 3:5-8)

How does this happen? The wind is mysterious and inexplicable. We cannot handle it with our hands, or see it with our eyes. When the wind blows we cannot locate where its breath first began to be felt, and the exact distance to which its influence shall extend. But its presence may always be known by its sound and its effects. Our ears can hear it whistling around the house, and our eyes see the trees bending under its power. When the Spirit blows into a man or a woman the effects are felt.

Water baptism is felt, and its effects are to incorporate us into the outward body of the Church. Spirit baptism is felt, and its effects are to empower us with the new life of the kingdom. Just as fleshly birth gives physical life; spiritual birth gives eternal life. Just as the newborn baby has little to do with his physical birth, we have little to do with our spiritual birth except to be at the right place at the time when the Spirit is moving, and being willing to breathe the air of heaven.

The Presence of God the Spirit is unpredictable, inexplicable, and uncontrollable. We cannot generate the Presence of God’s Spirit. We can provide what we consider the appropriate context: a building, a liturgy, music, prayer, a sermon, but we cannot summon the Presence of God’s Spirit. In one sense God’s Presence is with us at all times. Jesus promised to be with us always. Just as we live in an atmosphere of air on this planet, that enables us to live through breathing; we live in an atmosphere of God’s Presence. But it is when the air starts to move, that we experience wind. When calm is displaced by breezes, and violent winds, we feel the difference. When the Spirit moves on our lives we can feel the difference. When does that happen?

I had an enquiry from a couple in the congregation who say that they love the Chapel worship, but asked about feeling the presence of God. “So maybe you could talk about how to feel the presence of God during the service, how to prepare for it, how to try to make it happen?”

The short answer is that we can’t make it happen. We are not in control, just as a baby is not in control. We are helpless. But perhaps that very helplessness might provide another answer. Perhaps we need to recognize our helplessness. This is a hard thing for us to do because we have spent a lifetime trying to avoid helplessness. Our priorities have been to provide for ourselves, to be self-sufficient, never to be at the mercy of the unpredictable, the inexplicable, and the uncontrollable. We have attempted to predict the future, to anticipate the inexplicable, and to be in control of our careers, our finances, our appearances, our health, and our relationships, at all times. No wonder we find it difficult to feel the presence of God. No wonder we feel insecure when we find we cannot be in control of our future. No wonder we fear being helpless, and at the mercy of others. What can we do?

Perhaps abandoning ourselves to God, and his intentions for us, we allow him to fill us with his Spirit. By emptying ourselves of the need to be in charge, we can give him space in our lives to fill with his Presence.

Perhaps we need to just show up at the right place, as the apostles did, to be with their fellow believers and seekers, in obedience to the words of Jesus: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 1:5)

In helplessness, we realize our need to be clothed with power from on high, and we pray for that gift. When we sing our hymns we are praying to be filled with the Holy Spirit. When we pray our prayers we are asking to be strengthened with the Spirit. When we receive Holy Communion we are praying to receive the power of heaven. When we come together in fellowship we are putting ourselves in a place where the wind may blow and fill us. When we read and hear the words of Christ through the Scriptures, we are listening for the sound of the wind of God.

I cannot manufacture the presence of God, but I can do all I can to make sure that there are no barriers in my life to the presence of God. I can make sure that I am paying attention to the weather forecast – to see whether the wind is blowing in the circumstances of my life.

I can ask myself what God is trying to say to me in what is happening to me. I can try to diagnose my feelings: why am I feeling the way I do? I may not know where the wind is coming from or going to but I can listen for its sound. To hear I might have to turn down the volume of the other voices in my life, or try to eliminate the static of other frequencies. The presence of God may be on another wavelength from the one I habitually turn to for my information. I may have to explore other wavelengths, to seek new voices. That may mean new sources of information, new books to read, new classes to attend, new disciplines of prayer, new attitudes to old habits, new friends to cultivate. At all times we do so by praying to be filled with the Spirit.

The apostles were made fun of, and accused of being drunk with wine. This was because being filled with the Presence of God has the effect of inebriation. Peter quoted Psalm 16 in his sermon that day: “You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence.” (Acts 2:28) The psalm continues: “with eternal pleasures at your right hand.” (Psalm 16:11) Being filled with the Presence of God is an intoxicating thing. You can get giddy when God gets control of you. Paul reminds us: “Don’t drink too much wine. That cheapens your life. Drink the Spirit of God, huge draughts of him. Sing hymns instead of drinking songs! Sing songs from your heart to Christ. Sing praises over everything, any excuse for a song to God the Father in the name of our Master, Jesus Christ.” (The Message, Ephesians 5:18-20)

A Spirit-filled people is a singing people, a joy-filled people. The apostles were never the same again. Their new life began, and so does ours when we drink deep of the Spirit of God’s unpredictable, inexplicable, uncontrollable Presence.

Amelia Plantation Chapel

Amelia Island, Florida

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