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  • Sophie Whitmarsh

Weird, but wonderful!

"then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day's journey away. And when they had entered, they went up to the upper room, where they were staying, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Phillip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the Son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot and Judas the son of James. All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers."


Acts 1:12-14


Yesterday was Ascension, the day when we commemorate our Lord Jesus ascending to be with his Father in heaven. In St Davids Diocese along with many other Diocese across the globe, over the 10 days between Ascension and Pentecost we will be taking part in a global movement of prayer called "Thy Kingdom Come." A time when all Christians across the globe come together to be devoted to prayer, just as the Disciples were in that upper room. And as they devoted themselves to prayer, they awaited the coming of the Holy Spirit to pour down on them, that they might go and do the work Jesus had asked them to do. So too, do we pray that the Holy Spirit pours down upon us and refreshes us and equips us for all our future ministries. You will notice as you read Acts, that the Holy Spirit doesn't just rock up at Pentecost never to be seen again, but instead is continually renewing the disciples throughout. The Holy Spirit is also not something that is only peculiar to the New Testament. The Holy Spirit has been about since the beginning, and in fact in Acts 1:16 "Brothers and sisters, the scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David", but even before then, as far back as Genesis there is mention of the Spirit.

People are thirsty for the spiritual. I have seen many people who are searching for something, they recognise that there is a "spirituality" about humans, but are unable to articulate what that might mean, or how to access it. Some put it down to nature, or some entity to which they cannot comprehend, but many are unwilling to consider that there is a God, let alone a God who might pour out his Holy Spirit upon his people. Then of course you have those who believe in God, but not in a God that you can experience. God is a something or someone out there in the cosmos but has very little to do with us in the here and now. The Holy Spirit is something that may have manifested itself to the original disciples, but it doesn’t do that sort of thing anymore.

I do wonder whether the reason for this is the way in which we teach and preach about the Holy Spirit in our churches. Or perhaps it’s just a state of mind, or the social mind of our congregations. Is it that we are so consumed in our society by science and by facts, by things we can prove, that our minds can no longer cope with the idea that there might be something in this world that we cannot explain, that isn’t tangible and therefore must not be there. But if that is the case, how long will it be before we no longer believe in the resurrection?

When I first became a Christian, I was encouraged to take part in an Alpha course. Which, me being me, eager to do anything, duly went along and took part. The Holy Spirit day, which in my mind is the most important part of that course was a beautiful day, one where I felt at peace, and at ease with the people leading the course, but I would be lying if I told you I was overcome by the Holy Spirit. Likewise, I went to Spring Harvest a few years later, and they had a Holy Spirit session in one of the marquees. It was a fascinating experience, where I saw people falling over, speaking in tongues and various other manifestations. We were asked, if we felt moved to lay our hands on a person who was in need of healing. Now, quite honestly, at the time I was feeling a right prised idiot. Sceptical, I think must have been my middle name. However, I did feel an inexplicable heat coming from my hand, which I dismissed as some random anomaly. I didn’t pluck up the courage to place my hand on that person at that time. What was I scared of? I have no idea… perhaps I was scared it might actually work? Fast forward 10 or so years, and I find myself training to be a Priest at Trinity College Bristol. Feeling a little like Harry Potter on his first day at Hogwarts, we were placed into our allotted Pastoral Groups. Low and behold, I am placed in what can only be described as one of the most loving, but hugely charismatic groups of people at the college. They were speaking in tongues, praying out loud (shocker) without having pre-written the prayers, people with visions, others speaking prophetic words over us. I had never experienced anything like it in my life, and all of a sudden, I felt hugely inadequate. Over the course of the two years I was at the college, I slowly became brave enough to trust in the Holy Spirit, to pray out loud (without writing the prayer down first), I have learned to listen for, and to watch for visions and pictures for those who need encouragement, and I have found myself speaking in strange languages, when no other words will do.

I have learned over the last few years that whilst the gifts of the spirit are there for us all to use and experience, to encourage and enrich, we can only use them if we learn to. I have also learned that everyone experiences them differently, and to varying degrees. There is no one size fits all rule about how the Holy Spirit will shape your life. It is highly likely that if we tend to be more introverted, the Holy Spirit will manifest differently to if we are more extroverted for instance. However, if we allow ourselves to be led by the holy spirit, if we ask the holy spirit for the gifts we need, and if we practise using them, we can stretch beyond what society thinks is possible. Some people find this really easy like my friends at college, it has been a way of life for them. Others, like me, who are naturally more sceptical and perhaps conservative, find the idea of being led by something that you cannot see, slightly disconcerting, and therefore it is difficult to fully trust.

The “Thy Kingdom Come” movement specifically asks each of us to pray for 5 people to come to know Jesus. Whilst we are praying for those five people, perhaps we can also pray for ourselves.

Heavenly Father, in a world where science and facts rule, would you come and fill us who follow your son with your Holy Spirit. Send your Holy Spirit to refresh us, to renew us, and to give us boldness to ask for those gifts which are so badly needed in this society. May we put our trust in your holy spirit and be led always by her. We pray too for all those who do not yet know you, for those who are seeking and wanting more, for those who seek the spiritual, but don’t know where to turn. Fill them too with your Holy Spirit, that they can join in your eternal Kingdom. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen

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