…God will not withhold any good gift we ask of him and he will not give us anything harmful to his good purposes, even if we ask him.
Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray as John taught his disciples.” And he said to them, “When you pray, say:
“Father, hallowed be your name, You’re kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.
And lead us not into temptation.”
And He said to them, “Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves, for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; and he will answer from within, ‘Do not bother me, the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything’? I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is is friend, yet because of his impudence (persistence) he will rise and give him whatever he needs. Ad I tell you, ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds and to the one who knocks it will be opened. What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
Ask who, not what, we need.
How to Be Filled with the Holy Spirit
If you aren’t familiar with the life and writing of A.W. Tozer, then let me just begin by encouraging you to find one of his books and read it. Many of them are available free on the internet or at little cost to download. I will include a link to his work at the end of this letter. Most of his work is very quick and easy to read. The one that inspired me to write this reflection is called How to Be Filled With the Holy Spirit. It’s just four short chapters and I highly recommend it.
I am also reflecting on news this week (Kentucky Today) that Lifeway plans to sell Ridgecrest Conference Center. This place was a big part of the life of our church for my entire adolescence. If I were to choose a period of time when I remember our church thriving, then my mind would go back to these years. As a church, it is important to remember the successes we have had in ministry and to learn from them. It is also important to recognize flaws in our strategies and correct them.
Tozer, in the third chapter of his book that bears the same time title, uses Jesus’ teaching on prayer from the book of Luke to emphasize one of the keys to experiencing the movement of the Holy Spirit in our churches and the lives of our church members. We are probably more familiar with Matthew’s account of our Lord’s prayer, but it is here that we see Jesus connect his familiar outline for faithful, God-centered prayer to the gift of his Holy Spirit.
And so, for our prayer as a church right now, I think we do well to study this teaching very closely. The Holy Spirit, working through Luke, has preserved Jesus’ words condensing many of his teachings on prayer into a single passage. We shouldn’t waste this gift, no matter how difficult it is for us to accept or understand. I think the correct interpretation of this teaching is that God will not withhold any good gift we ask of him and he will not give us anything harmful to his good purposes, even if we ask him. If we keep asking for gifts that will harm our church, he won’t give us something bad, but he will give us something better. The difficulty lies in the truth that if we are asking for something and God isn’t giving it, then it must be somehow harmful for us.
This is especially true for and of the Holy Spirit. The Bible reveals him as a unique person of the trinity, in that he is himself a gift that comes from the Father and from the Son. We should be careful to not confuse the gift of his person with the gifts that he gives us as a person. This is a hard difference for me to understand much less explain, but I realize that there needs to be distinction because it comes from Scripture.
We might be tempted to ask God to return to us the gifts from the Holy Spirit and confuse them with the gift of the Holy Spirit himself. Whatever God is doing now in our church, it must be and will be different than what he has done in the past. He doesn’t need to bring back the good old days because his kingdom is still to come.
We had some good weeks at Ridgecrest. I don’t question that they were a gift from God. God was able to work and move by his Holy Spirit. And yet, when I think of the dozens of children and teenagers our church took to those retreats, I see a need for something more. We saw many decisions made and many students were baptized as a result. But did our church make disciples? How many are now making disciples because of what they learned?
Many of those students have moved away from our local church. More than a few are part of other local churches, and that is not to be discounted. Let’s not ask what could we have done better then. Then is gone and it doesn’t come back, but let’s be honest about how we need something better now.
Are we ready to ask for him like it’s an emergency in the middle of the night? If we aren’t desiring him that much, then we are probably asking for selfish gifts instead of his holy presence with us. Let’s not ask the Holy Spirit to give us gifts we think will help our church. Let’s start by asking God to fill us with the gift of his Holy Spirit and trust that whatever gifts come from him will be perfect for our church and God’s good purposes in us.