“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.”
Most people in the world would probably admit they recognize the existence of both good and bad in the world. Harry Potter, Spider-Man and Clark Kent are a few of many examples of superheroes that battle evil forces and come out on top, and their stories are pretty captivating – but they’re all fictional. As fun as they are to watch, they’re on the silver screen – not out in real life with us. Therefore, as easy as it is to sit down in the theater, pay $10 for a ticket, munch on some popcorn and cheer for the protagonist from the safety of our cushioned AMC recliners, it’s easy to forget that, when the lights go up and we leave the theater, we will again be responsible for taking up our roles in the drama of LIFE.
This past summer at camp, we had the honor and privilege of bringing our high school group into civilization to see the last installment of the Harry Potter series – our group of 16-year olds was ecstatic and loved being able to catch the premiere. As a result of our being a part of a Christian camp, we were required to work the Harry Potter premiere into our curriculum as camp counselors and therefore planned a group discussion with the intent of debriefing the philosophical and theological implications of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows”. As we sat under the sun on benches in the main quad of HoneyRock, our campers’ eyes glazed over as we attempted to draw answers to our critical questions out of them. Much to my dismay, we were met with mostly glazed-over eyeballs and slouched postures in response to our inquiries about good vs. evil and the inner conflict of Harry Potter. In a dull moment where I had lost almost all enthusiasm for the conversation, my most soft-spoken co-counselor spoke up out of the blue with a passion and fervor that, in our two months of ministry together, I had never seen from him. As he opened his mouth and began to speak, the group immediately snapped to attention.
“Don’t you REALIZE what this means??” he insisted passionately. As he looked around, I wondered where exactly his passion was coming from. Who was this guy that was talking, and where had he been all summer?
“As impressive as all of the special effects and characterization and everything are in the Harry Potter movies, it’s nothing compared to the life we’re living right here, right now. We’re living characters in the greatest drama of all time – and Jesus Christ is our hero who’s come to save us. Don’t you know? He’s already won! So it’s time we start living like it.”
His words were powerful, and he spoke with confidence as his eyes glistened with a spirit of zeal, conviction and fervor. With every word he spoke, my heart leapt up in my chest and, to my surprise, tears came to my eyes. I couldn’t believe the truth of his words – admitting that the existence of good and evil is one thing, but recognizing that we’re currently in the midst of a spiritual battle, subject to the whims of both good and evil, is something that most people stray away from thinking about because it’s too “deep”. Just because people tend not to think about it doesn’t make it any less true, however; Paul meant what he said when he wrote that there is a “Spirit that is at work in those who are disobedient” (Ephesians 2:2).
The spiritual realm is real, whether we like to think about it or not, and the crazy thing is that each of us has a unique storyline inside of the plot of life. We are all subject to being captive to both the light and the darkness, sometimes consciously and sometimes not, and this makes for interesting predicaments. Therefore, in my opinion, the only way to live life, at least in the way that is most worth living, is in complete surrender to God. Utter dependency on the Holy Spirit to lead us to abundant life is the one and only answer that will keep us from sin and heartbreak, and the good news is, even if we are subject to heartache in our lives, Jesus came to “bind up our broken hearts” (Isaiah 61:1).
LeaderTreks has a pretty amazing “Spiritual Gifts Inventory” test that we took with my off-campus Bible study in Wheaton, Ill. during the fall of my senior year. It ranks your spiritual “strengths” and “weaknesses”, and if you can get past its similarities to a CosmoGirl personality quiz, has some seriously insightful stuff in there. Given, you should take each of your answers with a grain of salt and speak with others about the results. It quickly became a running joke that “discernment” was my weakness – and it was. The test didn’t lie – I truly do have trouble “discerning” what the right and wrong decisions are in compromising situations. That weakness has for sure played out in my life, resulting in my ending up at several negative receiving or giving ends of relationships and social situations.
What I used to think was love wasn’t really love, and what I knew was truth I ran away from, toward the variety of loves that were slowly killing me. This false conception of love and its proceeding sequence of mishaps provided me with numerous stories that have entertained a variety of audiences, but not always for the right reasons. As crazy as it is to admit, the “Spirit that is at work in those who are disobedient” had been at the wheel of my life for quite a while, and it is still, after recognizing that I’m at risk of getting myself in trouble, a daily struggle for me to be obedient to God’s will on a continual basis and trust Him with the crap that’s going on in my life.
Last week, I was driving home from lunch after enjoying a salad with my mom and sister at Old Chicago when I saw a cop car in my rear view mirror, lights flashing and siren on. I pulled off to the side to let him pass, but unfortunately, he pulled off with me, opened his door, and meandered up to my window. “Oooh, great,” I thought to myself. “What does he want? Maybe my license tags are expired…?” But, alas, when he came to the window, he informed me, not so politely, that I had “blown” through the stop sign at the cul-de-sac back about 200 yards. “Well,” I started to protest, but then thought again. I suppose I had “blown” through that stop sign…if “blown” can be defined as “rolling” to a stop after the car had passed the solid white line delineating the legal stopping point. Oops. No getting out of this one, I thought as I sighed and handed over my license and registration.
When the officer returned to my window and offered me a $130 ticket with the option of going to court to attempt to have it taken off my record, I was furious. It was just a stupid stop sign in a residential area where, like, three people live, I protested in my mind. “The neighbors will be thankful that you’re more careful around this area next time,” he said as he smiled and walked away. SCREW YOU!!!, I screamed out in my mind as I thanked him and told him to have a nice day – I didn’t put anyone’s lives in danger, and I did eventually come to a complete stop!, just not where I was supposed to.
As I drove 5 mph under the limit all the way home, I attempted to see things from his perspective as an officer and I suppose I could see how what I did was wrong. It was the same as all the other times in my life I had made mistakes – “Oh, just this once…”, or, “If I did this, it wouldn’t be THAT bad…” – and, I did put others, and myself, in danger by acting recklessly. It didn’t matter if I was operating a ton of machinery or my own body – I was affecting others, and was responsible for my actions. I can’t do anything and everything I want behind the wheel because that puts other people in danger; no matter how fast I want to get somewhere, I have abide by the law. In the same way, I shouldn’t do whatever I want to do in the flesh because, while the activities of my heart and mind may not be as life-threatening as those that occur in an automobile, I am still a fallen creation and am weak, having blown through hundreds of stop signs and red flags in my lifetime that have resulted in my negatively affecting my relationships with others.
The song that just came on my iTunes genius playlist fits my entry perfectly tonight. Mumford & Sons’ “Winter Winds” speaks to me right where I’m at – a place of recognizing that it’s far too easy for us to make the wrong choices simply because they’re easy and familiar. Unfortunately for us, the Spirit of disobedience isn’t a far and distant existence; rather, it’s a near and close reality that often attacks in places closest to our heart. Therefore, the disobedience in our lives must be recognized, addressed and resolved in the light and love of Christ in order to prevent us from harming either ourselves or those close to us. When the places of disobedience in our lives are not addressed, we’re as good as “gone”, and “pestilence” will for sure be our fate (as Mumford & Sons describe in the last verse of their song). Therefore, my hope for myself every day, in every one of my relationships, is that God would be at the center, and that the Spirit would be moving in them.
I ask God for this with confidence because I know my Redeemer lives, and has won – praise the Sheperd!!! Cuz, Lord knows, I couldn’t do this whole life thing on my own. I would just screw it up…and, actually, I already have – but, by the grace of God, have been redeemed. As a result, I have no choice but to live my entire life for Him, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
“A spiritual kingdom lies all about us, enclosing us, embracing us, altogether in reach of our inner selves, waiting for us to recognize it. God Himself is here waiting for our response to His presence. This eternal world will come alive to us the moment we begin to reckon upon its reality…as the Chinese sage Lao-tze has said, ‘The journey of a thousand miles begins with a first step.’”
-A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God – Chapter 4: “Apprehending God”