The Wind of the Holy Spirit

Can we harness the Holy Spirit, or are we just along for the ride?

Even though I was born in the Northwest, and grew up in Colorado, I’ve spent my entire adult life in the Midwest. So I’ve grown accustomed to Midwestern seasons and weather. And one thing I’ve learned is that spring here is a mixed bag when it comes to weather. Every other day can shift completely from cold to warm, sunny to grey, pleasant to dreary, and back again. The one constant, it seems, is that it will be windy.

Most of the time, that wind will either be a cold blast from the north-northwest that shrinks your courage and heightens your desire to curl up in a ball on the couch under a warm blanket, or a stiff western gale you have to lean into to keep from being blown off your feet. Once in a while, there might be a soft breeze that invites you to linger a bit longer on your walk but is just cool enough that you dare not let loose of your jacket.

It was only when I came to Lawrence to start college that I was confronted with the ever-present reality of Kansas winds. The daily onslaught of a rushing southwest wind left me feeling battered, like a shutter with a broken hinge.

We all see winds differently, of course. Meteorologists study them. They are simply the product of the changes in air temperature and pressure, the systematic movement of air around our spinning planet that brings the changes to our local weather and allows television stations to have something to say between the news and the sports. The cold fronts and high-pressure systems must be tracked and calculated, so that there is something to report.

Aeronautical engineers also calculate the wind, but not for reporting; they measure the winds in order to overcome them. The air currents are an obstacle that must be overcome and harnessed so that pilots may safely ferry people and cargo from one location to another so that commerce can flourish and grandchildren be visited.

Others also seek to harness the winds. Mechanical engineers design propeller blades to spin in the rushing air, turning the gears to produce electrical energy. Sailing enthusiasts set their sails to catch the breeze. Mothers hang their clothes on the line to dry. Base jumpers leap off high cliffs, intent on soaring upon the thermal updrafts for a short thrill before capitulating to the inevitable victory of gravity.

It is much the same when we think about the Holy Spirit. In the Bible, God’s Spirit is often likened to the wind or pictured with imagery related to the wind. In fact, both the Hebrew word ruach (used in the Old Testament) and the Greek word pneuma (used in the New Testament) can be translated as “wind” or “spirit” (or “breath”), depending on the context. So it’s not a surprise to see the authors of Scripture tie together the imagery of wind and the concept of the Spirit.

Some people want to study the Spirit—and for very good reasons. Just as it helps to know the difference between a summer breeze and a hurricane, it helps to know how to differentiate between the Spirit of God—His nature, intentions, characteristics, and actions—and the demonic spirits who oppose the things of God. Careful study of the Scriptures can give us the knowledge and wisdom we need to build a right understanding—a good theology—of the Spirit.

Others seek to harness the Spirit. They want to build something, something great, perhaps even something spectacular. Perhaps they want to build it for God. Or perhaps they want to build it to demonstrate their own prowess and to develop a following. Others want to harness the Spirit’s power for their own enjoyment, or as a means of finding relief from the pressures of life. They need a break, or a thrill, and the Spirit can provide them with what they seek. Still others just want to get through the day. They need to get things done and the Spirit perhaps can help. Each of these who seek the power of the Spirit has a different goal. But in each case, their desire is to use the power of the Spirit to accomplish what they intend to do or to fulfill what they need.

Of course, this desire is not necessarily sinful; it is actually very understandable. And for that matter, there is a certain practicality in God’s ways—He does give us His Spirit in order to help us, to bring us needed power to accomplish the things that we must do, and to fill us with joy and pleasure as well.

But there is a subtle temptation that is near to all of us, the temptation to think of God and His Spirit merely in instrumental terms, as means to our chosen ends. We want to fly our kite and need a breeze. Or we want to heat our house and we need a wind farm. Or we want to feel better and need a thrill. God becomes nothing more than a tool we deem usable, his Spirit nothing more than a way to satisfy our self-determined wishes.

Friends, we must understand very clearly that God is not a means to an end, not the tool we use to fill our needs; He is the end which we need to seek. He urgently wants to give us His Spirit, to impart to us the power we need to live in accordance with His ways. He wants to thrill us with His goodness and his love, to empower us to do the things that He has given us to do, and to grant us relief from the pressures we face on a daily basis, relief that only He can give. But the Spirit is neither a toy nor a tool; He is the sovereign Creator, the presence of the living God who unites us with Christ and draws us to the Father that we might know God in His fullness and have the life of God in us.

Our problem, in many ways, is simple. Imagine a child flying a kite. We think, “I am the child, the kite represents what I want to do, God’s Spirit is the wind that helps me to fly my kite.”

But the actual picture is different. The correct way to see it is this: “I am the kite.”

Trusting in the One who governs the winds and promises to fill us with His Spirit, so that we might be witnesses of His resurrection power, speaking His truth, displaying His kindness and love to a lost world—may His Spirit uphold and direct you through the constantly changing circumstances of this season’s swiftly shifting weather.

Dr. Barry M. Foster
Dr. Barry M. Foster
Dr. Barry M. Foster is the senior pastor of First Christian Church in Lawrence, Kansas, and an adjunct professor at The King's University.