I lay in bed night before last, the windows open for our cool “fall” nights here in the Rio Grande Valley, and I could hear the wind as it rustled through the leaves of the tree in our backyard. We are just an hour from the Gulf coast, and the wind often blasts off the open water and over our flat lands here in the Valley at 20 mph or more. Besides cooling off this usually warm land, the wind also provides a soothing, calming symphony to fall asleep to. So it was the other night…the undulating winds—at once soft and gently swishing through the leaves…then a moment of calm…and suddenly a blast that fairly shook the tree like maracas. As I lay there, I noticed that patterns of the wind were completely unpredictable…yet the wind was still calming in its random coming and going.
As I lay there, I recalled what Jesus had said one evening…perhaps while listening to the night winds blowing through a nearby sycamore tree: “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 3:8). Jesus employs a wonderful double entendre here in that the word for ‘wind’ and the word for ‘Spirit’ (pneuma) are the same in the Greek of the New Testament. The wind and Spirit both are unpredictable…as are those born of the Spirit.
Ever since the Holy Spirit was unleashed (and that is a very good word for it!) at Pentecost, the Church (and those outside the Church) have been trying to bring God’s Spirit under control, to “put it back in the box,” to tame the Spirit. The Church has written theologies of the Holy Spirit…and sure enough, these tend to suck the life out of the Spirit, or suck the Spirit out of our lives! These theologies often end up setting all the limits of what the Spirit can or cannot do, showing us how the Spirit can or cannot act in the lives of others. But I wonder—should we really be limiting the Spirit of God?? Pentecost itself sure broke all the rules up until that time…can God not “break the rules again”??
And, speaking of rules, others have shown their complete lack of confidence in the Spirit of God by buying into legalism. Legalism is really nothing more nor less than saying, “We don’t believe that God can take care of His people, can rightly guide His people…we don’t believe that His Spirit really ‘seals’ His people (Eph.1:13,14), so we right-minded, obviously holy leaders are going to set rules and protect you…for God.” (Things usually don’t end very well in this scenario….) But, should we be taking the place of God in people’s lives and establishing their rules for living? Isn’t the Scripture excitingly clear in Jeremiah and Hebrews: “I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God and they will be my people” (Jer.31:33; Heb.8:10)??
We proclaim a God who is powerful, righteous, good and loving. Why would we want to presume to limit such a God? How could we imagine that our petty legalism would somehow be more engaging and life-changing that the indwelling Spirit of God? And, how can we presume to predict how or what God will do—in our own lives, much less the lives of others? We must face it—the wind and the Spirit and the life in the Spirit are unpredictable...sometimes unruly…untamable.
As I lay in bed, God reminded me that even though we can know much of Him, we cannot understand our God completely—not even close! Even though we can see how God has worked in our lives in the past and how He works today, we cannot predict how God may work tomorrow. Like the wind, God’s Spirit moves in and through our lives…one day a gentle breeze, another day barely a breath, and still another day a riotous west wind. As my eyes became heavy with sleep, as I slipped into the land of dreams, these final thoughts did not leave me anxious. No, instead I thought, “Yes, thanks to God’s Spirit, the life of faith certainly can be a little unsettling…but, oh, so exciting!”
The wind blows to the south
and turns to the north;
round and round it goes,
ever returning on its course. (Eccl.1:6)