How to Seek the Holy Spirit
Bethlehem 2018 Conference for Pastors + Church Leaders | Minneapolis
December 6 last year at 6:45 in the morning, I was sitting in my chair in our living room. It was still dark outside, and my one reading light was on beside the chair. My iPad was open to my daily Bible reading portion. I had just spent my 36 minutes on the treadmill in the attic, showered, made myself a cup of hot tea, and settled in to enjoy a time of fellowship with the Lord Jesus over his word.
I remember pausing before I begin to read and thinking: I love this quietness. I love this room with its carpet and furniture and fireplace. I love this chair the way it supports me. I love the lighting in this one small spot on this dark, cold morning. I love the feeling in my muscles and the warmth of this orange wool sweater. And I love the sweetness of this tea, and that I have no pain anywhere in my body.
And then my mind shifted. I had been reading a book called Avenue of Spies by Alex Kershaw about the French resistance in Nazi-occupied Paris during World War II. I had read how the Gestapo would arrest anyone suspected of disloyalty to the Nazi regime, and to make more room in the prison, they might simply shoot fifty suspected collaborators. And I read about the tortures as they tried to break the secret circles of espionage against Nazi occupation.
From Comfort to Persecution
And as I sat there in my exquisite comfort, with my cushioned chair, and my woolen sweater, and my hot tea, and quiet stillness, I pictured myself being arrested, stripped, plunged into a tub of ice water — and just as I could resist screaming no longer, being held down under water until I sucked water into my lungs. Some had never recovered. They died. Some recovered, and were asked if they wanted to betray their countrymen, or be plunged under the water again.
Only in my imagination, I was being persecuted for Jesus, and all I had to do to save my life, and go back to my comfortable home, was to say the words, “Jesus is not my Lord, and Jesus is not my Savior, and Jesus is not the Treasure of my life.” And as I thought about that moment, and whether I would have what it takes to endure agony without renouncing Jesus, I pleaded with my heavenly Father for the power of the Holy Spirit — that by the Spirit, God would make himself and his Son, the Lord Jesus, so real to me, and so glorious to me, and so satisfying to me, that these domestic pleasures all around me would be as nothing by comparison, and that I would be able, when the time came, to endure.
Grace for Today
Corrie ten Boom, who died in 1983, was a Dutch Christian who helped Jewish people escape Nazi Germany during the war, and who was herself imprisoned at the age of 52. She had the same question as a girl whether she would be able to suffer without betraying her Lord Jesus. She told her father, and the story goes like this:
“Daddy,” she had said one day, “I am afraid that I will never be strong enough to be a martyr for Jesus Christ.”
“Tell me,” her father wisely responded, “when you take a train trip from Haarlem to Amsterdam, when do I give you the money for the ticket? Three weeks before?”
“No, Daddy, you give me the money for the ticket just before we get on the train.”
“That is right,” he replied, “and so it is with God’s strength. Our wise Father in heaven knows when you are going to need things too. Today you do not need the strength to be a martyr. But as soon as you are called upon for the honor of facing death for Jesus, He will supply the strength you need — just in time.”
“I took great comfort in my father’s advice,” Corrie told her audience. “Later I had to suffer for Jesus in a [Nazi] concentration camp. He indeed gave me all the courage and power I needed.”
His Spirit Will Rest Upon You
When she told this story she was illustrating 1 Peter 4:12–14. It is one of the most precious promises about the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives — and one of the greatest enticements we have for seeking him with all our heart, before we come to the end of our lives. I invite you to turn to it with me. I have often taken heart from this promise that when the hour of my testing comes, the Holy Spirit will rest upon me in such a way that what seemed impossible in the comforts of my living room at age 71 is suddenly, miraculously possible.
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial [or icy trial] when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ [it might be only an insult, or it might be fire, or ice water], you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.
This may be a repeated experience in our lives, or it may be the final work of the Holy Spirit before we die — the final manifestation of the Spirit’s Christ-exalting power in this life. “The Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you,” as you endure your final sufferings: “If you are insulted for the name of Christ [reproached, rebuked, reviled, disgraced, or worse], you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.” The Spirit of God, the Spirit of glory, will come to you and rest upon you in the hour of your trial.
For Persecution — and Cancer
If you are inclined to think that this promise only applies to the sufferings of persecution, not the suffering of the final throes of cancer, consider this: If you receive the suffering of cancer as a Christian — if you receive it in the name of Christ — and resolve to honor him in it, and not to bring reproach on his name, how is this suffering essentially different? Is not the essential question in both cases — persecution and cancer — will I turn against Jesus in anger, or will I trust him? If you receive your suffering with the prayer and the hope of magnifying Christ in it — whether persecution or cancer — you will be suffering as a Christian, and this promise will be true for you.
“The Spirit of God, the Spirit of glory, will come to you, and rest upon you in the hour of your trial.”
In the hour of our trial, the question will be thrown in our face: “Now where is your God? He can’t stop this persecution; he can’t stop this cancer. What good is he? Where is he?” And according to this text, the answer that God himself will give you is this: “I am here resting upon you. I am here.” And what we will feel in the shame and degradation and misery and filth and ugliness and horror of that trial is that this is the furthest thing imaginable from glory. This is not glorious. This is ghastly. But the Spirit of God will not let that be the last word. Because he is not only the Spirit of God, but the Spirit of glory. Verse 14: “The Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.”
Who Is the Holy Spirit and What Does He Do?
What does he do when he comes? What is involved in this resting upon us?
1. He is the Spirit of truth (John 14:17; 15:26; 16:13) and brings to your mind whatever truth you need — little or much.
All the forces of darkness will seek to confuse and obscure the light of truth in that hour. All the proportions of power in this world will appear to make God look distant, small, ineffective — like nothing. That is the goal of Satan and sin: to make God look useless and worthless. The work of the Holy Spirit in that hour — the work of the Spirit of truth — is to rest upon you with whatever measure of truth you will need in order to be faithful.
2. Jesus said, “When the Spirit of truth comes . . . he will glorify me” (John 16:13–14).
The ground and the center and the goal of all the truth the Spirit brings is the glory of Jesus Christ — the greatness, the excellency, the beauties of Jesus. The essence of the ministry of the Holy Spirit is to magnify the beauty of Christ in the human mind and heart. Therefore, in the hour of trial, he will not let us forget Jesus. Jesus said, “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). Always. Including the final hour of testing. And the work of the Holy Spirit is to cause us to remember him, and to see him with the eyes of our hearts (2 Corinthians 3:17–18; Ephesians 1:17–18).
3. As he rests upon you, the Spirit will sustain your love for Christ.
He does not merely reveal the truth of Christ, but the beauty, the power, the wisdom, and the love of Christ. The Spirit communicates to our hearts the preciousness of Christ. He makes us feel that Christ is enough in this hour — that he is better than all loves. Paul said in Philippians 3:3 that Christians “worship by the Spirit of God.” In other words, it is the Spirit that gives to our hearts a sense of the worth of Christ. It is he who causes us to feel that this light momentary affliction is nothing compared to Christ.
4. He is resting on you as the Spirit of glory.
“The Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you” (1 Peter 4:14). Which means at least two things: He causes us to feel that the glory we are losing here is not worth keeping, and the glory we are about to gain is infinitely better.
“If anyone keeps God’s word, she will know the fullness and sweetness of fellowship with the Father and the Son by the Spirit.”
The Holy Spirit is the imperishable seed in 1 Peter 1:23, by which we were born again. And Peter’s point there was, when the imperishable Spirit enters us, he brings this conviction: “‘All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.’ And this word is the good news that was preached to you” (1 Peter 1:24–25). In the hour of trial, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of glory, will cause us to feel that all the glory we are losing here is not worth keeping, and the glory we are about to gain is infinitely better.
The Spirit of glory will cause us to experience the reality of 1 Peter 5:10–11: “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.” As “the Spirit of glory” rests upon you, he will give you a taste of that “eternal glory.” He will communicate to your heart the truth of verse 10: If you are torn, you will be restored to perfect wholeness; if you are crushed, you will stand in triumph; if you die in utter weakness, you will live in unshakeable strength; if you sink in quicksand, you find you are on an eternal foundation. You have been called to eternal glory in Christ. And the work of the Spirit of glory is to seal this hope to your heart (Romans 15:13).
5. In that hour of trial, the Holy Spirit will overcome your doubts and give you the assurance that you need.
For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs — heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. (Romans 8:15–17)
The Spirit of glory rests upon you, in the midst of the loss of all earthly glory, and testifies to your heart: “You are an heir of infinite glory. You belong to Christ. You will be glorified with him. You may be sure of this.”
6. If the opportunity arises in this trial to speak for Christ — to your doctor or to your persecutor — the Holy Spirit will bring to your mind what you need to say.
Jesus said, “Do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit” (Mark 13:11). The Spirit of glory and of God will rest upon you. If, in his power, he wants you speechless, you need say nothing. If he wants you to speak, he will give you words. Count on it. Trust him.
7. Finally, in your hour of trial, as the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you, he will give you himself.
And in himself, he will give you the Father and the Son. You will taste — with no pressure, in the hour of pain, to articulate a careful doctrine of the Trinity — the living experience of 2 Corinthians 13:14: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you.” In other words, may you experience the precious, personal presence of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are one God. But they are three persons. And you will experience each of them in the hour of your trial — the Father’s care and tenderness for his child, the Savior’s redeeming love to cover all your sin, and the Spirit’s sustaining of faith so that you taste in that hour the preciousness of the presence of each divine Person: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Seek Him Earnestly
If God promises in 1 Peter 4:14 that the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon us with this much personal, precious helpfulness in the hour of our trial, would we not want to seek him with all of our heart? God has more grace and greater enjoyments for those who seek him. “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13). And if we add to the promise of 1 Peter 4:14 the wider scope of the Spirit’s work in our lives, why would we drift through life seeking so little of him?
We know from John 3 that it is by the Holy Spirit that we were born again. “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:5).
We know from 1 Corinthians 12:3 that “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit.”
We know from Romans 8:13 that only by the Holy Spirit can we “put to death the deeds of the body” and live. And without this work of the Spirit, we perish.
We know from 2 Thessalonians 2:13 that all our effort to pursue “the holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14) is only possible because sanctification is “by the Spirit.”
We know from Ephesians 1:17 that the Holy Spirit is “the Spirit of wisdom,” and that we will be hopelessly foolish in this life without his ministry. We will waste our lives on trifles without the Spirit of wisdom.
We know from 1 Corinthians 12:7 that “to each [believer] is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”
We know from Romans 8:11 that “if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.”
Without the Holy Spirit, we have
- no new birth,
- no confession of the lordship of Christ,
- no victory over sin,
- no progress in sanctification,
- no spiritual wisdom,
- no spiritual gifts,
- and no resurrection from the dead.
Why would we not seek such a person — the fullness of an experience of this Person? He is a person — not a mere force. We know this from John 14:16, where Jesus said, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper — intercessor, advocate — to be with you forever.” I am your first Helper, Jesus says, and the Father will send you “another Helper.” Just as you have known me as your personal Helper, you will know him. And he is no mere human Person. For he is the Spirit of God.
We Owe Everything to the Spirit’s Power
From new birth at a point in time, to new creation in eternity future, we owe everything good that comes into our lives to the wise planning of God the Father, the merciful purchase of God the Son, and the transforming power of God the Spirit.
“God has yet more of himself to give to those who seek him. Ask him. And keep on asking until he comes or calls.”
Why would we not seek him with all our heart and all our strength? What if someone responds, “Because we already have him. All believers have the Holy Spirit”? That’s true. Romans 8:9 says, “Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.” All believers have the Holy Spirit. Just like we have faith, and Jesus says, “O you of little faith” (Matthew 6:30). Even though the Spirit is not present in parts, we may only have a partial experience of his presence.
Or else, why does Paul say, “Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18)? He says it because not all are filled, and none of us is filled continually. It is a loving command: Seek this! Be filled with the Spirit. Seek the fullness of all that the Spirit can be for you. Seek it. Don’t quench the Spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:19). Don’t grieve the Spirit (Ephesians 4:30). Seek the Spirit.
How Can I Seek the Spirit?
I will point to four interlocking ways that the Bible describes seeking the Spirit.
1. Meditate on what God has said in the Spirit-inspired Scriptures.
God has established a life-giving connection between his Spirit and his word. Jesus said in John 6:63, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” Or consider the parallel between Ephesians 5:18 and Colossians 3:16.
Be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart. (Ephesians 5:18–19)
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (Colossians 3:16)
The command to “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly” stands in the place of the command, “Be filled with the Spirit” because the indwelling of the word is the way we experience the indwelling Spirit. If you want to be full of the Spirit, pursue the fullness of the word.
2. Believe what you hear and see in the word.
In Galatians 3:5 Paul asked, “Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith?” So, the Holy Spirit is supplied to us and works powerfully in us as we hear the word with faith — as we believe it.
Stephen was described as a man “full of faith and of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 6:5). Barnabas was “a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith” (Acts 11:24). Those pairings of faith and Spirit are not coincidental. And Galatians 3:14 says that we “receive the promised Spirit through faith.” So, as we meditate on the word of God, faith comes by that word (Romans 10:17), and in and by this faith we experience the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. So we seek him by meditation on the word, and belief in what we hear and see.
3. Hold fast in obedience to what you have heard and believed.
One of the disciples asked Jesus in John 14:22, “Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?” Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (John 14:23).
For those who love Christ and keep his word, there is a special intimacy of love given by the Father. And the Father and the Son draw close with unusual fullness and sweetness. And they do so by the Spirit. If anyone keeps God’s word — holds fast to it as a treasure, in obedience — he will not quench the Spirit, or grieve the Spirit, but will know the fullness and sweetness of fellowship with the Father and the Son by the Spirit.
4. Desire the Spirit.
In all this meditating and believing and obeying, desire all that God is for you and has for you in him. Thirst for him.
“‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. . . .’ Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive” (John 7:37, 39). Thirst for him. As the Psalm says, “Drink from the river of [his] delights” (Psalm 36:8).
As a deer pants for flowing streams,
so pants my soul for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God,
for the living God. (Psalm 42:1–2)
This is what it means to seek the Spirit.
O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. (Psalm 63:1)
More Precious Than Anything
His promise for your final trial — “The Spirit of glory and of God [will rest] upon you” (1 Peter 4:14) — will prove to be worth more than all the money in the world at that hour. Don’t wait to see his fullness. Seek him.
“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!” (Luke 11:9–13)
This is your Father! This is his greatest gift: himself and his Son through the Spirit. He has yet more of himself to give to those who meditate, believe, obey, and desire. Ask him. And keep on asking until he comes or calls.