This coming Sunday is Pentecost. It’s the time when we remember the story of the early church, and the day that the followers of Jesus gathered and received the Holy Spirit after Jesus’ ascension, as found in Acts 2. They started speaking in tongues and preaching the gospel to the people around them. The crowds were amazed and many came to faith that day.
The story of Acts 2 is the fulfilment of the promise that Jesus gave His disciples in John 14, as He reminded them that He is “the way and the truth and the life.” The disciples didn’t like the idea of Jesus leaving them, but He told them that even though He was leaving in the body, they would not be left alone, that the Spirit of God will be with them. The Spirit indwells the Christian believer today as well. We are reminded by passages like Colossians 1:27 that the incredible mystery of Christ’s indwelling life has been made known to all those who believe.
Christians are often told to live by the Spirit, but what does this entail? In Galatians 5, Paul implores his readers to no longer live by the flesh but instead to live by the Spirit. We are to take off the old and put on the new (Ephesians 4), and live in the light instead of the darkness (1 John 1). Does this mean closing eyes and raising hands in worship, being confident in our witness of Jesus, or having certain gifts like speaking in tongues, performing miracles or prophesying?
How do we know if someone is filled with the Holy Spirit? The Mennonite church doesn’t have a reputation for being charismatic. We don’t usually have extravagant services, people speaking in tongues and prophesying, or even an “amen” during a sermon. Do Mennonites even believe in the Holy Spirit or His importance?
A few years ago, as I was preaching on Galatians, I decided to call up some Mennonite pastors and denominational leaders from all across Canada to ask them what they thought it meant to live by the Spirit. Here are some of those responses:
“I wish living by the Spirit meant that we have a really strong sense of what’s next. That’s not exactly what it is. It’s not like the Spirit gives us a detailed plan. It’s more like little opportunities that the Spirit gives, the nagging thoughts of what we’re supposed to do next. It’s not until you look back that you see that there was a plan. A lot of times those nudges might seem quite crazy. They always seems like a bad idea from the world’s perspective, and we can’t know until we take the risk and step into them, and then look back and see how God has guided us all along.” - Mennonite Pastor (Ontario)
“A lot of living in the Spirit is in the daily practices of virtues. I try to wake up in the morning before anyone else gets up to spend time in quiet prayer. We need to train ourselves because this isn’t magic. We need to beat our bodies into submission. Rituals, simplicity, prayer. For me, having slow transportation is a way to connect with the Spirit. Being in nature, being a part of God’s creation.” - Mennonite Church Canada Leader
“For me it means being aware. So much of life is lived on habits and on autopilot. A lot of my life is lived habitually. Living by the spirit is stopping and asking God, “What is it you want me to do?" Schedule times to be deliberate about being in prayer and in silence. Use the time you have to be in prayer rather than binge-watching Netflix. Take the time to be quiet and listen rather than living life on auto-pilot." - Mennonite Pastor (Manitoba)
"The Spirit frees me from living enslaved to the law. The Spirit gives me joy, as I can experience the fruits of the Spirit in beautiful and wonderful ways instead of being enslaved by them. It’s lived out in relationships with family, spouse, children, and colleagues. It changes the way you interact with the world around you. People who live by the Spirit are people who risk everything, commit themselves to the Lord and move deeper than a surface-level life.” - Mennonite Church Manitoba Leader
“God is present in the world and in my life in an ongoing way. To live in the Spirit is to be mindful of that. On the congregational level, living and discerning the Spirit is quite critical. As we think about anything as a church, from buildings, to leadership, to sexuality, it all needs to be Spirit-infused. That means inviting God into that communal event. We are on Earth as broken vessels and there is always ongoing discernment. New information and insight brings new light to a situation. Because we are in communion with a relational God, it is never quite black and white. It’s a dynamic relationship. We move forward in faith, confident that God is with us, and that even though we are imperfect, grace abounds.” - Canadian Mennonite University Professor
“Look for the Spirit in places we may not expect. God’s Spirit is not just working in me or the church, but in a lot of different places. Being able to see the fruits of the Spirit being enacted in our world, or the world around us, is to see what God’s doing in the world.” - Mennonite Pastor (Manitoba)
“Living by the Spirit means constantly looking at ways of interpreting what is happening in my life during the day to see places of God’s providence. God can show up when you need a spare tire, providing one in a most remarkable way. It’s not us charging out to do our own thing, but letting God lead us. It often takes us to places that are really tough, but that’s where the life is. Take the risk.” - Mennonite Pastor (Alberta)
This wasn’t an odd or uncomfortable question for any of the people with whom I spoke. In all my conversations, it was quite clear: living by the Spirit is integral to the Christian life. But it’s so much more than an expression of worship or the manifestation of certain gifts. It’s a certain way of living. It’s allowing the God who makes His home within us to lead us in every aspect of life. It’s about trust and submission. It’s about giving up control and walking in the light of God.
This Sunday, as we celebrate Pentecost, I invite you to reflect on what living in the Spirit means to you. What is the role of the Holy Spirit in your life? In what ways might you be feeling the nudge of God to do something, go in a certain direction, or take a risk of faith. Remember that it is the Spirit of God who lives in you, leading and guiding us when we let Him. We are never alone.