There I was, stood shifting from foot to foot on a sodden football field, the cold air biting at my bare knees. Dreaming, but not hoping, that this week I would be picked to play up front, imagining that winning goal.
In all honesty I only dreamed of a well-placed kick that added something to the game. That would have been enough for me. I was 10. The school team I played for had a policy that everyone would play in every position at practices, and that everyone would be picked to play in a real match at some point. It was supposed to be encouraging, being told that everyone could take part.
I only ever played in defence, and was never picked to play for the team. I pretended it didn’t matter, I knew I was really bad at it, but the icy spikes of rejection still manage to insidiously slide into your soul. You become desensitised to it fast, as a survival mechanism.
Somehow, it hurts more when you’re not chosen if you’re told that everyone will be. Everyone gets to play. Everyone gets to receive the Spirit. You stand there at the side-lines, bolstered by this promise and feeling the slow death of hope as the experience you’re yearning for doesn’t happen. Again.
Being told that Jesus promises a particular experience, receiving the Spirit—as I’ve been arguing recently, can feel like a slap in the face if you haven’t had it. Being told that Jesus promises a continuing cavalcade of experience, a life characterised by them, can feel like a conga line of face-slapping insult.
I’ve been rejected. It hurts. If we’re honest, we all have to some extent. It feels awful, and it makes us afraid of experiencing it again. Sometimes we start to see it where it doesn’t exist. For example, feeling that because others have experienced something that you haven’t, you are ‘left out’. That would be true if you were excluded from experiencing it yourself, but that isn’t the case here. Jesus was pretty clear, “if you’re thirsty, come and drink!” (John 7).
Sometimes others exclude us, but we also often exclude ourselves. Being told that “you don’t have everything God has for you” is not the same as being told “you are a second class Jesus follower.” It’s an invitation to get whatever God has for you.
None of us have everything that God has for us, we won’t until the age to come. There’s always something more of himself that he offers us. Jesus doesn’t have classes of followers, he has a rag-tag bunch who all keep falling over and trying to walk in the right direction. There’s a reason he called us sheep. Those who are in front turn around to help those who are behind. Just because someone offers you an experience you haven’t had doesn’t make them better than you.
You refusing to have it because they’re making you somehow less than them is nonsense, and yet I think that way all the time. Maybe you do too? It’s cutting off your nose to spite your face.
Parties and other large social gatherings aren’t my thing. Particularly when I was younger I suffered with a lot of social anxiety. I’m very familiar with that feeling of walking into a party, looking around and deciding I don’t know anyone—which is never true, someone invited me—feeling really left out and being tempted to leave. If someone comes up and starts to include me, I’m delighted. They aren’t pointing out how no-one was talking to me, they’re just including me. Being offered the Spirit if you haven’t had it is an invitation. It might make you feel like you’ve been on the outside, but it’s an invitation to come closer in.
The writers of the Bible would have found the idea of a Christian without the Spirit as utterly bizarre. That’s not because it couldn’t happen, it’s just because they wouldn’t understand how when you came to faith no one offered you the Spirit. That’s the normal way of things.
If you’ve never had an experience of the Spirit, don’t kid yourself that you’ve ‘got it all’, seek what he has for you. As Martyn Lloyd-Jones once asked:
Got it all? Well, if you have ‘got it all’, I simply ask in the Name of God, why are you as you are? If you have ‘got it all’, why are you so unlike the Apostles, why are you so unlike the New Testament Christians?
If you can’t relate to the kinds of experiences I’ve been writing about recently you really need to hear this, because it’s the core of my heart for you: You are not less.
Dear friend, you are loved mightily by the mighty God. He would move heaven and earth to have you—in fact he has, and they’re on a permanent collision course because he is coming to get you. God loves you. You just need to ask and receive.
Whoever you are, however good a follower of Jesus you think you are or aren’t, two things are true today:
Compared to the living God you are a rank outsider. He welcomes you in. He welcomes you in!
And, you can go further in than you have—there is more of God to discover, more of you to be changed to be like him.
Receiving the Spirit is the normal start to the Christian life, it’s not an added extra. It’s supposed to be what unites us not what divides us. It’s not a marker between ‘spiritual’ and ‘unspiritual’ Christians, as if there could be such a thing. It’s not a dividing line, it’s an invitation to all of us to enter into, and continue entering into, the life of God in Christ by the Spirit.
This post is the last of a serialisation of a short book on ‘Baptism in the Spirit,’ you can read the rest of the posts here.
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