Reflections on The Holy Spirit, the Word, and Prayer (Sabbath School 3-11- 2017)

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Reflections on The Holy Spirit, the Word, and Prayer (Sabbath School 3-11- 2017)

Problematic Prayers

As I was reading about the Prosperity Gospel[1] and how the Christian message is being distorted into an individualistic, selfish mantra for personal gain and growth, it occurred to me that this happens because of a misunderstanding of the Person and purposes of the Spirit of God, the mishandling of the Word of God, and/or a prayerlife that sees God as a genie in a bottle. However, the experience that God desires for His people, assumes the combination of (1) the work of the Spirit, (2) the guidance of the Word, and (3) faith expressed in prayer. Problems like the one noted above, with the Prosperity Gospel, usually occur when one of these three blessings are isolated or overemphasized to the disregard of the others. The Bible says much about how the Spirit of God, among other things, empowers, convicts, converts, sanctifies and comforts us, according to His revealed will, as we open up our hearts and surrender our wills in prayer to His Lordship.

The Holy Spirit

Moving through Scripture it becomes apparent that the revelation of God’s Spirit was always present (Gen 1:2), but progressively unfolding to the understanding of God’s people. A cursory survey of the prayers in the Hebrew Bible (OT) shows that there was a recognition of the need for God’s Spirit (Ps 51:11). The Spirit is very active in the providential affairs of God. Those prayers reflect an understanding of the Lordship role of the Spirit of God as the Providential Empowerer to accomplish God’s will (Exod. 31:3; 35:31; Num. 24:2).[2]

For example, the book of Judges conveys this in multiple accounts of how, in response to the cries (prayers) of the rebellious Israelites, God raised up judges to deliver His people. In most cases, we are told about the activity of the Spirit (“was upon him,” 3:10; “clothed Gideon,” 6:34; “was upon Jephthah,” 11:29; “began to stir him,” 13:25; “rushed upon him,” 14:6, 19; 15:14).

Also, the prophets expressed the role of the Spirit in the fulfillment of the restoration of God’s kingdom (cf. 1 Peter 1:10–11). God’s providential leading necessitates the leading of God’s Spirit, for without it, our efforts and plans will fall fruitless (cf. Exod. 33:15). Praying for the Holy Spirit is really a radical act of faith because what can happen in response to our prayer may be entirely unexpected; as being led the long way to Canaan, speaking a needed word of rebuke (in love), making a change in vocation, or becoming a missionary. Praying for the Holy Spirit means surrendering all rights to decide what will happen in our lives and allow for God’s providential leading to influence us.

The Word

It must be remembered that the Bible of the NT writers and believers was only at first the Hebrew Bible (OT), so their understanding of Jesus, His life, His ministry, His death, His resurrection, His high priestly ministry was understood as the fulfilment of God’s promises and providence given in the past (cf. Acts 8:26–40). Consequently, life in Christ meant seeing the hand of God in Israel’s history and Jesus’ life to make sense of their (and our) present experience moving forward. The constant quotations, allusions, echoes, and citations of the Hebrew Bible applied in the New Testament meant that the role of the Spirit, rather than something new and unexpected, was something hoped for (Isa 11:1–10; 61:1–4; Ezek. 37). That hope, seen in the prayers in the New Testament meant that praying according to the Word always means praying within the scope of God’s plan for humanity established at Creation to its fulfillment in Re-Creation.

Prayer

Our selfish desires need to be transformed to learn, think, follow, and obey God’s thoughts. God’s purposes should play the greatest part in determining our prayers, and a clear understanding of His will in His Word and a spirit of discernment is needed to sense God’s leading. The variety of types of prayers (laments, hymns of praise, and thanksgiving) testify that in all situations prayer is warranted (Phil. 4:6). Unfortunately, our assessment of our needs and life-mission is often influenced by either self-preservation, covetousness, keeping up with the Joneses, or dissatisfaction with what we have presently. While Job is typically used as a proof-text that God will bless us beyond what we have, for most people this is not possible, feasible, or more importantly, always helpful to character building.[3] If God has been leading us along the path we trod, we need not fear whether our needs (in God’s will) will be met and will be so in a way where we grow in grace.[4]

A Resolution for a Revolution

A friend of mine who played the lottery once asked me to pray for him to win and he would build God a church with the winnings. I told him, despite his intentions, he did not really know what he would do with all that money in hand at one time if he had won, and he agreed. We both knew something the Bible is very clear about, human nature. Statistics and studies show that at least 1/3 of lottery winners file for bankruptcy within the first few years, become estranged from family and friends, incur a greater incidence of depression, drug and alcohol abuse, divorce, and suicide than the average American.[5] Here is where a biblical understanding of the Holy Spirit is relevant, the Spirit of God (1) empowers God’s children for service, (2) convicts of sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 15:8), (3) restores from a life of sin, (4) gives the people of God wisdom and discernment (1 Cor. 2:6–16), and (5) teaches us how to be faithful to God. If God wants us to build Him a church to serve our community and share the Three Angels Message, so be, but it will always be in harmony with the providential leading of His Spirit, by His Word, and to revive us in response to our prayers. Let us be resolved to cultivate powerful, Biblically-based prayer lives to be a part of a revolution of grace that can turn the world upside down (Acts 17:6).

Editorial Note: This article is provided to our readers, by The Compass Magazine, in preparation for the Adult Sabbath School Lesson Study for March 11, 2017. To read more commentaries on the Sabbath School Lesson click here. 

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Notes.

[1] The ‘Prosperity Gospel’ is a modern movement among Pentecostal and Charismatic preachers where God’s blessings of financial prosperity and other blessings from the books of Leviticus and Malachi are promised in return for offerings. See Alberto R. Timm, “Prosperity Gospel: A Brief Critical Analysis,” Reflections, BRI Newsletter no. 46 (April 2014)- https://www.adventistbiblicalresearch.org/newsletters.

[2] Jan Paulsen, When the Spirit Descends: Understanding the Role of the Holy Spirit (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald, 2001), 17–25.

[3] Biblical wealth encapsulates more than money. It encompasses health, fruitfulness in labor, family, etc. See especially God’s blessings in Deut. 28:1–14. When accrued in God’s way and according to God’s blessings wealth is a blessing and was intended to be used as such (cf. Gen 12:1–3; 1 Kgs 3:10–15). Unfortunately, in the history of Israel and the Church, selfishness led some wealthy believers to use God’s blessings to enrich and comfort themselves and often at the expense of those who had little recourse (Amos 6:4–6; Isa. 5:11–12; Mark 10:17–27; Acts 5:1–12; James 5:1–6). So, the issue is the value of one’s spiritual currency and commitment to God’s cause, not whether one has wealth or not (Luke 21:1–4; 1 Cor 3:10–15).

[4] Ellen White, Life Sketches, 196.

[5] http://fortune.com/2016/01/15/powerball-lottery-winners/

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About the author

Jerome Skinner, earned his Ph.D as an Old Testament scholar at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary. He focuses on the Psalms and Wisdom literature and on practical Christianity. Jerome is active in following American Christianity and social issues.