At Renewal 2027 – The Holy Spirit Transforming Us in Kisumu, Kenya, 21 April 2018, several people shared a testimony of one experience of the Spirit’s work changing people in the church. Several of the columns in this section have been adapted from their presentations. Additional testimonies also tell of the work of the Holy Spirit transforming lives.
How could I ever do justice to talking about the Holy Spirit? So often the Spirit’s work in my life has been convincingly real, but in a peculiar way it has also defied my ability to understand it, let alone express it.
I’ve seen the Holy Spirit work in the life of the church, bringing bewildered groups to decisions. I’ve seen the Holy Spirit work in the unbelieving world, surprising disbelief with the presence of God. I have certainly seen the Holy Spirit work in my own life in predictable ways, trying to make a selfish and destructive person less so.
The work of the Holy Spirit can be the most ineffable and subjective dimension of our spiritual experience. Romans 8:26 has always fascinated me: “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.”
I experienced this as a church planter.
A discouraging season
I was a pastor in an urban setting. It was a mixed story: half church plant, half a partially established, but small and often unstable congregation. There were some outstanding people there.
Working there, I became relatively poor, and it was not romantic poverty. I was trying to work with people who suffered from what seemed to be intractable problems. Things were not going well. I felt that the pastoral role got little respect, but then I would feel like I must be an especially weak excuse of a church planting pastor to be so sensitive.1
Why couldn’t I be more confident and believe that God was here and that I was doing what really mattered?
In any event, life didn’t seem to be on a tremendous track that would lead to success, well-being, and the love and warmth of a happy community. It was more like I imagine a rough marriage to be. It certainly wasn’t what I had hoped for when I stepped out of my former life as an aspiring musician to be a church planter.
It felt like I was wasting years (not months, weeks or days) and talent (such as it was) and energy. Worse, it felt like I was simply being depleted and had nothing appreciable to show for it. I had little power or material comfort to offer my family as they experienced it with me.
It hurt, and I say without balking, it still hurts!
A vision of abundance
One warm, southern summer evening, I meditated – and mostly whined – about it, looking down my driveway from my oily carport. Half in prayer, half in introspection, I saw an image of pouring water into a bucket with a hole in the bottom and watching it run down my driveway (of all places).
I had come to a place of feeling a kind of apathy about apathy itself. It just seemed sad and futile, but it seemed to be my lot. Where was God? Why would he waste “our” time and resources like this?
Into that moment, I believe the Holy Spirit spoke to me. I didn’t hear words, but the impressions seemed to be authentic and not the convenient creation of my own whirling imagination.
My strength and resources are certainly limited and imperfect, but the living water of God’s Word that I was trying to pour out into the world is not a finite resource. It cannot be depleted and doesn’t really belong to me anyway. This water was not going to run out at its source. Who knows where all that water pouring out on the ground would end up? It was part of a larger story that I may or may not understand.
My situation didn’t change. Somehow, though, I found that even when it was frustrating, I could experience God’s peace. That peace could still at times be elusive or vague. Yet it was real and could assert itself when needed.
Since then I have had to remind myself and relearn this truth about God’s presence several times, but as I do usually I am carried back to that evening thinking about a leaking bucket and water.
It passed all understanding, and it still does.
—Reuben Sairs is an instructor and librarian at Rosedale Bible College and associate pastor at London Christian Fellowship in London, Ohio, a CMC (Conservative Mennonite Conference) church.
This article first appeared in Courier/Correo/Courrier October 2018.