Devotions Devotional: Getting to Know the Holy Spirit

By Emily O'Connor

Day One - Getting to know the Holy Spirit

This weekend Dave Rod spoke about John 14:15-31, when Jesus leaves His disciples with the power of the Holy Spirit. We want to recognize that the Holy Spirit can seem like scary, uncharted territory, or it can carry negative connotations from previous church experiences. Both of those reactions are real and valid, and we do not want to ignore them. But we hope this week will be a time to commune with God, guiding us into what it practically means to pray in the Spirit. We want to enter this space expecting miracles, not underestimating God’s power. But we also enter realistically, expecting the Spirit to meet us in our current situations.

This week, we will explore what Jesus taught in John 14 and 16 about leaving us with the Spirit and how we can utilize this power through prayer. But first, let’s lay a foundation by understanding Jesus’ teachings on the Spirit.

Just as we might enter any other kind of relationship, it helps if we understand the purpose and authority of the one with whom we interact. Jesus tells us that the Spirit was sent to be an Advocate or Helper (John 14:16); He intercedes on our behalf, which means He prioritizes our best interests. The Spirit is one of Truth (14:17), teaching (14:26), peace (14:27), and guidance (16:13). The Spirit only moves with authority from the Father (16:13) and glorifies the Father’s name (16:14).

Based on what we know, it sounds like this is an essential relationship to our faith. We all seek truth, teaching, peace, and guidance to glorify God’s name. And Jesus tells us that we already have this with us. If we love Jesus, then we already know Jesus, for He dwells in us (14:17).

Practice: Before we move into practically praying in the Spirit, take a few moments to ponder what Jesus explicitly tells us about the Holy Spirit. What connotations do you carry when it comes to the Holy Spirit? What might it look like to clear a path for the true Spirit by laying down any impressions that do not align with what Jesus tells us?

Day Two - The Spirit & our Souls

Yesterday we practiced laying down any preconceived notions we have about the Holy Spirit that don’t align with how Jesus describes Him. But this is not a one-time action. You will likely have to revisit that practice multiple times as you build your relationship with the Spirit. Give yourself grace to continue laying them down, even if it is weeks, months or years into your new relationship with the Spirit. If this seems especially difficult, seek guidance from a trusted mentor or pastor.

With that in mind, let’s move forward into praying in the Spirit. Jesus says the Spirit is already dwelling within us (John 14:17). Romans tells us the Spirit understands our soul so well that He intercedes for us in prayer:

“Likewise, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And He who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” (Romans 8:26-27).

Imagine a relationship so intimate that you don’t need words to communicate. They know exactly what’s on your heart, maybe even before you do. These kinds of relationships are the deepest of our lives. This is how we can relate with the Spirit.
“[This kind of prayer] is an invitation to deeper levels of intimacy that will move us beyond communication, which primarily involves words and concepts, into communion, which is primarily beyond words. If there are any words at all, they are reduced to the simplest and most visceral expressions.” – Ruth Haley Barton

When we understand the intimacy of the Spirit, we move from communication and into communion, a prayer that reaches the innermost groanings of your soul.

Practice: Set aside time to commune with the Holy Spirit. This could mean starting with prayer through words/thoughts, and then quieting your mind, trusting that the Spirit will pray on your behalf. Give yourself grace; this kind of communion takes time to cultivate.  If sitting in quiet is too hard at first, try writing out your prayers until you can quiet yourself enough to let the Spirit move without words.

Day Three - Approaching the Spirit

Yesterday’s practice might have felt weird. Most of us have never prayed without words, so it’s okay that it might have seemed awkward. But you risked discomfort to enter an intimate relationship, and that is truly beautiful.

Prayer and intimacy require risk because we must offer something – our outer shell, that layer of protection that keeps our souls from harm – to allow the Spirit in to see all of us. We lay down our vices and invite the Spirit in. Any time we offer a part of ourselves in an intimate relationship, our hearts will likely be changed, which can be scary. But it’s worth pursuit.

“Our patterns of intimacy or non-intimacy with other human beings are the very same patterns we bring to our relationship with God, whether we are conscious of it or not…. Depending on our need to be in control in our human relationships (and most of us do), intimacy with God will be very challenging for us. If we are afraid of intimacy or hold ourselves back in human relationships, that will be our patterns with God as well.” – Ruth Haley Barton

Everyone has been injured by a human relationship, because humans are fallible. We make mistakes, and most of us understand that we cannot expect another person to hold all of who we are without somehow hurting us. But we’re willing to take that risk because of the satisfaction and fulfillment found in community.

We do not have to fear injury from the Holy Spirit. Remember, Jesus tells us that He is our Advocate and Helper (John 14:16). He fills us with peace (14:27). The Spirit does not harm, He fights for us, bringing righteousness into the world (16:8-11). The Holy Spirit does not lead us into harm, He guides us in all truth glorifying the Lord (16:13-14).

Practice: Enter a time of prayer today reflecting on your relationship tendencies. Do you move slowly? Or quickly? Is it easy for you to build trust in relationships? These answers might inform the way you approach your relationship with the Holy Spirit. Remember, you do not have to be afraid.

Day Four - “Building a Breath Prayer”

Hopefully as you have been in prayer, you recognize the goodness of communion with the Spirit. You might feel the advocacy and protection that John 14 tells us we will receive. You might have heard truth or felt guidance. Or maybe, you haven’t felt much, but you’re approaching this relationship with hope and expectation that you will perceive these gifts soon. Part of receiving these gifts from the Spirit is paying attention.

A tenet of prayer that can grow intimacy and attention to the Spirit is breath prayers. Setting aside time to commune with God fills us to carry on with our daily activities. Breath prayers invite the Spirit’s presence to be amid our daily activities. Both are good and healthy parts of our faith journey that complement one another and guide us into deeper relationship with the Spirit.

Breath prayers walk hand-in-hand with Romans 8:26-27, that the Spirit knows us so intimately that He understands the groanings of our soul and intercedes on our behalf before God. To build a breath prayer, we must understand the desires of our soul.

“You don’t think your way into your breath prayer; you discover it by listening to our deepest longing and desires in God’s presence. Sometimes our breath prayer will be a simple phrase that expresses the truest thing we know how to say to God at that time. At other times it may be a word or phrase form a biblical prayer or a prayer of the church.” – Ruth Haley Barton

What is the deepest longing of your soul right now? This is a loaded question, and it comes with prayer and introspection. Maybe you need to feel God’s presence more. Maybe you need joy. Maybe you need to praise Him and thank Him. Maybe you need to call on His name for help.

Practice: As you pray in the Spirit today, reflect on your desires. They might come quickly, or they might take time. But the Spirit will present you with a short prayer, no more than a few syllables. Use this prayer throughout your day. Let it come to mind often, or even speak it aloud as you breathe.

Day Five - Paying Attention

Yesterday we discovered what we need from God and made that into a breath prayer. This might have come to you, or it might not have. Maybe you need to try out a few different prayers and see which resonates best with you.

A trap we can easily fall into as Christians is the complaint that we can’t feel anything. We can’t see God’s response to our prayers; we aren’t receiving whatever we’re asking for. To this we often say – pay attention.

Jesus tells us that the Holy Spirit teaches us (John 14:26), gives us peace (14:27), and guide us into God’s truth (16:13). Do you think it’s more likely that the Holy Spirit is malfunctioning, or that we aren’t paying enough attention to Him? (Hint: it’s the latter.)

As you use your breath prayer throughout the day, pay attention to the Spirit’s response. Does your attitude change? Did you realize something new about an obstacle you’re trying to overcome? Did you have a refreshing conversation with someone? Celebrate the Spirit’s movement and consider how He is meeting your greatest needs, even in seemingly small ways.

Paying attention to the Spirit’s movements grows your intimacy with Him. Think about other relationships in your life – how do they improve when you notice details about that person? Or pay attention to ways they’re serving you? The love, appreciation and trust for that person builds. It’s the same with the Spirit. We are more likely to pray to Him and trust Him with our prayers when we pay attention to the ways He is guiding us through them.

After some time of using a breath prayer, you might notice the Spirit respond before you even think to pray it. Again, pointing us to the truth of Romans 8:26-27.

“The more I have prayed this prayer consciously, connecting it with my breathing, the more it has begun to pray itself in me before I have given it conscious thought. In moments of stress or fear, at times when sadness threatens to overwhelm me or awareness of my sin presses in, this prayer finds me, rather than my having to search for a way to pray.” – Ruth Haley Barton

Practice: As you use your breath prayer today, ask the Spirit to help you pay attention to the ways He is responding. Expect you will see Him, and celebrate when you do!

Day Six – Advantage of the Spirit

This week, we grew an understanding of the Holy Spirit’s purpose and created breath prayers that build intimacy with Him. On our last day of this week’s practice, let’s remember the importance of our relationship to the Holy Spirit and what a giant miss it would be to not pursue Him.

You can imagine that the disciples are probably confused and frustrated with Jesus as He talks with them before going to the cross. Why is He leaving? What is He talking about? How He could abandon us? But Jesus tells His disciples that He is not leaving them as orphans (John 14:18), and that leaving them is actually to their advantage.

“Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send Him to you.” (John 16:7)

Consider Jesus’ statement – it is to your advantage that I go away, so the Holy Spirit will come to you. This seems ludicrous. How could anything be better than walking side-by-side daily with Jesus on earth?

 But Jesus knows that leaving them is advantageous because it means giving us eternal life. If Jesus didn’t leave them to die and be resurrected, we would not receive the full salvation we have in Him today.

Not only is that better for us, but He knows we are taken care of by the Spirit. Jesus told us He will not leave us as orphans; He knows the desire of our hearts. And He fulfilled that desire by leaving us with a connection to the Father even after He left – the Holy Spirit.

What if we went our whole lives without communing with the Holy Spirit? To put it bluntly – we would be fools. We would forsake the best gift Jesus gave when He left earth. Let’s not make this mistake. Let’s intentionally pursue a relationship with the Holy Spirit because we believe in who Jesus says He is, and to not take advantage of that gift would be foolish at best.

Practice: Continue praying in the Spirit. Pray through your breath prayers daily. Expect responses from Him because you trust who Jesus says the Spirit is for us. Thank God that He did not leave us as orphans.

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