The Sensitivity of the Spirit

This is the title of a book by R. T. Kendall, including, “Learning to Stay in the Flow of God’s Direction.”  The Holy Spirit is my fascination, He captivates and seldom leaves my consideration, perspective, and longing.  I believe the Holy Spirit is active in the congregation of Believers on earth ever since Yeshua ascended to the Father.  It’s not that Yeshua and the Father are not present, but Yeshua said, “…very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away.  Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.  When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment…”. (John 16: 7-9).  The indwelling Spirit, is the fulfillment of prophecy regarding the product of Messiah’s work on the cross.  He brings about a heart of flesh instead of stone, where God’s Word is written.  So, the Believer’s life is through the Spirit because the Spirit and is the testimony of Yeshua.  “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.  And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3: 17-18).

In his book Dr. Kendall uses the episode where Yeshua, as a boy, stayed in the Temple while his parents returned home, thinking he was among their group of relatives, as an illustration of our association with the Spirit’s presence.  He returns to this episode all through the book as he describes and measures the sensitivity we must use regarding the Holy Spirit. For example, he describes Mary and Joseph’s departure ahead of Yeshua, as when we get ahead of the Spirit’s leading. The crux of that event in Yeshua’s life was to reveal His devotion and longing to be in God’s presence, (which was in the temple), yet also in submission to His parents authority.  Although it is a valid point that we are to be in step with the Spirit, I found that continual references to this episode strain it too far and left me with the impression that the Holy Spirit is a flitting bird fearful of human contact and tentative in His relationship to us.  Most of the book is an explanation of why we fail to maintain the proper conditions, attitude, thoughts and holiness to warrant the Spirit’s intimate presence.

I don’t argue that my weakness, failings, shortcomings, selfishness, in a word sin, is repulsive to the Holy Spirit, but scripture calls the Spirit our comforter and counselor, a gift and guarantee of our salvation.  I do not believe the supposition of this book; our infrequent recognition of the Spirit’s presence is explained by our consistent shortcomings, ignorance, and unworthiness.  Even if this was not the intended inference, it is the message I hear.  I did read of various accounts of the Spirit’s consolation, overflowing joy and worship, but it rings hollow without conviction or recognition of Spiritual power.  I was expecting a story about the Spirit in relationship, but what I found was twenty ways to avoid offending the Spirit.

Toward the end, he introduces a comparison of doves and pigeons, to contrast the Spirit with a fake imitation contrived by men.  The most irritating device of any writer is mollification.  For example, he states that it is not good to criticize other people’s faith, but then he sets out to do just that.  He uses a common illustration intended to portray spiritual fraud.  He heard of a Charismatic preacher who was coming to town and went to the altar to receive the gifts of tongues, he prayed, “God if this is from you let it come; if not, stop it.”  The preacher prayed for him to receive the gift of tongues, but nothing happened.  The man told him to make a joyful noise to the Lord.  He sat there and replied, “I don’t understand.”  The man told him to speak something… make a sound.  He refused and concluded the preacher and the gift of tongues are a fake manipulation of men.  This is a very small point in this book, but it illustrates a larger issue that seems to pervade, which is, how are we to interact with the Holy Spirit.

The Spirit does not take over people’s mouths, so they become talking robots.  To speak in tongues one must open their mouth and make sounds.  Whether anyone has faith is always a difficult, perhaps impossible, question to discern, but his prayer was not to receive the gift of tongues as described in scripture.  His prayer, “if this thing is from you, let it come, if not, stop it,” expresses a double mind, not a singular request of God’s good gift. (James 1: 6-8).  His response after the prayer was, “I don’t understand.”  In scripture there is very little, if any, about the Holy Spirit that requires rational understanding.  In fact, the expectation of understanding and mental ascent is normally counter and detrimental to the release and work of the Spirit.  Consider Nicodemus who came to Yeshua at night trying to understand being “born again” with his rational thinking.  Yeshua replied, “The wind blows wherever it pleases.  You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going.  So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” (John 3: 8).  To speak in tongues one must hear and speak, not necessarily understand the heavenly or unknown language.  This of course is offensive to the rational mind that demands to first understand.  After telling this story, he says he knows people with the true gift of tongues and that he probably was not ready, at that time.  I can only assume he is trying to please everyone, nevertheless, the gift of tongues is discussed in considerable detail in scripture.  As Dr. Kendall points out many of the Spirit’s works are imitated by the enemy.

Perhaps the best book I have read on the subject of the Spirit life is, “The Practice of the Presence of God”, by Brother Lawrence, which merely consist of his private letters to a younger friend.  Brother Lawrence was an undistinguished monk who worked in the kitchen at a monastery in the 17th century, but he articulated a first-hand knowledge of the Holy Spirit’s presence along with encouragements, evidence, and wisdom from the Spirit’s presence.  It is the antithesis of this book, but it may be unfair to compare someone so humble with any of todays authors who are so prominently qualified and distinguished.  It reminds me of some teachers who teach it, but can not practice what they teach.  This is not a criticism of all teachers, but there is a noticeable difference between someone with experience and someone who only has knowledge or is simply conveying knowledge rather, than first-hand experience.  I have read several of Dr. Kendall’s books and liked most of them.  I’m certain that he is a fine fellow, honest Christian and well spoken gentleman.  If you like a good sermon, interesting comparisons, teaching on what is not conducive to best spiritual practices, with a minimum of substantive teaching about the Holy Spirit, you may like this book.

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