Updated: 9 January 2020
By Jairus R
I was busy packing away chairs from the night service café when two of my youth group boys wandered over to me.
“Hey Jai,” one of them said. I noticed they looked a bit sheepish.
“Hey guys,” I replied, curious to know what they were approaching me about. “Great service eh!”
“It was awesome!” they both exclaimed. It was about 2009 and we’d just finished the final night of a conference that had been running over the weekend. During the last service, many of my youth had been prayed for and had encountered the Holy Spirit in powerful ways. Some for the first time!
“Hey I was just wondering about youth group,” the boy continued. “I want to say that the games and the studies and stuff are really great! But I was just wondering if we could pray more. Like that guy prayed for us during the service tonight? Like more Holy Spirit stuff?”
Wow. Isn’t that every youth leader’s dream to hear something like that from a thirteen-year-old!
“Of course we can!” I replied enthusiastically. So, once a fortnight I enlisted the help of a friend of mine to lead prayer meetings with my youth. We had no real plan and no agenda. The whole night was simply about giving the Holy Spirit an opportunity to speak and do what he wanted. Some of those nights went for hours. And God did powerful things.
What may come as a surprise to you was that, for about two years before the end of that conference and the conversation with my youth boys, I had been asking God to reveal his love for me in a real and tangible way. I’d never had an experience of God’s love and I was getting increasingly frustrated with my Christian experience being mostly limited to intellectual beliefs and church services. And that very night I had my first real, unexplainable and irrefutable encounter with the love of God through the power of the Holy Spirit.
So when my youth boys asked me if we could pray more at youth group it’s true I agreed to it because I thought it would be of great benefit for them. But I was also just as excited and curious as they were to get to know the Holy Spirit more!
I remember thinking, “Wow, I don’t even know what God’s voice sounds like, how am I going to pray for these kids!?”
In this article.
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Why the title?
You may be asking “Why have you titled this blog ‘Spirit, Mission and Mud’?” I work for a mission organisation called the New Zealand Church Missionary Society (NZCMS) and when speaking to people about missions, so often the vibe I get from a lot of Christians is that they simply do not know where to start. Extending the Kingdom of God, spreading the Gospel, making disciples and bringing heaven to earth just seems like too big a calling.
Where do we begin?
So I wanted to give anyone struggling with the same question three “First steps” you can take to partnering with God’s mission.
The Spirit makes it all real.
Picture this: The Disciples have spent over three years with Jesus. All those teaching sessions. All those healing meetings. All those private discussions with “The Twelve”. Then Jesus dies and comes back to life and they have an extra forty days with him in which he gives them even deeper teaching and begins to explain to them the things they hadn’t “got” yet. But what fascinates me is that Jesus doesn’t say:
“Right, you’ve got all the teaching you need now, go out and preach the Gospel!”
No, in Acts 1 he tells them to be filled with the Holy Spirit!
Have you ever read about something and thought you knew what it was like, but then actually experienced it and realised how different and life-changing it is in reality?
For years, I’ve really enjoyed boxing - and this year I finally found the money and time to train and have an actual fight! On the night of the fight, I was fairly confident because I had done the training, I had sparred in the gym for countless rounds and I had a game plan. But let me tell you, when I got down to the actual fight, it was a whole other ball game! I knew the theory of boxing and I’d even practised my moves with other gym mates. But when you’re in an uncontrolled environment and experiencing the real thing, it changes your whole perspective!
This is why I believe Jesus was so adamant that, before going out to spread the Gospel, the disciples had to be filled with the Holy Spirit. And the same applies to us.
We need the theory to become real. We need to understand that God loves us, of course, but we also need to encounter that love for ourselves. We need to intellectually understand that God has power but we also need to see that power at work changing our lives! Why? Because experience changes your whole perspective.
I cannot believe how my whole focus for youth changed once God filled me with his Spirit on the last night of that conference. Beforehand, I remember spending hours focussing on creating fun games or writing relevant Bible studies for my youth. And those things are important. But once I encountered God’s love and power in me through the Holy Spirit, those things became pathways to lead others to God’s love instead of the priorities. When you’re filled with the Holy Spirit, everything becomes about introducing others to God and not about ticking off a checklist!
Missions = passion + purpose.
You would be right in saying that I seemed pretty unqualified to run a prayer group when I wasn’t actually very experienced in hearing God’s voice. But so often I believe the first step to partnering with the Holy Spirit and his mission is to be willing to use what you have and trust him to empower you.
In the third chapter of the book of Acts, we see Peter and John walking to the Temple and seeing a crippled man begging for money. What does Peter say?
“Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk!”
And the man was fully healed!
Is what Peter did risky? Outrageous? Bold? Of course it was! But Peter knew what he had! He had a relationship with - and the authority of - Jesus, who had healed countless people before. So Peter decided to step out and do something.
So what experience do you have? What passions or gifts have you been given? At NZCMS, people we talk to about mission often presume that you must give up your previous training or experiences in order to “Do missions”. But we have found that, instead, the Holy Spirit is in the business of linking your passions with his purposes. So use what you have been given.
The final thing I’ve learned about how to partner with God’s mission is focussed around failure. It would be nice, wouldn’t it, to know with absolute certainty if what you choose to do will work. But the reality is, eventually, we will make mistakes. But how beautiful is it that the Holy Spirit wishes to work with us in partnership, through all our experiences?
One of the titles Jesus gives the Holy Spirit his “Comforter”. If God didn’t expect us to mess things up every now then, there probably wouldn’t be any need for him to comfort us would there! But he is obviously aware he will need to every now and then.
I’ve learned that when I put my fear of “failure” above trusting God’s character as gentle and encouraging, the odds of me seeing his power transform my life and those around me fall dramatically. Why? Because faith isn’t having some sort of emotional boldness or courage. It’s about simply making a choice to trust in the person of the Holy Spirit to be there when we fall, brush us off and tell us, “Give it another go”.
So don’t be afraid of falling in the mud! Don’t worry about the bruises you get. Keep pursuing this wonderful partnership God makes available to us.
I don’t know about you, but I’d rather get to the end of my life with some scars and looking a bit dirty but with a hundred incredible stories to tell of how God used me, than appearing before my heavenly Father clean and unblemished but with no evidence of how I used my life to show his glory to others.
I want my life to be full of the Holy Spirit, mission and mud. Will you join me?