Missing the Spirit in the Crises Around Us
by Kris Coffin Stevenson | 02 August 2020 |
When I was four or five, my mother did what mothers do, and posed my sister and me for a photo in matching outfits looking out our picture window. The photographer directed us to “Look at that beautiful tree.” Always one to insist on clarity, I looked through the woods for the “beautiful tree.” When the photograph was developed, my sister was looking up peacefully, but my eyes are cranked to the side looking for that tree. Everyone thought the picture was cute, but I was always embarrassed because I was looking the wrong way.
The night he was arrested Jesus took his disciples to a garden to pray and prepare for the horrific torture and death he was about to experience. Twice he left his agonizing conversation with God to get comfort and human compassion from his three closest friends, only to find them deep in sleep. “Watch and pray,” he advised them. Unfortunately, they did neither and were startled out of enchanted drooling slumber by the sound of the mob. Bleary-eyed, they stumbled to their feet unprepared to face this pivotal moment in earth’s history.
I wonder, given the crises of the last few months, how God is moving in our world today and whether we are missing what he is doing because we’re asleep or aren’t looking the right direction.
COVID-19, BLM and the Justice Movement
Things got very quiet when the COVID “safe at home” orders went out. Our entire culture of busyness was upended. Suddenly, conventions, high school reunions, sports events, concerts, vacations, and weddings are canceled. Huge swaths of the calendar formerly filled with appointments are now blank, tiny shreds of eraser dust clinging to their empty squares. Because of the lack of activities, everyone has a chance to reflect on what is important.
During this time, if you are looking the right way, you might spot the helpers and healers as they slip in and out without much fanfare. Not just the first responders and healthcare workers, there are givers of all ages, nations, and races who have come out to help. In my neighborhood, people are falling all over each other to deliver food to the seniors. Food pantries have sprung up in people’s carports. Signs of encouragement praising healthcare workers have bloomed on fences. Local Facebook groups have recruited volunteers to run errands for those who are immunocompromised and have tapped people with sewing experience to make masks and to share resources such as elastic. Money is pressed into my husband’s hands as pastor for “those who need help.” People honk and holler at 8 pm in support of healthcare workers. Big box stores have instituted “seniors only” hours. Our new mantra is “We will get through this together.”
If you’re lookin’ for hope tonight, raise your hand
If you feelin’ alone and don’t understand
If you’re fightin’ in the fight of your life, then stand
We’re gonna make it through this hand-in-hand…
This anthem was released in the midst of COVID by the Christian music group For King and Country, who recorded it with singers Tori Kelly and Kirk Franklin. It captures the biblical mandate for this crisis moment.
After COVID took hold, the events of injustice that reenergized the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement brought an action point for those who had had time to ponder. The protests give people a purpose, an opportunity to encourage justice for a group of people who have been systematically treated unfairly. This movement for justice is not just confined to the U.S. and our issues of color. All around the globe, people have joined the movement protesting in support of other oppressed groups. The startling events that include George Floyd’s death in Minnesota illuminate injustice in every corner of our world.
And if we fall, we will fall together…
The protests highlight a message of equality and justice. The power of this message is being driven by a lot of people who don’t necessarily buy in to religious systems. But their motivation and actions resonate with what Jesus described as the second of the two greatest commandments–love your neighbor as yourself. They are personifying the words “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8).
I got you my brother. I see you my sister…
Set aside the political parties, the violence and the looting, and the issues swirling around about whether to wear masks and accept or deny science and think about the amazing flashes of connection in the last few months. Many individuals are living out the kingdom of heaven now. They are motivated by the greatest love force in the universe—the Holy Spirit.
- Who gives the desire to share that is practiced by people of all ages, classes, ethnicities, religious persuasions and non-persuasions?
- Who is it that provides the courage to be selfless in the face of fear?
- Who is it that brings people to understand that it is not right to mistreat others because of any man-made division?
The Spirit is discernible, but not identifiable, invisible, yet divisible throughout the land. Just a soft touch on a shoulder, a nudge of the conscience, a waft of attitude adjustment, a sharing of resources. The Spirit is behind the idea that all men and women should live with dignity and equality. It does not check denominational membership lists. It doesn’t discriminate against nationalities or religious expressions. It’s available to all.
At Pentecost the Holy Spirit showed up with great power. This time Jesus’ followers were ready. Acts 1 and 2 illuminates the preparations these God-followers undertook:
- They were obedient. Jesus told them to go to Jerusalem and wait for the Holy Spirit.
- They were praying.
- They were together, physically and spiritually.
- They were persistent. They met together for 10 days.
- They weren’t exclusive. The Bible specifically mentions that there were women present, and we know that, although all the 120 were Jews, they were from different social classes and different regions.
When the moment of Spirit power came, these followers of Christ weren’t shocked or overwhelmed. They were awake and looking for the gift Jesus had promised them. Their obedience and preparation meant they were on fire and available for the crises before them.
“I Spy,” Looking for Jesus
In today’s chaotic climate, there’re plenty of bad things happening to distract us from these God-character-revealing moments. But I see many people acting according to the principles of God’s heart, and I wonder why we, who are part of the religious system, snub these glowing gems of Spirit-inspired actions. Do we truly believe that God can’t or won’t reveal himself within our cultural crises?
When Jesus was riding the colt into Jerusalem a week before his death, the Pharisees told him to stop his followers from praising God. Jesus responded to these kill-joys with the puzzling comment that the stones along the road would burst into cheers if the people were silenced. We know from 1 Peter 2 that the metaphor of stones is used for Jesus as the Cornerstone and for us, as living stones, who make up his house of worship. Following that metaphorical line of thought, “dead” stones could be thought of as people who are not officially part of God’s followers. In the Bible, pagans, Gentiles and foreigners are often found doing God’s work—think Nebuchadnezzar, Cyrus, Balaam (and his donkey), the Roman centurion, Rahab, and the Syro-Phoenician woman.
Many times when Jesus was awed by someone’s faith, the disciples were looking the wrong direction. They tried to shoo the little children away and shield Jesus from lepers. When the 12 saw a stranger doing miracles in Jesus’ name, they were offended and horrified. “Whoever is not against us is for us,” responded Jesus (Mark 9:38-40).
And when we rise, we will rise together…
This Ellen White quote has festered in my mind for years. “Unless we are daily advancing in the exemplification of the active Christian virtues, we shall not recognize the manifestations of the Holy Spirit in the latter rain. It may be falling on hearts all around us, but we shall not discern or receive it” (RH March 2, 1897, para 4).
“Love God with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself.”
This is the main thing.
So set aside the red or blue, Democrat or Republican, science or not and look to see what God is doing and where he’s doing it. Do you hear his still small voice within the tumult? Do you see his fingerprints pressing on all flesh? Are you letting his Spirit sweep through your heart? Are you reaching out your hands to your neighbors on either side?
Whatever God is asking us to do, he’s asking us to do it together.
Together we are bolder, braver, stronger.
God is on the move today. Keep your eyes focused on him and who he is using to do his work.
I don’t want to be like the disciples and ridicule what I don’t understand.
I don’t want to hide in my religious tradition and be blind to God’s movements.
I don’t want to avert my gaze from the Spirit’s power.
I don’t want to be caught with my eyes cranked in the wrong direction.
Kris Coffin Stevenson is an author, teacher, editor, and scopist. She loves living her eternal life starting now. She and her husband reside in Santa Clarita, California. You can follow her writing at bthelove.net or bthelove on Facebook.