Still Summer: A Rant

It’s generally at about this point in the year that I start to lose heart.

I’ve gone on in several previous posts about how freakishly hot Texan summers are compared to the benign warmth of my British native land. I’ve compared the temperature to blast furnaces and ovens. I’ve wondered whether Texan solar photons actually have physical mass. I regularly joke about it being “quite cool – only as hot as hell today”.

But the really mind-sapping thing about Texas summers is that they go on and on. And on. And on.

Texans joke that their state has four seasons: Almost Summer, Summer, Still Summer and Christmas.

It’s funny, but it’s also true in the most disconsolate kind of way.

By late August, I’m ready for it to start cooling down again. Late August/early September in the UK has as much chance of being “need a jacket” weather as it has of being weather you could comfortably wear a T-shirt in.

In Texas, apart from these improbable thunderheads they get, the only clouds you see between mid-May and early October are ones that got lost on their way to somewhere with real seasons. Late August still has nearly as high a probability of 100+°Fahrenheit (approaching 40°C) as it does of weather in the merely ghastly hot range of the low- to mid-90s.

Texas has “weather you can comfortably wear a T-shirt in” for about 2 weeks somewhere in April and another week and a half towards the end of October or beginning of November. Between those times, there is nothing you can comfortably wear unless it has built-in air conditioning. And in the short, sharp winter, it’s almost as miserably cold as it gets miserably hot in summer.

Still, you can dress for the cold. You can’t undress for the heat without getting arrested.

As someone whose job requires them to work outside, it’s all very disheartening.

And yet, this is what I get paid for.

You have to admire the Comanches and the Caddo and the Kiowa and all the other Native American nations that called this part of the world long before A/C was even a whispered possibility in some white man’s fever dream. To survive all that the Texan climate can throw at them with no refuge beyond the occasional shade tree – that’s impressive. Evidently they are hardy and enduring people.

Not so much this poor Brit. I’m ready for summer to be over, and instead we have at least two and a half months’ worth of Still Summer yet to come.

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The Pillar of Cloud

It’s amazing how moving to a place with a completely different climate can change your perspective on the Scriptures.

It took moving to Texas, for example, to really understand why Joseph and his brothers would move to Egypt to escape a regional drought. I’ve been to Egypt, and most of it’s not what I’d exactly call well-watered. You’ve got a narrow strip of habitable land sandwiched between the Nubian Desert and the Sahara. Surely, if anywhere was marginal for crop-growing before the drought set in, Egypt was it.

Except that Egypt has the Nile, and its agriculture is river-fed. A river the size of the Nile doesn’t really care that the regions downstream aren’t getting any rain; as long as the Kenyan heights in which it rises are getting rained on, it’ll keep flowing.

Anyone who has grown up in an arid land like Texas’ semidesert is probably saying something like “well, of course”, but you have to understand that I’m from England. The idea that it might not rain is about as probable as the idea that the tide might not come in. Whereas Texan weather forecasts give you the cloud cover as a percentage, Britain is more likely to give you a percentage chance of seeing the sun. All the agriculture I’ve known about has been rain-fed, not river-fed. It gives you a bit of a mistaken idea about what’s going on.

In a similar vein, the Pillar of Cloud.

In Britain, where clouds are the norm, you just sort of gloss over the pillar of cloud by which God led the Israelites in the desert. It’s nice; God is in it and all that, but the pillar of fire is much more impressive.

Having lived for some time now in a country whose skies’ natural state is unbroken blue and clouds are something of an unusual event, the pillar of cloud takes on a new significance.

In the naturally-overcast Britain of my formative years, it’s the breaks in the clouds that make the weather nice. You get to see the sun. Everything becomes much friendlier.

In Texas, where the sun is more of an enemy than a friend (particularly if you’re as fair-skinned as I am), clouds mean relief. A cloud passes in front of the sun and instantly the perceived temperature drops by several degrees.

Particularly the kind of towering, pillar-like clouds that in Texas mean a really big thunderstorm.

Again, you need to come to somewhere like Texas to really understand what manner of storm this is. North Sea storms are fairly nasty, but the sheer, concentrated viciousness of a good thunderstorm is difficult to match. I think a North Sea storm may cover a wider area, but a thunderstorm from the continental climate pattern of middle America seems wilder, and more concentrated somehow. Some of these things produce hailstones the size of grapefruit that break roofs and kill people. The temperature drops a good 20 degrees Fahrenheit in the space of about as many minutes. Even the raindrops seem a good four sizes bigger than they’d have any right to be in Britain.

Was the pillar of cloud a thunderhead? I don’t know, but the wind patterns that sustain that sort of cloud formation would probably produce some of the same effects. The same cooling, for example, even if the Divine pillar of cloud never produced rain or hail.

In a desert, that’s pretty significant. Even in a not-quite desert like Texas, that’s impressive. God provided His people with a cool and shady spot in the middle of the desert of Sinai. It’s taken Texan summers to make me impressed about it, but finally, I stand back in true awe.

A pillar of cloud really is impressive, after all.

Down to Earth

Of all of the various “Life of Christ” films that have been made over the years, I think one of my favourites has to be The Miracle Maker. If you’re unfamiliar with it, it’s an older film, an animated production that’s mostly claymation with some traditional cartoon-style animation, designed (I guess) mostly for kids.

So how does an evident kids’ film rate so highly on my personal ranking of “Lives of Christ”?

One of the unique and refreshing things about the film is its portrayal of the interactions between Jesus and the disciples (and others). It’s not all tingly music and light-of-glory, it’s a bunch of guys hanging out. Jesus isn’t some kind of demigod or unearthly figure; He laughs, He shares a joke, He gets hungry and tired. I’ve never seen anything quite like it in any other film about Jesus, and it really earths the character of Christ in a way nothing else seems to even attempt.

As an example, there’s a scene that takes place at the home of Martha, Mary and Lazarus shortly after Jesus’ baptism. Jesus has evidently been telling His friends about His ministry just beginning. Lazarus says something like “It’s a big change, Jesus. I mean, last time You were here You were just fixing the door!”

Jesus’ response is perfect: “And it still works, doesn’t it?” And it suddenly becomes fully real, that oh yeah, Jesus had a “real” job for at least twelve years (assuming He started His carpentry at age 18), working with His hands to do something as mundane as fixing doors and making tables.

Just like one of us.

Or again, when He’s calling the Twelve. He walks through the crowd of His disciples, choosing those who will become the Apostles, renaming some to alternating wonder and hilarity. Peter’s new name (“I’m going to build on this rock”) provokes a kind of awe, like Thomas’ calling (“You really want… me?”), while the nickname He gives to James and John – the Sons of Thunder – provokes a general laughing agreement: “Aye, that’s them alright!”.

And it suddenly becomes fully real that Jesus was with these guys all the time for three years of travel and togetherness. Undoubtedly it wasn’t all seriousness and solemnity; there would have been lighter moments, sitting round the campfire laughing at one of the Twelve’s silly stories (because there is always one like that in any group of people).

And The Miracle Maker manages to achieve all of this without ever crossing the line into irreverence. It’s the film version of the life of Christ which really seems to “get” more than any other the idea that Jesus is Immanuel.

Part of the way it achieves this is it’s smaller scale. Many “Life of Christ” films take place on a much bigger canvas. Jerusalem of the First Century is reimagined on the scale of a modern city, even if not a megacity like New York or Tokyo. The Miracle Maker sets most of the story in its proper Galilean context, and it happens on the scale of a village, not a city. Everyone knows, or knows of, everyone else. Mary Magdalene prior to Jesus’ casting out of her demons appears in the background every so often as “crazy Mary”. Jairus and Cleopas rub shoulders as colleagues and friends. Matthew is introduced as Peter and Andrew’s local tax collector.

The deliberately small scale of the film’s clay canvas brings Jesus, appropriately, down to earth. The Son of God becomes a being of clay, in this case literal clay; though in actuality as well in His taking on of Adam’s flesh.

And yet it’s reverently done. The respect with which the Son of God is treated may be earthy and humble, the more lowly honour a man pays his friend rather than the high homage and obesiance due a king, but it is no less real for all that.

It’s an expression of an important truth. Jesus, our Immanuel. As the book of Hebrews puts it, “We do not have a High Priest who is unable to sympathise with our weakness, but one who has been tempted in every way just as we are, yet was without sin.”

And if Jesus really was one of us, then righteousness really is possible. Jesus walked the road we walk, faced the struggles we face, the temptations to bend the truth, justify ourselves, get proud or boastful, get greedy or lustful. He did it as a real live human, a being of clay, yet didn’t sin once.

And it’s His Spirit that lives in each one of us, if we are trusting and following Him. Righteousness isn’t just required; it’s possible.

Not that living a righteous life is what saves us and brings us into right relationship with God, but that righteousness is a consequence of being saved. I do righteousness because I am a follower of Christ, not in order to be one.

But if I am a follower of Christ, God requires that I act like one. And while it may not be possible in my own strength and power, we have the Spirit of Jesus living within.

He did it, therefore so can we. The truth of Immanuel is God coming among us in a body of clay like ours, to show us what the Father is like in terms we can see and feel and touch.

There’s a relatively new hymn that expresses it well:

King of Heaven now the Friend of sinners

Humble servant in the Father’s hand

Filled with power and the Holy Spirit

Filled with mercy for the broken man

Yes, He walked my road and He felt my pain

Joys and sorrows that I know so well

Yet His righteous steps give me hope again

I will follow my Immanuel.

The Cords of Orion

My favourite constellation, Orion, is rising again in the early morning before sunrise. To reference A Game of Thrones, Winter is Coming.

The constellation Orion. Source: http://www.univers-astronomie.fr

The Hunter won’t be visible in the evening sky for several months yet, but to see him in the early morning brings me hope that, even though it’s currently pushing 100° Fahrenheit (a horrendous 37.8°C), cooler temperatures will be on their way with the slow turn of the seasons.

Orion is one of the constellations that most looks like what it’s supposed to be, and has been seen as a human figure by just about every culture that’s ever been concerned with the night sky. The Arabs know him as al-Jabbar, the Giant. To Indian astronomers he was Prajapati, a king of legend. And to the Greeks and Romans, whose astronomical names have come down to us, he was Orion, the Hunter.

Orion is one of only a half handful of constellations to be directly mentioned in the Bible. Given the prevalence of pagan astrology in the ancient world, it seems God didn’t want too much focus devoted to mere created heavenly bodies.

We can, if we’re careful, though, learn a few things from the constellations without stepping across the line into ascribing them influence or power of their own.

Orion appears in God’s speech to Job, in which He points out the limits of human power and understanding. “Can you bind the beautiful Pleiades or loose the cords of Orion?”, God asks Job (Job 38:31). Obviously not. No human, not even all humans working together, could tie a string around the star cluster we call the Seven Sisters, nor can we unfasten Orion’s belt.

The mythological story of Orion backs up this lesson. Orion was a mighty hunter, perhaps a Greek version of the Biblical Nimrod, famed for his ability to track down and kill the beasts of the earth. Pheasant, duck, deer, wild ass, wolf, leopard, lion – to Orion it was all one. He could hunt them all.

According to the legend he became boastful of his hunting prowess, arrogantly declaring that there was no creature that he could not subdue and kill.

The Greek gods were a vengeful lot, and if there was one thing that was guaranteed to trigger their smite reflex, it was mortals getting uppity like this. To teach him a lesson (and presumably pour encorager les autres), the goddess Hera sent a tiny scorpion with deadly venom in its stinger to attack the mighty hunter and bring him down.

The Greek gods being slightly incompetent as well as vengeful, Orion saw the scorpion and crushed it under his foot. But as it died, it stung him, injecting its venom and killing the great hunter.

After the pair were dead, the gods placed both of them in the sky at opposite ends of the heavens: the constellations of Orion and Scorpio. As Orion rises, Scorpio sets, and vice versa, so that the two legendary adversaries never share the sky with one another.

The first lesson from the constellation Orion, then, is that human power and understanding have limits. We may think we’re pretty special, a mighty hunter able to subdue and overcome any problem, but we can no more compete with God than we can untie Orion’s belt or cause the constellations to rise and set.

Orion is depicted in the sky with upraised shield and club, ready to strike at the charging bull of the constellation Taurus with its eye Aldebaran blazing redly. His club puts me in mind of Benaiah, the mighty man of King David’s army who, armed with only a club, struck down a huge Egyptian with a spear.

This is a feat that we kind of gloss over, as unused to the realities of ancient combat as we are. A club is a weapon you have to get up close and personal with. A spear gives you a standoff distance even if it’s only a relatively short thrusting spear about six feet or so in length. Benaiah had to get past this spear, wielded by an Egyptian that the Bible, which is known for understatement, describes as “huge”, and strike him hard enough with effectively a big stick to kill the man outright.

This is the same guy that went down into a pit on a snowy day and killed a lion. Apparently just because he could. The lion was in a pit; it wasn’t going to be a danger unless you went down there. And in the damp, cold and slippery ground of a snowy day, Benaiah goes down there and kills it. Maybe there was something down there he wanted.

His beast-killing is another facet that makes him rather Orion-like, but one of the main lessons I like to draw from Benaiah’s story is the attitude of God to our sin.

It’s not enough to imprison it. The lion may be down in a pit, but it still needs killing.

Taurus isn’t mentioned in the Bible (though the Pleiades are within the boundary of the modern constellation), but as a bull, it has obvious Biblical symbolism. The bull was a sacrificial animal; it was the blood and ashes of bulls that were sprinkled on the Levitical priests to consecrate them for God’s service.

The bull Taurus is no tame domestic animal, though. It’s a great wild ox, the ancient aurochs of history which was bigger and fiercer than even the bulls of the modern corrida or the half-domestic cattle of the third millennium before Christ. The wild ox, whose strength was comparable to the terrible Leviathan and who represented irresistible power and fierceness.

Orion is this bull’s enemy, frozen eternally in combat with the dreadful Taurus. And God implies that He is the One who looses his cords. We might symbolically cast Taurus as the fallen old nature, bestial and apparently irresistible, and Orion as the new man in Christ. God is the One who releases the inner Orion to strike down the old nature and kill it.

And the way this is accomplished is through the sacrificial side of the bull. Like the sacrifice of bulls under the Mosaic Covenant accomplished the covering of sins and achieved forgiveness from the LORD, so the final sacrifice of Christ, to which all those ancient bulls looked forward, accomplished through His blood the ultimate forgiveness of sins and cleansing from both the guilt and the power of sin.

Reading Christian typology onto the pagan myths of our constellations is a chancy business, but apparently that’s what we’re doing. After all, the Greeks did not invent most of the Northern Hemisphere constellations, even though it’s their names and myths we use. The Babylonians and Sumerians and Egyptians knew Orion as a warrior or hunter and Taurus as a bull, and based on the similarity of the names we do have for constellations in the Bible, the ancient Hebrews saw the same pictures in the sky.

We don’t have to follow the Babylonian example and bow in worship of the heavens, nor should we ascribe influence of their own to the patterns in the stars. They’re just created things.

But they’re placed in the patterns they are in by the hand of God, and it seems reasonable to carefully re-imagine the constellations in part or in full as a viable symbol system to convey Biblical truth.

The final lesson I want to draw from the constellation Orion is the one that brings me back around to where I started.

The rising of Orion in the early mornings fills me with hope that despite the horrible Texas summer heat, that relief is coming. This is a very Biblical hope; a sure confidence and trust rather than a vague wishful thinking. It’s this that the Bible talks about when it talks about the hope we have in Christ. We have an assurance that despite the circumstances, despite whatever the weather of our lves can throw at us, that the Day is coming. As surely as the progression of the seasons (which was guaranteed by God to Noah for as long as the earth endures) that our deliverance is at hand. The final day of salvation when God will at last put an end to sin once and for all. It may be a hundred degrees here in Texas, but Winter is Coming. It may be as hot as an oven in the furnace of our circumstances, but we have a hope that is steadfast.

The Tyranny of Cool

I’ve been thinking of late about the whole “seeker-driven” paradigm of church.

The idea seems to appear in various guises, from the entirely seeker-driven model in which the whole way of doing church is structured around supposed appeal to non-believers down to the notion that we must have “cutting edge” worship music if we’re going to attract new people.

Frankly, I’m in two minds about the whole thing.

On the one hand, the idea of cultural relevance is not without merit. I’ve experienced enough other cultures to recognise that the way we do church here in the West isn’t necessarily the only one, nor the right one, nor even necessarily a good one among people whose basic assumptions and cultural patterns are different.

St. Paul understood this. His testimony that “to those under the Law I became like one under the Law (though I myself am not under Law but am under grace)…” lays out a pattern of taking on the language and ways of your hearers without compromising your core identity, which is in Christ.

Jesus did much the same thing in His incarnation. Without compromising His Deity in any way, He took on human nature and became one of us.

Can the same principle be applied to postmodern Western culture? Undoubtedly. Even culture changes with the passage of time (witness the fact that, among other things, astrology is no longer considered a science), and the church that becomes too wedded to the spirit of one age may find itself divorced from the next.

More directly put, if we as the Church are trying to answer questions that no-one is asking, or filling cultural needs that don’t really exist any more, then people will look for something that does meet those felt cultural needs.

On the other hand, I have to wonder about the whole idea of the seeker-driven model of church.

It seems to suffer from a difference of opinion about what our meeting together is for. The seeker-driven model seems to me to make the purpose of our meeting together primarily evangelistic. Church gatherings are structured to please those who are being brought in: concert-level performances by worship bands who differ only in content from any chart-topper, brief evangelistic talks rather than long, in-depth Biblical sermons, arena-style seating and an ambience only one remove from a rock concert.

I wonder when (actually “whether”) these new people get discipled. When do they read and study the Bible and learn to apply it? When do they learn he fine art of prayer?

In my reading of Scripture, the disciples met together for mutual encouragement in Bible study, worship, prayer and the breaking of bread, then went out to evangelise. Church gatherings were for the believers; in the days of persecution in might not have been wise to invite anyone you weren’t sure of, lest they blow the whistle to the authorities and get a lot of people arrested and killed. Not that the early church were secretive about their faith, but as I read the Acts and the New Testament letters, I’m much more inclined to the view that their gatherings were for encouragement, not evangelism.

The seeker-driven model stands this on its head. I suupose in some ways it’s a product of our discomfort with the idea of personal evangelism. “I don’t know what to say to tell someone about Jesus; why don’t I just invite them to church?” In some circles we seem to have substituted an invitation to church for the invitation to Christ.

Every few years another evangelism book floats to the surface, with its own new cheesy terminology to replace the dreaded E-word. When I was at university it was “becoming a contagious Christian”, which was just as dire as it sounds. After all, we isolate people who are contagious, don’t we?

As one who grew up in the faith, it took me decades to make my peace with the idea of evangelism, and some day I may write my own evangelism book: the first one written by a non-evangelist. It’ll be a very short book, though, because evangelism is actually very simple. There are three steps:

  1. Spend time with God listening to Him.

  2. Do whatever He tells you.

  3. Repeat step 1.

Of course, characterising this as “very simple” puts me in mind of von Clausewitz’ famous dictum: “In war, everything is very simple, yet even the simplest things are very difficult.”

The seeker-driven service seems to place the onus of evangelism upon the pastor, not the congregation. I may be missing something here, but last time I looked, the Great Commission was commanded of us all.

The other problem I have with the whole “seeker-friendly” idea (and this applies more to its less extreme incarnations) is that it tends to turn our attention as a church onto what’s trendy rather than what’s true.

As St. Paul demonstrates, the two are not mutually exclusive, but I do wonder sometimes whether our quest for “relevance” and “cutting edge contemporary” isn’t just putting us under a kind of “tyranny of cool”.

“We can’t use PowerPoint slides; that’s so five minutes ago!”

“This new worship song may be a pile of manure, theologically speaking, but if we don’t use it we won’t be contemporary!

Church isn’t about following the latest trends. It never has been, except when it’s going bad. No-one in the days of Nero followed Jesus because it was popular or trendy, though the use of contemporary buzzwords like “salvation” and “fullness” by the early church shows that they were indeed speaking the language of the times.

People don’t follow Jesus because of our excellent cutting-edge music. Lots of people in the West are becoming Muslims or Buddhists, and Islam bans the use of music in its worship while Buddhism doesn’t even acknowledge the existence of God and doesn’t have “worship”. Obviously, the cool music is what attracted them, right?

Yeah, I thought so.

Cool is a moving target. Pursuing cool, as a church, opens us for a never-ending chase of something ephemeral and this-worldly.

We’ve got real substance to offer people. Community that means it, when we’ll get over lying to each other about how we’re doing or trying to look like “proper victorious Christians” all the time. The actual, one-and-only source of Life. A mission with real teeth and real impact. There are battles to fight and great deeds to be done.

By all means be contemporary if that is where God is leading you as a church. But don’t seek contemporarity as a means to growth. Being contemporary is just what you look like. If you don’t have the earnest desire to do the will of God behind it, it will fail.

To paraphrase Proverbs: “Cool is deceptive and relevance is fleeting, but a church that fears the LORD will endure.”

Collision with Immanence

It occurs to me that an awful lot of my recent posts are focused on God’s transcendence. His awesome power and supreme majesty. His greatness and might. His sovereignty.

It’s all completely true; God is sovereign and majestic and great and all-powerful. But it’s only half the story.

The God of the Bible is immanent as well as transcendent. He’s close to us as well as beyond us. It seems to me to be past time I wrote something focusing on that side of the Divine being.

To focus exclusively on God’s immanence is to bring Him down to our level. God is one of us. We take the Biblical idea that Jesus was a man just like us and run with it to almost get the idea that God is therefore just like us in all ways. Someone we can “fall in love” with. Someone we can safely disobey. Someone with faults and foibles and incomplete knowledge.

But to focus exclusively on His transcendence is to fall into the opposite error. God is so great and majestic that He is completely unlike us; He’s like an unstoppable force of nature, concerned with His will being done rather than with our troubles and struggles. Or even if He’s concerned, it’s in the distant way we might be concerned about a mouse or a bug.

When we say that God is Sovereign and all-powerful, this is not what we mean.

Transcendence has to be balanced by immanence if we are to have a truly Biblical view of the Almighty. He’s the One who spoke stars and galaxies into being, who tells gravity which way Down is and who really does know the precise mass and position of every subatomic particle. But He’s also the One who walks with Noah, who lets Himself be talked down by Abraham, who calls Himself “Father”.

I often think we go overboard on the whole “closeness/intimacy” thing, but this, too, is a Biblical truth.

Jesus is Immanuel, God With Us. And even before His coming, the psalmist said that God was “near to all who call on Him”.

I don’t know of another religion that has this idea. Buddhism treats the whole idea of Deity as irrelevant. Hinduism has its transcendent Brahman, so completely Other that even the attribution of personality is considered an anthropomorphism. In Islam God is great, first and foremost. I’ve lived and worked in Muslim countries, and in my experience the idea that God can be close is firstly nonsensical and secondly frightening.

But God reveals Himself as close to us. Sovereign of the universe, and yet He calls Abraham, a mere human, His friend.

His immanence is naturally associated with His love and compassion. Indeed, if He weren’t loving and compassionate, the idea of the All-Powerful and All-Holy drawing near would truly be a thing of terror.

The essence of this revelation of immanence is God’s self-revelation as Father.

Some of us haven’t had a human father that we’ve known. For others of us, the idea of father is wreathed in pain. We didn’t have good relationships with our dads, and the idea of God as Father is tainted by that human expectation that He will be like our earthly male parents.

But like any archetype, the idea of fatherhood is defined by its ideal, not its failures. The idea is one of a protective and caring closeness, a sense of family and identity, a concern and involvement combined with strength. It’s difficult to put into words, but we recognise a good dad when we see one.

God’s Fatherhood is a little like that. Or more accurately, that sort of fatherhood is a little like God’s.

He’s near as well as great and mighty. Father as well as Sovereign.

I think perhaps that I would do well to remember this.

Powerless

The construction GPS unit I use for my job is being temperamental at the moment.

It’s not really anyone’s fault. The way the thing works is that in addition to the satellite receiver in a conventional GPS device like a satnav or something, it has a base station set up on a known point to transmit those coordinates. When it’s working, this allows a positional accuracy of about half an inch horizontally and almost an inch vertically, which is plenty close enough for the excavation we do.

My problem comes because the base station I’m using on this job is quite a long way away. Too far for the little antenna on my GPS unit to get a reliable signal.

Until yesterday, we had a repeater unit set up on the temporary job trailer that the General Contractor have been using, but we have “permanent” portacabin jobsite field offices going in, and the General Contractor have pulled the power to the temporary trailer.

It’s a pain, because it makes my job extremely difficult, but it got me thinking about the Holy Spirit’s empowering, and what happens when we try to operate without it.

In my workplace, I have all the equipment and training I need to do my job, but without power it’s useless.

The Holy Spirit is much the same way. Jesus promised the disciples that “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth”.

Trying to do the job of being a witness to the fact that Jesus is alive without the power that the Spirit gives is fairly futile. We may have all of the God-given talents and skills we need, but without power it’s not really going to get us anywhere.

It’s easy in our humanness and tendency to focus on what is seen rather than what is unseen to miss just how vital the Holy Spirit’s empowering truly is. We think we can do it ourselves, if maybe not quite as well without His help. We have the right equipment in the shape of our gifts and talents – some of them look more directly supernatural than others, but a lot of the gifts even on the I Corinthians 12 list feel a good deal more “ours” than the Spirit’s.

But without power, even the gifts of the Holy Spirit don’t do a thing.

In the modern world it’s difficult to overstate how much we all depend on having power. We surround ourselves with computers and phones and electric lights and kitchen appliances and everything else. Even our screwdrivers are powered as often as not.

It’s a good picture of the spiritual realm. Whether we realise it or not, we are just as dependent on power there as in our everyday lives. When Jesus said “without Me you can do nothing”, He wasn’t using hyperbole. It’s literally true.

Even on a physical level, we and all of the rest of the universe are sustained moment by moment by the Word of His power. And spiritually, the power of God the Holy Spirit not only enables us for ministry but quickens us for the life of the age to come and gives life to our mortal bodies.

It’s an awfully dependent position to be in, and our pride doesn’t like it at all. But guess what? God isn’t really interested in pandering to our pride. It’s yet another example of our needing to get over ourselves and stop thinking we have something of our own.

As the old hymn says, “Nothing in my hand I bring”.