May 5, 2022 – Pentecost Sunday
Scripture: Acts 2:1-11
Many years ago, I attended a conference in Wheaton, Illinois, a city I’d never been to before. That Sunday, I wanted to worship at a particular church in order to talk with the pastor. The problem was I forgot to bring the name of the church with me; and I couldn’t remember it, either. After looking through the Yellow Pages—this was before the days of the internet and Google—I settled on a church the name of which sounded vaguely familiar to me. Turns out, it wasn’t the right church. Fortunately, that pastor knew the name of the church I was looking for: The Church of the Resurrection.
When I got in my car, I realized I had no idea where the church was. It was somewhere in the city, but I hadn’t a clue where it was or even how to get there even if I did have an address—which I didn’t have (why I didn’t go back into the church and get the address I’ll never know).
At that point, I did something I’d never done before or since. When the idea of how to get there came to me, I thought it was the craziest, most hair-brained idea I’d never had. It’ll never work, I told myself.
What was my idea? To let God himself guide me to the church!
You see, I knew for a fact that God knew the location of The Church of the Resurrection. The question was, how would he actually get me there? I really wanted to speak with the pastor of this church, so I had to do something. At this point, it seemed I had nothing to lose, so why not at least give it try? So, I decided to go for it.
Having never done anything like this before, I committed myself to two things. First, at every intersection I’d listen for any “voice” I might hear in my head or heart telling me to go straight, turn right, or turn left. Those were the three options I knew I’d have at each intersection. The second thing I committed myself to was obeying whatever instruction I initially discerned. In other words, I wouldn’t second-guess what I heard by telling myself I was just making it up. I reasoned that if I were going to put God to the test, so to speak, I’d have to trust that whatever I heard would be God’s voice. And so, I turned out of the church parking lot and headed in who knows what direction.
I can’t tell you how many intersections I came to—maybe eight, nine, ten or so. But what I can tell you is that at every intersection, the word straight, left, or right felt correct. I can’t say I heard a “voice” speaking to me somehow. Rather, it was more like a gut feeling that spoke to me. And so, I just went with that gut feeling at each intersection.
Well, friends, to my utter amazement, within ten minutes of seemingly random driving through a city in which I’d never been before, I drove right past The Church of the Resurrection, which was buried deep within a neighborhood, well off the main streets in town. It worked! May plan to let God guide me to my desired destination actually worked!! No one could have been more surprised by that than me!
Some will say it was just coincidental. A happenstance. Random good luck. But I’m here to tell you that there was nothing random or lucky or coincidental about it. That morning, as I sat in my car wondering how I would get there, God whispered into the ears of my heart, “Let me show you the way.” And he came through.
Let me share one more experience I had with listening for God’s voice. It was when we lived in Mackinaw City. After we moved there, a church member once commented that all road in Michigan lead to Mackinaw City. Because of this fact, my church received quite a few people passing through, looking for help.
On one such occasion, after listening to the man’s story, it was my sense that I needed to pray for him. I began my prayer by inviting the Holy Spirit to enter into our time of prayer, specifically asking the Lord to reveal to me anything I specifically needed to pray for. As I was praying, an image of a cow standing next to a fence near a dirt road came to mind. In the moment, it seemed so random, so bizarre an image, that, at first, I considered dismissing it. But then I heard this little reminder in my head say, “You asked for guidance in your prayer; trust that I’m providing it.” And so, as part of the prayer, I told the man what I was seeing and asked if there was any significance to it. Dumbfounded, he responded, “Are you serious? How did you know?” He then then went on to explain the significance of a particular situation concerning a cow standing next to a fence near a dirt road.
Just like in the first story, in that moment no one was more surprised than me by the connection. I was absolutely blown away by the fact that a seemingly random image which came to me while praying was intentionally placed there by God for the purpose of ministering to him. Who would have thought a mental vision of a cow standing next to a fence by a dirt road would be a word from the Lord?
But that’s exactly what it was. As were the driving directions I received.
Now, I want to be very clear that my experience of being led by God in a supernatural way is not the result of me being super spiritual. That’s because as believers in and followers of Christ, each of us is filled with the same measure of God’s Spirit. We all have 100% of the Holy Spirit within us. The same “voice” that spoke to me on those two occasions, and which continues to speak to me, is in each of you as well. Did you know that? As a believer in Jesus Christ, you have the same guiding Spirit within you that I have within me, which means you’re just as able to hear him speaking as I am. It comes down to learning to listen.
The story recorded in Acts chapter 2 of the Holy Spirit coming upon and filling the crowd of people is the story of each one of us, personally. The Spirit of God coming upon and filling them with himself gave birth to the church. New life begins with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Just as that particular Pentecost day marked the birth of the church, so each of us underwent a spiritual birth—often referred to as being ‘born again’—the moment you said yes to Jesus. And a significant aspect of our spiritual birth was the Holy Spirit taking up residency within each of us. Whether or not you’re consciously aware of when that happened isn’t important. God knows when it happened, and whenever that was, in that moment the Holy Spirit came upon you and filled you and brought you to life. In the words of Jesus himself, in the moment the Spirit came into you, you “passed from death to life” (John 5:24).
Now, we often speak of Jesus walking beside us or, at times, carrying us, not unlike the imagery of the poem, Footprints in the Sand. We think of him as a companion, a friend who goes with us wherever we go. And while this imagery of Jesus-as-walking-companion aptly reflects our earthly experience of living amongst people we can see and touch, it doesn’t fully illustrate the manner in which Jesus manifests his presence in our lives. And that’s because Christ doesn’t just walk with us, he lives within us. When we speak of the Holy Spirit, we’re talking about spirit of Jesus; the spirit of the risen and glorified Christ. The Nicene Creed affirms that the Holy Spirit in whom we believe and have faith is 1) “the giver of life,” (making him the One who brought each of us to life) and 2) “proceeds from the Father and the Son.” The Holy Spirit is Jesus’ spirit, and by virtue of your faith in Christ, he lives within you. Not around you, but within you! This makes you one with Christ. Paul makes this truth very clear to us in 1 Corinthians 6:17 – “The one who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with him.” And Jesus said as much in his prayer to the Father during the Last Supper where he said, “I’m praying for those who believe in me. I pray they will be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. I pray that they also will be in us” (John 17:20-23). The Father is in the Son; the Son is in the Father; and through the Holy Spirit, we are in them. We corporately (the church as a whole) and we individually.
Friends, because the Holy Spirit lives with us and within you, you (and we) have access to God’s guiding voice.He speaks to you all the time. And he also looks for opportunities to speak through you to others as well. A number of times, this was my experience this past week at annual conference. One person in particular spoke a very much needed word of encouragement to me. I didn’t even realize how much I needed to hear it until he said it. And it truly bolstered my own spirit. I believe the Spirit of God looks for opportunities to do that same thing through each of us, for the sake of others.
The day of Pentecost only comes around once a month, and there’s so many different angles to come at a Pentecost message. To be honest, I kind of struggled this year about what to say. But what I finally sensed in my heart was God telling me to share with you a couple of ways I’ve been able to hear him guiding me through the voice of the Holy Spirit who lives in me. And then, to remind you that he lives within you, too. And that you can hear him as well. There’s nothing about me that’s unique in this way. We’re all filled with the Spirit. We’re all one with Christ through his Spirit. And I guess I just wanted you to be reminded of this truth. Let’s pray.