Paul and Prayer

I’m teaching a class on the Holy Spirit this Fall, and this week the subject was The Holy Spirit and Prayer. These two quotes from Gordon Fee’s Paul, the Spirit, and the People of God caught my attention:

One of the more remarkable inconsistencies in studies on Paul is that thousands of books exist that search every aspect of Paul’s thinking, while only a few seek to come to terms with his life of prayer. Indeed, most people’s understanding of Paul is limited to Paul the missionary or to Paul the theologian. But what is clear from Paul’s letters is that he was a pray-er before he was a missionary or thinker…Paul did not simply believe in prayer or talk about prayer. He prayed, regularly and continuously, and urged his churches to do the same.









It is probably impossible to understand Paul as a theologian, if one does not take this dimension of his “Spirit-uality” with full seriousness. A prayerless life is one of practical atheism. As one who lived in and by the Spirit, Paul understood prayer in particular to be the special prompting of the Spirit, leading him to thanksgiving for others and petition in the Spirit, even when he did not know for what specifically to pray. Whatever else life in the Spirit meant for Paul, it meant a life devoted to prayer, accompanied by joy and thanksgiving.


The Spirit Energizes

In studying for my class on the Holy Spirit, I read Life in the Spirit by Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. This paragraph from the 1st Chapter on Ephesians 5:18 has stayed with me. I think it is a valid and needed critique of many churches.

Another striking contrast is this.The Christian life, unlike the life of drunkenness and excess, does not exhaust a man. That is the tragedy of the other life, is it not? The poor fellow thinks he is being stimulated, actually he is being exhausted because of this prodigal use of his energy and everything else. But the Christian life does not produce exhaustion, indeed it does the exact opposite, thank God.

A great principle emerges at this point. It applies not only to drink but to many other agencies that have the same effect exactly as drink. In simple terms, it tells us the difference between the operation of the Spirit upon us, and any other influence that may appear at first sight to be like the influence of the Spirit is this, that all those other agencies exhaust us, whereas the Spirit always puts power into us.

Let me illustrate what I mean. I remember hearing, a few years ago, that a mission had been held under the auspices of a certain Christian organization during one particular term. And then I remember hearing that the following term was one of the worst terms in a spiritual sense in the history of that particular organization. Fewer people went to the prayer meetings and to the various other meetings. People were not only not turning up to prayer meetings or doing their regular Christian work, they were also not reading their Scriptures as they used to do. Someone enquired as to the cause of this strange phenomenon, and the explanation, the answer, that was given was this, that it was due to what they called ‘the post-campaign exhaustion’. Every participant was tired out and exhausted. Does that not cause one to think furiously?

The Holy Spirit, I say, does not exhaust; He puts power into us. Many other agencies exhaust. If a church or Christian organization is exhausted after an evangelistic campaign I would query very much the basis on which the campaign was conducted. The Spirit does not exhaust, but the energy produced and expended by man does. Alcohol, or any artificial stimulus worked up by man, always leaves us exhausted and tired. Not so the Spirit! Drunkenness exhausts; the Holy Spirit does not exhaust, but energizes.

How much of what we call church leaves us exhausted? Then must we ask how much of what we call church is “artificial stimulus worked up by man”?





The Holy Spirit – Our Mother

Obviously the Holy Spirit is genderless. However, for a variety of reasons it’s not uncommon for scholars to refer to the Holy Spirit with feminine pronouns. That’s why I was fascinated when I came across the following quote which put the concept of the Holy Spirit as feminine together with an interesting take on a classic passage in Romans 8.

“When teaching us to cry ‘Abba,’ the Spirit behaves like a mother teaching her own little baby to say ‘daddy,’ repeating that word along with the baby until it becomes so much the baby’s habit that it calls it’s daddy even in its sleep.” – Diadochus of Fotike, On Spiritual Perfection, 61.

Teaching Theosis and Communion within the Trinity

“If He (the Holy Spirit) is not from the beginning, He is in the same rank with myself, even though a little before me; for we are both parted from the Godhead by time.  If He is in the same rank with myself, how can he make me God, or join me with the Godhead.” Gregory of Naziansus, On the Holy Spirit

I have been teaching on the trinity in class for the past week and a half.  It has probably been one of the most frustrating things I have ever had to teach.  The main problem I am facing is that the majority of Evangelical Christians hardly ever talk about the trinity.  As soon as I mention one being, three persons or one person, two natures I can see my student’s eyes glazing over.  I am using vocabulary that they have never been exposed to.  And one of the problems with teaching the trinity is that I can’t use any other language.  This language was painstakingly hammered out by our church fathers and we receive their language as a gift (at least those who tend to think that tradition is a good thing).  The danger that the church fathers were trying to avoid was making the trinity too simple, too intelligible.  That’s what the heretics did.  As soon as you leave the language for analogy or anecdote you’re in trouble.

It was much more important for the church fathers to not so much understand the trinity, but to be drawn into it.  Here again is territory that Evangelicals rarely wander into willingly.  I asked my students what they thought it meant to be drawn into the community of the trinity.  I might as well have been asking what does yellow smell like?  The problem lies with their view of salvation.  To them, salvation is only a legal action that takes away your guilt.  The relational aspect only focuses on Jesus, since he is in this view pictured as our only ally.  The God who is judge only tolerates us because of Jesus, more specifically his voluntary bloodshed.  In this scenario, there is not much fellowship going on between Father and Son and there is not even a mention of the Holy Spirit.  (To be fair I am sure there are better characterizations of this view, but I am trying to explain the majority view of my students, which are largely drawn from the churches they attend.)

So, for what its worth, here has been my approach with my own students and it consists of two emphases or shifts in perspective.

1. First I attempt to change my student’s perspective on salvation by telling them that salvation begins at the incarnation, not the cross.  The mystery of the incarnation is that divinity has united with humanity, and there can be no salvation if these two natures are not joined.  And the only one who can join them together is God himself by taking on humanity.  I pull in the narrative of Genesis 1-2 in order to show that God’s good creation is a sign post of what is to come.  The true image of God will be his own Son and through him God will be with his creation in a way that we never thought possible.  Salvation then becomes about participating in the life of the Son, who participates in the life of the Father, who gives us the Spirit.

2. If salvation is viewed as participating in the divine life (i.e. theosis or divinization), then all of a sudden we need the Holy Spirit to be involved.  This is perhaps the biggest change that occurs in their thinking.  I conduct a poll on the first day of the unit by asking what each person of the trinity does.  Every student can tell me what the Father and Son do, but when we get to the Spirit the only response (and I literally have not gotten another one) is that the Holy Spirit guides.  The Spirit is the paradigmatic Jiminy Cricket living inside us, nudging us not to tell a lie.  But what if the role of the Spirit is less about moral guidance and more about a person’s ontological transformation into a holy temple?  (This is after all what Paul seems to argue that Christians have become in 1 Corinthians 6:19.)

So what is the pay off and why in the world would I try to spend any time communicating this to my students?

Most of my students tend to view the point of Christianity as ending up at the right place and avoiding the wrong place.  Theosis is a way to talk about the Christian life as one of continually figuring out what it means to participate in the Trinity’s way of life.  It helps to emphasize that the point of salvation is to know God, which means eternal life is a present as well as a future reality.  Perhaps if this idea catches on in our churches and Christian schools, then we would see less Christians in name only and more Christians who understand that the goal of their life is to be changed into a little Christ through the Spirit.