We don’t necessarily pay attention to our breathing, do we? But now that I have mentioned it, you probably are noticing your breathing right now. Jesus used the idea of breathing to help us understand how the Holy Spirit works. For example, breathing can be calm and almost unnoticeable. So can the Holy Spirit’s presence and activity. Breathing can be exaggerated and strong. So can the Spirit’s presence. In this gospel account, it seems that the first reception of the Spirit was a calm and calming “peace”. At Pentecost it was a dramatic and overpowering experience.
So, Jesus uses the image of breathing to help us understand how the Holy Spirit works in our life. Sometimes it is calmly happening, and other times it is very obvious–or not so calm. Sometimes we notice it and sometimes we don’t.
When the Spirit is at work in our life, do we label it the right way? Do we say this is God’s intervention in my life, or do we dismiss it as mere coincidence?
Let me give an example:
A man who has little time for God in his life finds himself in a church. The last time he was there was when he buried his father. Why did he walk into this church? Well, yesterday, he got some bad news from his doctor. He’s starting to pay attention to things now. While in Church he hears the priest talk about the Holy Spirit, and how the Spirit came upon the apostles in a dramatic way. He hears the priest say that “the Spirit is still working, and if you were baptized, the Spirit of God is within you. So when certain things happen to you–if you focus on God– you will see that they are not just coincidences”. This man understands exactly what is being said. Why? Because when he arrived home from the hospital the day before, he opened his father’s Bible, and found something he had never noticed before. It was a note written by his father:
Dear God, I know I am dying. I know that I might not make it to heaven because of my past sins, but please let my wife and kids get into heaven. Do whatever it takes to help them be in eternity with you. Forgive me for messing up my life and theirs.
And the man thought, “that note was waiting for me to open it just at this time”. He knew what the priest was talking about. It wasn’t a coincidence. The man noticed the working of the Spirit. (pause)
Or how about the parent who is not sleeping well at night because he’s wondering how he and his wife will ever come up with the tuition for high school. But after prayer, some realistic budgeting, restrictions on future credit card spending, and a little unexpected help from generous grandparents, it seems that things will work out. Could the Spirit have been involved in all of this? The person with faith might say, “thank you, Lord, for helping us out here. Why did I ever doubt you?”
Then there’s the woman who is filled with anger and resentment because she is taking care of her aging mother and father even though they weren’t the best parents to her. She had made a promise to God to do this no matter what, because it would be what God would want her to do.Then one day driving to the supermarket, she was listening to a talk show on the radio and she hears someone say, “I couldn’t get any help from my siblings, so I decided, well, that is the way that it is. I will stop thinking about what they should or shouldn’t do, and just do the best I can. I prayed to God to help me do that, and when the funeral came, I knew I had done all that I could. I had been a good daughter.” This woman was meant to hear that. Was it a coincidence or the intervention of the Spirit?
Sometimes coincidences are NOT coincidences. It’s the Spirit telling you something. Maybe you’ve been messing around with your life and it’s now time to get serious. Maybe it’s a wake up call to do something differently, or maybe it’s just a gentle tap on the shoulder and The Lord saying, “Hey, I’m right here. I’d love to help you out if you’ll let me”.
The Spirit’s presence is not always (or only) for the sake of equipping people to do things they ordinarily would not or could not do. Even in ordinary matters we need the help of the Holy Spirit.
Breathing is essential to sustain life. The Holy Spirit is essential to sustain our faith lives, and our relationship with Christ who leads us to the Father. So, don’t dismiss the coincidences in your life. See them for what they really are–God’s divine intervention.