By Daniel Malakowsky
One of the least developed elements of early Christian thought was the role and work of the Spirit. A read through the early creeds of the first centuries reveals a significant emphasis on the kerygma (preaching of Christ). Subsequently the triune God and how one could be both God and man consumed the thought life of the church, only to be followed by debates on the sacramental nature of worship and weather images (icons) were to be a part of it.
Soon after the church splintered over centuries, initially in the east and west, but then further in the west via the Reformation. One of the most profoundly impactful thinkers of this era was the Swiss reformer, Ulrich Zwingli. Known for his robust debates with Martin Luther, especially on whether the presence of God was to be found in the eucharist, his de-emphasis on the mystical nature of worship influenced western worldview and how God was to be known. This loss of a sacramental worldview played a part in the continued minimization of the role of the Spirit.
In recent times a renewed interest in the Spirit has shaped the life of the church. Much of this is due to the fact that the Spirit has been moving in profound ways through spiritual awakenings, as in the 18th and 19th centuries, and through the charismatic and Pentecostal movements. This has given rise once more to not only an interest in and pursuit of the supernatural, but tangible experiences of how the Spirit is at work in the world and in worship.
Moving Beyond Spontaneity
One of the key understandings of this has been derived from Jesus' encounter with Nicodemus in which the Spirit is described in an analogy as being unharnessed and spontaneous, just as the wind is. While not necessarily emphasized in doctrinal statements, it is popular in practice to equate the Spirit with a sense of spontaneity and power. The search then becomes one of equivalence whereby order, liturgy, and history become obstacles to knowing God, rather than means by which he can also be known. A 'spirit filled' service or experience is one that is unplanned, unstructured, and unprompted. While there is a gift in this to the body of Christ in reminding us that God is actively at work in this world and can be known in power and intimacy, it also leaves one wondering, perhaps even longing, for the Spirit outside of the moments of unexpected arousal and encounter.
The Spirit is shown throughout scripture to be active beyond these moments of mysticism though. It is the Spirit who baptizes us into the body of Christ, renewing us from within, giving gifts so that the church may be built up and edified by one another. This same Spirit is also the one who takes our unutterable groans from the depths of our being, and brings them before the Father, indwelling us and forming the life and mind of Christ in us through righteousness and peace. It is the Spirit, too, who was hovering over the waters as God brought into existence that which was not.
What this means is that all of life is supernatural, not just the spontaneous moment in which we become physically present to the reality of the world beyond what our eyes can see. That we exist is a testament to this power. Taking the dust of the ground, God breathed his likeness and image into the hearts of men and formed life.
By the power of his word and Spirit, God brought forth creation out of nothing, meaning even the rising and the setting of the sun, the seasons that greet us in fidelity and consistency each and every year, also testify to the nature of the Spirit. It is not just the spontaneous, but the ordinary moments that meet us in the power of the Spirit.
A Holy Ordinary
So we see at times the Spirit at work in marvelous ways, but also in the routine and the normal, bringing a sanctity to all of life and existence. We are reminded that there is no ordinary in life, only supernatural, and while periodically that supernatural moves in such a way as to remind us that the created realm lies in submission to its king, it also speaks to the fidelity of God in the consistency and faithfulness of its order.
The sun does not spontaneously decide not to rise, nor do the stars decide one night not to shine. The winter, spring, summer and fall greet us each year, reminding us that the Spirit who created them is also faithful and true.
In this Jesus also revealed the Spirit in terms of what could only be described as an alongside one, a partner in our redemption who reveals himself in humble submission. The Spirit who fixes galaxies in their place and sets their course, is also one who does nothing to exalt himself, but in obedience only that which exalts the Father.
The power and spontaneity of the Spirit are not then against order or the ordinary, but more often than not are to be found in it. The unharnessed wind is most frequently felt in the simple acts of service, love, and faithfulness in the cycles and seasons of life.
This quiet working reveals that the fruits of the Spirit's activities are the inward transformations of the heart. In the encounters with those who injure us, tearing at the fabric of who we are, the Spirit is working to grow us in love, cultivating a genuine desire for goodness to those we might ordinarily despise. In the interruptions and unexpected delays the Spirit is working to fashion patient hearts, hearts that are filled with the peace of God's shalom, so that joy may not just be a momentary experience, but an inner disposition.
A.W. Tozer called this sanctifying the ordinary. If we are honest though there is no ordinary. Life is supernatural and sacred, creation and existence a miracle, and every sunrise and sunset invites us to rediscover the Spirit in the ordinary. This means our morning commutes, our interactions with family, colleagues, and neighbors, our coming and going, eating and sleeping, resting and reading, whatever activity we find ourselves engaged in is no ordinary moment.
As the Spirit has been deeply at work in the past centuries to remind us that there is a God who cares, who left us with something better than the incarnate Christ, and who is engaging those who know and are known by him, may he also remind us that he has been at work through the hum drum of history. Perhaps it is time once more to rediscover the Spirit of the ordinary. The wind is set in the order of its boundaries and does not leave earth to find its way into the cosmos. In the same way the Spirit has been at work revealing the faithfulness and consistency of God in the ordinary moments of life.