In my journey in faith, it took me many years to realise that God was even closer to me than I thought. It’s very easy to think of God as a force that only helps us from outside. Yes, in Jesus I know that God is very close; and I know that he will walk alongside me as a friend, giving me the courage, and love and hope I need to face the difficulties and challenges of life. But if we are really to understand the fullness of the God that we believe in, then we need to be aware that God does not simply give me the love I need to live a good life, but that he IS that love, actually dwelling within me.
The love I mean, of course, is that caring love that we can offer to everyone whether we like them or not. Love, not as a feeling, that we might or might not have for someone, but love as an action for the good of others. The interesting thing about this kind of caring sacrificial love is that the medical scientists have shown that it is a very powerful source of healing. They may not call it love, but they certainly have shown that those who are sick get better much more quickly if they are surrounded by people caring for them, and this applies both to the medical professionals, and also to the patient’s family and friends. This is such an important thing to remember, for everyone whether they believe in God or not; but we Christians go further, and say that this mysterious power to heal that we all have; this power that can be seen in its results, even if it cannot be identified by normal scientific methods; is not only a sign to us of what God is like, but is actually God at work within every one of us.
The point I am trying to make therefore is that this power, that we Christians call God the Holy Spirit is so close within us that it is almost impossible to distinguish it from our own being. God is, as St Paul says (Acts 17:28) the one “in whom we live, and move and have our being.” Or as St John writes “God is love and those who live in love, live in God and God lives in them.” (1 John 4:16) It’s precisely because God the Holy Spirit is so close within us that it is difficult to recognise that this is God at all, and not simply my own mind, my own love, at work. What I only gradually realised in my life as a Christian is that when one actually recognises that this power of love is God, and turns this power into prayer, then the results can be even more remarkable.
Before we go any further let’s just explore why God as Holy Spirit is as close within us as he is. It’s obvious really. If God is the creative force underlying the Universe – God the Father as we call him – then since we are living beings this creative power must be within us. So God as Creator is not just an immense infinite and eternal power outside us, but is also in a different way inside us. The first story in the Bible of the Creation shows this, for the Bible starts in Genesis (Ch 1) by saying “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” And here comes the crucial bit for our thoughts today, “And the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” So God, as Holy Spirit is, as we say in the Creed “The Lord, the Giver of Life”
The Creed then goes on to say that the Holy Spirit can become an active power within our lives, if we let this power work through our actions and our speech. “Hang on”, you might say “Where does the Creed say that?” The answer is there staring us in the face. For we continue by saying that the Holy Spirit is the one “Who has spoken through the prophets.” We just trip those words of our tongue, don’t we, without realising their meaning? Every Christian is called to be prophetic, to speak and act for God, to allow God’s love to radiate out through us to others. We hear of God’s prophets doing this in various ways in the Bible. They’re officially called “prophets” in the Old Testament, whereas in the New Testament Jesus gives them a new name “apostles”, meaning those who are “sent out” to bring God to others.
“But I am not a prophet or an apostle.” I hear you say. Oh yes you are. Every time you say a kind word or do a kind action as a Christian you are being prophetic and apostolic. So when we hear Jesus say to us in the Gospel (Matt 22:34-40) “You must love your neighbour as yourself” we must realise that for Jesus this is not just an exhortation to be kind and good, for he has linked it to that other Commandment “To love the Lord your God.” And how? “With all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind.”
Deep deep within us then is a power too mysterious and wonderful ever to be fully understood, God the Holy Spirit. One of our main tasks as Christians is to open ourselves up to that power that is within us. St Paul tells us that this power will work in us in all sorts of different ways, (1 Cor 12) but above all he goes on to say that this power works in us as “Love” (1 Cor 13) “If I speak in the tongues of men or angels but have not love, I am nothing.”
We pray “Come Holy Spirit”, or we sing “Come Down O Love Divine” and it might make us think that we are calling on a power outside ourselves. And yes in one sense we are – God is outside us and beyond us. But never forget that God as Holy Spirit is also inside us and deep within us, and we should therefore never underestimate what we can do for others in and through that power. This will bring great joy, not surface happiness, for we may be struggling to support a loved one in pain or sorrow, where there is little happiness. But love, real sacrificial love, given and received even at the hour of death, is always an unending source of joy for every human being. It is the joy that comes from the realisation that all of us live and move in God, and that God lives and moves in us