For us as human beings it is quite challenging to believe what we cannot see. As the Holy Spirit is invisible, very often we can neither grasp nor understand him. Still I am convinced that, in a sense, we can see and, above all, experience him.
The shape of the Holy Spirit is hidden from us, yet he is revealed to us through his operations and activities, because his supernatural acts have visible effects on the natural world. It is like the wind: Our eyes cannot distinguish its shape, but we can see the wind through its effects daily. It is not by coincidence that in the biblical languages the same term is used for “wind” and “Spirit (of God)” (Hebrew: ruach, e.g. Gen 1:2, Job 33:4, Ez 36:27 and Greek: pneuma, e.g. John 3:8, Acts 2:38, Roman 8:1).
“I know something!“ vs. “I experience something!”
I grew up in a family which believed in God and was mainly influenced by churches of Baptist and Brethren affiliation. It was important to our parents that we as children could understand what faith in God is. Therefore doctrine and knowledge were central among us. Thus we knew that God is alive, yet we rarely experienced the living God. However, as a young man that was exactly what I desired: I wanted to experience the supernatural world touching the natural. This prospect fascinated me and strengthened my faith. For this reason I did not want to merely copy my parents’ understanding of faith, but launch into my own experiences with God. I was certain: To be a Christian does not only mean “I know something!” but it includes “I experience something!”.
Once I visited a man in a hospital who suffered from multiple sclerosis. I told him about God and the invitation to salvation until he asked me slightly irritated: “What do you really want from me?”- “I want to see you again in heaven”, I answered. He replied something like: “Don’t worry. I know everything about God.“ I asked him if he also knew everything about his wife before they got together. “Yes, I knew everything!“ he replied. Then I asked him: „And what good did that do for you?“
It makes a huge difference if you know about God or if you really know him and experience him on a personal level. A relationship is not only nourished by knowing about each other but most of all by what people experience together. When Philip told the skeptical Nathanael about Jesus he neither argued by presenting impressing facts nor did he say: “Come and understand!”, but he simply said: “Come and see!” (John 1:46). Even today we should call people to Jesus Christ by inviting them to “come and see”, since God makes himself partially visible for human beings through the operations of the Holy Spirit who testifies to the works and the doctrine of Jesus Christ.
The Holy Spirit does both: On the one hand he leads us into the sphere of knowledge and insight and on the other hand he opens the sphere of experience for us. Our supernatural experiences must, of course, never be turned into the foundations of our doctrine. Yet our doctrine must be questioned if it does not lead us into experience. I believe it is important for us and our churches to open our hearts over and over again for the things God wants to do among us by his spirit. It is important we free ourselves from preconceived ideas and put our focus on actively seeking God in the workings of his Spirit. Sometimes it may even be imperative to tear down blockades in our heads in order to clear the pathway into our hearts.
One of my slogans in ministry is: “Natural in the Spirit and spiritual in the Natural.” If we expect the Holy Spirit to operate in our everyday lives in a natural way, it will no longer appear to be obscure and dubious. On the contrary: He lets us see more clearly.