Hosting the Presence of the Holy Spirit
As I have been meditating on Genesis 8 on various occasions over the past year or so the Lord has brought out for me some wonderful food for thought. The story, familiar perhaps to those of us raised in Sunday schools of various kinds, is of Noah’s releasing the dove to discover if dry land has appeared again:
Then he sent out a dove from him, to see if the water was abated from the face of the land; but the dove found no resting place for the sole of her foot, so she returned to him into the ark, for the water was on the surface of all the earth. Then he put out his hand and took her, and brought her into the ark to himself. So he waited yet another seven days; and again he sent out the dove from the ark. The dove came to him toward evening, and behold, in her beak was a freshly picked olive leaf. So Noah knew that the water was abated from the earth. Then he waited yet another seven days, and sent out the dove; but she did not return to him again. (Genesis 8:8-12)
I believe this Scripture presents for us a picture of the Holy Spirit’s interactions with the earth, and of the Lord Jesus and the difference He made in preparing a way for the Holy Spirit. Importantly I also believe it reveals afresh the desire of the Lord that His Holy Spirit can rest upon each one of His people.
As we witness in Genesis 1:2, at the beginning the Spirit was hovering over the earth. From early times right through Old Testament Scripture we see that the Spirit is close and uses people by filling them and inhabiting them (for example Bezalel in Exodus 31:3, or Gideon in Judges 6;34), usually anointing them for a specific purpose. We could go through abounding examples of how the Spirit is present in the Old Testament. But it must be said that as the dove would have hovered and flown over the waters of judgment, the Spirit was never seen to come to rest upon someone or upon people. Even when He came ‘upon’ Gideon it seems very much to have been for the purpose of rallying together a victorious troop – as we have said, it was a specific anointing.
The Spirit resting is something very different. The first time we really witness something like this is with the Lord Jesus. God said to John the Baptist, ‘He upon whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining upon Him, this is the One who baptizes in the Holy Spirit’ (John 1:32-33, italics mine). The emphasis and repetition in these verses of the Spirit remaining upon Him I think testifies to the uniqueness of this moment as John witnessed it. Why repeat that the Holy Spirit remained upon the Lord Jesus unless it seemed significant and, until now, unusual? I believe that in the Lord Jesus the Spirit found someone not just upon whom He could come for a special reason or specific purpose, but someone upon whom He could rest and remain. Just as the dove was hunting for a place to rest, the Holy Spirit is looking for somewhere to rest on earth, and that can only be the people of God. But first of all, just as sin had to be dealt with in Noah’s day, so the Holy Spirit cannot rest upon a people who have not been taken out of their sinful ways. And just as the dove found a token of dry land coming, the freshly picked olive leaf, so the Holy Spirit first came to rest upon the Lord Jesus, the one without sin, the one who was the ‘firstborn among many brethren’ (Romans 8:29).
It is then that it says that ‘Noah knew that the water was abated from the earth’ (Genesis 8:11). The water was of course the judgment on the world that took place then, and this too is significant, as when Jesus went to the cross He said, ‘Now judgment is upon this world’ (John 12:31). So when the work of the cross is accomplished God knows that the necessary judgment has taken place on the world and that soon He can send out His Holy Spirit to rest upon the earth. When Jesus dealt with our sin, He made a place for the Holy Spirit, but not necessarily just to anoint us and fill us – in fact He had already been doing that under the Old Covenant as we have seen; but He made a way for the Holy Spirit to rest and remain upon His people, because there was no longer a place for sin in our lives to cause offense to His Spirit.
We still wrestle with sin, as we know and even as Paul testified in passages like Romans 7; yet we ought also to know that he went on to proclaim the truths in Romans 8 that there are those who set their minds on the things of the flesh, and those who set their minds on the things of the Spirit. And it is those who live according to the Spirit who have been set free. So it is for us to see that sin is dealt with in our lives and that a place is made and cultivated to host the presence of the Holy Spirit that He may rest and remain. Then I think we will see a people begin to rise up who look like Jesus, not because they strive to do so according to the flesh, but because they know that same relationship with the Holy Spirit as Jesus did. He has made the way for it through His blood; let us walk in it!
The book of Acts records an occasion when Peter walked in the streets, and even if his shadow alone passed over the people who were lying sick, they would recover (Acts 5:15). Some have suggested that this verse speaks more of an anointing ‘shadow’ carried by Peter at this point. The Greek word used is skia and on every other occasion of its use, it is a metaphorical, spiritually-descriptive use (Matt 4:16; Mark 4:32; Luke 1:79; Col 2:17; Heb 8:5; 10:1). Furthermore we have other significant occasions described to us where God’s shadow was involved in supernatural activity, for example in Mary’s being ‘overshadowed’ for the conception of Jesus, or the overshadowing that took place at the transfiguration (Luke 1:35; 9:34). I believe Peter carried the Holy Spirit’s presence in a way not often seen before that moment, perhaps in the way that we have been meditating on – hosting His presence without offense.
Back in the 17th Century, there was a man by the name of Brother Lawrence, a lay brother in a Carmelite Monastery in Paris. To the world he was just a monk who took on some of the very menial tasks in the monastery. But for Lawrence this became the ideal setting for him to seek the Lord, and his book Practicing the Presence of God is a well-known classic that describes his journey. It has often been heard said that people would come and see his face glowing as he did the dishes! I believe he too tapped into something of a reality of what it is for a believer to host the presence of God as a constant in their life.
Stories about Smith Wigglesworth often provoke the hearer to jealousy. One well-documented occasion gives us an account of several Christian Leaders gathering to pray in New Zealand with Smith present. Several of the leaders would pray, but when Wigglesworth prayed, it is said that the presence of God began to come into the room so strongly that one by one the other leaders had to leave the room. As the account puts it, the room
“became holy. The power of God began to feel like a heavy weight. With set chin, and a definite decision not to budge, the only other one now left in the room hung on and hung on, until the pressure became too great, and he could no longer stay. With the flood gates of his soul pouring out a stream of tears, and with uncontrollable sobbing he had to get out or die; and a man who knew God as few do was left alone immersed in an atmosphere that few men could breathe in.” (From H. V. Roberts, New Zealand’s Greatest Revival; Reprint of the 1922 Revival Classic: Smith Wigglesworth (1951); from Bill Johnson, Face to Face with God: The ultimate quest to experience His presence (2007), p.156; see chapter 7 of Johnson’s book in general for similar testimonies.)
And so the testimonies go on of men and women who have encountered the presence of God and have made it a pursuit for their lives. There is no question that God has made this way available for us through the blood of Jesus. The Holy Spirit is looking for a resting place, and it is my heart’s desire to be known in heaven as one of the many who opened up to Him to host Him.