For millennia, sea travel was dependent on the wind. Ocean currents can carry you a long way, but only very slowly; to make any real progress, sails must be hoisted to catch the breeze. A basically simple idea, yet sailing ships are far from being primitive in their design. By the middle of the 19th century, the fastest sailing ships (such as the Cutty Sark) were capable of 17.5 knots and could sail halfway round the world in less than 3 months. But without a favourable wind, they were virtually helpless.
And then steamships were invented. Independent of the wind, they could travel happily in any direction and were never becalmed. They were also more manoeuvrable and could negotiate the newly constructed canals more easily. There were some disadvantages: the cost of the fuel, and the space required to store it. But their sheer dependability won the day; the sailing ships could not compete and (as far as commercial shipping was concerned) virtually disappeared from the oceans.
In the Bible, the Holy Spirit is often compared to the wind (e.g. Ezekiel 37:9,10; John 3:8; Acts 2:2-4). And the Church is dependent on Him for both power and direction; without Him, we are virtually helpless. Yet that very fact can be tremendously frustrating, because we have an innate yearning for predictability. We want to be able to plan an event (such as a healing service) and be certain of both His presence and His power. What if the Holy Spirit doesn’t show up….? We fear embarrassment, or (worse) humiliation.
And so we do our best to ‘help’ Him along. We play uplifting music to create a suitable ‘atmosphere’. We generate a tide of emotion, encourage people to speak out any ‘words of knowledge’ (by which we really mean any casual thought that might cross their minds), and make use (often unconsciously) of all the tried and tested techniques of crowd manipulation. And we get results…. of a sort.
And this worries me. The very predictability of some of these events, the ‘guarantee’ of miracles, the obvious emotional manipulation that goes on – all this makes me suspect that this is really of the flesh, not from God. We are powered by the steam of human effort, not the wind of the Spirit. We daren’t sit back and wait for Him to work as and when He chooses; although we would never admit it, we are too afraid of failure. And so we march on in our own strength, building our own little kingdoms rather than the Kingdom of God… and wonder why we still seem to be missing something.