When you receive the Holy Spirit it is an utterly passive encounter. When joy floods into your life, and life becomes truly alive, you are a recipient of that grace. The actor is God invading and permeating your existence in a new and powerful way through the Holy Spirit. There is no activity on our behalf to receive this free gift. It is undeserved uninitiated, and unstoppable. It is good for us to consider the overwhelmingly “awful” nature of that reality for just a moment. The greatest collective achievement of human history (the divine union of God and man through the Holy Spirit) as well as the most satisfying individual experience of the Christian life, is one in which we have utterly no control.
It has been said that 99% of the formation of our life and existence is passive. In other words, we are recipients rather than actors of the vast majority of our time here. It is our small mindedness that causes us to fool ourselves into thinking that we are in some kind of control of our lives. In reality the ideas, events, and relationships that form us we have only about 1% control over. When seen from our vantage point, it certainly seems as though our choices are the primary agent of our experience. And yet if we reflect on our life we quickly discover we are more passive recipients than we care to admit. Peter Teilhard says this well:
“In the first place the passivities ceaselessly accompany our conscious deeds, in the form of reactions which direct, sustain or oppose our efforts. On this ground alone they inevitably and precisely coincide with the scope of our activities. But their sphere of influence extends far beyond these narrow limits. If we consider the matter carefully we in fact perceive with a sort of dismay that it is only the fine point of ourselves that comes up in to the light of self-consciousness and freedom. We know ourselves and set our own course but within an incredibly small radius of light. Immediately beyond lies impenetrable darkness, though it is full of presences -the night of everything that is within us and around us, without us and in spite of us. In this darkness, as vast, rich, troubled and complex as the past and the present of the universe, we are not inert; we react, because we undergo. But this reaction, which operates without our control by an unknown prolongation of our being, is, humanly speaking, still a part of our passivity. In fact, everything beyond a certain distance is dark, and yet everything is full of being around us.”
Pierre Teilhard. The Divine Milieu. p. 76
Certainly our “activities” do shape us: our choices, our actions, our steps, our decisions, our friendships, how we use or don’t use our time. Yet each of those things are ultimately shaped themselves by larger forces outside of our control. In the larger scope of life it is the passive aspects of our life, the things we have no control of that truly shape and determine our existence. The air we breathe, the molecules that make up our body, the wind in the air, the stars in the sky, the neighbors who move next door, the changes in our neighborhoods, the changes in our companies and schools, our co-workers, our circumstances, our health, our local politics and news. In almost all of these things, we have little to no control, and yet these are the very things that shape how and why we decide to do the things we do.
The Spirit’s Work In Our Passivities
It is for this exact reason why the Christian must live into the fullness of their “filling” of the Holy Spirit. So often when we think of the “Filling of the Spirit” we tend to lean into our Activities. God gets a hold of us and changes our heart from the inside out just as he promised to do through the prophet Ezekiel:
Ezekiel 11:19–20 (ESV) 19 And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, 20 that they may walk in my statutes and keep my rules and obey them. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God.
He molds a new morality into us, and unites us with Christ. And it is true that the Holy Spirit changes the very decisions we make, even the way we think. He begins the supernatural work of overcoming sin, of defeating temptation, and of becoming an ‘ambassador for Christ.’ All of this is true and good!
Yet there is more, and we cannot stop with just an understanding of the Spirit’s role in our activities. Through the indwelling Holy Spirit the Christian now sees ALL of life in newness. The Spirit of God breathes color and beauty and purpose into both the Active parts of our life (the 1% we control by making choices) and the Passive parts of our life (the 99% of our life that is beyond our grasp). The Christian in this new power never sees coincidence beyond their control, or bad luck, or random chance. The Spirit changes the lens through which we see the world around us. Our world becomes far larger and greater as we begin to see the hand of God moving in a thousand ways just outside our particular sphere. Where before all we could see was darkness now the clarity of the Hand of God is revealed. The Christian looks out into the darkness beyond their small finite existence and can see the hand of orchestrating all things. Even suffering becomes a tool that God can use to further your progress. This is why Christians ought to be so convictional and pointed. We are not wandering in the wind wondering if there’s purpose, but we are being guided through the storm by a loving Father who gave His Son to die for us on a cross.
This is how the Spirit’s activates our life. What a blessing to live into the fullness of our Filling.