Asking the Father for His Spirit in Christian Ministry
What important message does God have for us His servants through this Scripture reading? Very simply: Only through His Spirit will we bear fruit that lasts for eternity — both in our daily living and also in our service for Him.
There are essentially two general types of believers: those who operate on a very human level (on the level of their minds, emotions and wills), and those who operate on the level of the Spirit (sensitive to the workings of the Spirit in their spirits). cf. 1 Cor.2:10-16.
The fruits of each are very different. God desires that we bear MUCH fruit in our lives and service. And this is possible only through the empowering and enabling of His Spirit.
There are some believers who are “filled with the Spirit’ — i.e. who are “under the control of the Spirit” in their daily lives. But then there are many other Christians who live under the control of their rational powers. They do not submit their emotions, wills and hearts to the leading of the Spirit. And this also probably includes more than just a few Christian workers and missionaries.
* Do we seek / long after the empowering of the Spirit each day?
* Do we even know how to do this?
* Do we realise the great importance of receiving God’s empowering in order to do God’s work God’s way?
Perhaps very few if any of us would be able to say: “Yes, every moment of every day, I am walking in step with the Spirit.”
Consequently we need to know this life-changing truth experientially. This is not some question of head knowledge or attaining to some skill. It’s a question of opening ourselves up to the invasion of God’s Holy Spirit so that through Him, we will live and serve powerfully and effectively. HE IS THE ANSWER to a fruitless, frustrating ministry. He is the difference between bearing much fruit and little fruit.
What I am speaking about is closely related to Jesus’ teaching about prayer in Luke 11:9-13. Pay special attention to Jesus’ words in verse 13.
What was Jesus teaching His disciples then? And what is His message about praying for us today?
Look at the context:
In the context Jesus was teaching His disciples about persistence in prayer — asking, seeking & knocking (each present, continuous tense verbs).
He then applies His teaching to His disciples’ asking the Father in heaven for “good gifts”. See Luke 11:11-13; Matt.7:9-11. It is so clear that God desires to give “good gifts” to His children, NOT bad or harmful gifts. This is because in God there is no evil, only goodness. And God is also a generous God who gives ABUNDANTLY from His storehouse of riches.
- See Malachi 3:10 “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this," says the LORD Almighty, "and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.”
- 2 Cor.9:8 “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.”
- Rom.8:31-32 “What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all–how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”
So He invites His disciples and followers to make petitions to such a generous, kind and good heavenly Father for “good gifts”.
And the promise is that He will give such gifts to us. The whole context encourages us to be bold as we come to God with our petitions — not on the basis of our little faith and our picture of an unwilling God or a disinterested God who isn’t all that interested in giving His good gifts to His children. Rather on the basis of the truths about God that He has revealed of Himself in His Word, we are to come — and this is what pleases and honours Him.
What are some of the “good gifts” that we can ask of God in our missionary work?
What are the very things He has promised to us — that we can ask of Him over and over again?
* strength for each day’s tasks
* endurance and perseverance in order to complete our tasks
* faith when humanly we see little reason for hope
* love for all the brethren in the face of rejection and misunderstanding
* joy in the face of situations that distress and bring sorrow to the heart
* wisdom, i.e. the ability to apply God’s truths to the many different practical situations of life and ministry
Each of these are “good gifts” that result in honour for the name of our Lord. (Compare: requests that just puff us up with pride, e.g. “Lord, please make me a great missionary! Help me to bring many souls into Your kingdom.”) These are the petitions we need to be asking for ourselves and for our fellow-workers.
However, in the Lucan passage, there is a very special “good gift” that Jesus taught His disciples to ask for — the Holy Spirit. This is in keeping with Luke’s own stress and teaching on the Person and Ministry of the Holy Spirit throughout the Gospel of Luke and also in the Acts of the Apostles.
Why and how then are we to ask for God’s Holy Spirit?
1) All Jesus’ teaching about prayer emphasizes that prayer is an expression of our childlike dependence upon God.
Hence if Jesus teaches us to ask the Father for His Spirit, then Jesus is teaching us that this prayer is an expression of our total dependence upon God and not upon ourselves.
2) This particular teaching follows immediately upon Jesus’ teaching His disciples to pray just as He Himself prayed.
Can we not also conclude that in Jesus’ own prayers, He continually asked the Father to grant Him the fullness of His Spirit so that He could discern the evil intents of his enemies, to teach the multitudes in clear, practical ways, to heal the sick and to cast out the demons etc.? From the very beginning of Jesus’ own ministry, He knew the filling and the fullness of the Spirit. See Luke 4:1 “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the desert.”
3) The particular emphasis in the preceding verses is boldness and persistence in asking — “ask and keep on asking” – the promise of God is to give us whatever we ask and seek after (i.e. that is good for us and that fits into His wider plan and purpose).
Consequently Jesus is teaching His children to ask boldly and persistently (repeatedly) for the gift of His Spirit. And does this not say to us that Jesus is teaching His disciples how much they will need the help of the Holy Spirit?
4) Jesus makes a reference to human “fathers” how they respond to the needs of their children. Then He compares evil human fathers/parents with the perfect, good Father in heaven — teaching His disciples that if they ask for the gift of the Spirit, then God the Father will certainly give this “good gift” to His people.
These verses assure us that we will receive the gift of the Spirit in response to a specific request to have this gift. It also follows that if Jesus’ disciples and followers do NOT ask for the Father’s good gift of His Spirit, they will not enjoy the full riches of this Gift.
Basics to a true understanding & interpretation:
Now we need to wrestle with this truth so that we can ask in keeping with the truth.
Firstly, let us note what is NOT taught by Jesus in this passage, e.g. that asking for the Holy Spirit means asking for the gift of tongues!
Secondly, for whom is this teaching intended? Was it just for Jesus’ first disciples for they later received the Spirit in response to their prayers in the Upper Room (after Jesus’ ascension)?
How can it be applicable to us if we have ALREADY received the Spirit? See Acts 2:38; Galatians 3:2 “I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard?” Or can we not say that when Luke wrote it some years after Pentecost, the Spirit was inspiring him to record this teaching for the benefit of those early believers? And also for us!
YES! THIS PASSAGE IS STILL RELEVANT FOR US TODAY. Luke wrote down the teaching of the Lord Jesus under the divine inspiration of the Spirit Himself — for the benefit of the early believers and also for God’s people in every succeeding generation. Luke & Acts wasn’t just writing down an interesting historical document about the life & ministry of Jesus and the early apostle. He was writing for the building up and strengthening of the faith of God’s people in all generations.
So what is the KEY to interpreting this passage correctly? It is to understand the function and work of the Holy Spirit. He is God’s AGENT through whom God mediates all His blessings and provides all our present needs — beginning with the gift of eternal life / salvation, and then on throughout all the Christian life.
The Christian life is A WALK OF FAITH — trusting in God to sustain us and to minister to and through us according to our needs. And this God accomplishes Himself — that is, THROUGH THE DIVINE OPERATION OF HIS SPIRIT.
- John 14: 26 “But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”
- John 16:13-15 “But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you.”
- Acts 1:8 “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."
- Acts 11:24 “He (Barnabas) was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.”
- Rom.1:3-4 “… regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.”
- Gal.5:22-23 “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”
- Eph.4:2-3 “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”
- Rom.8:26-27 “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.”
Therefore, to ask for the Spirit of God is asking God to mediate to us some particular blessing or supply some special need. THROUGH HIS SPIRIT, JESUS PROVIDES ALL OUR NEEDS — WITH A PARTICULAR FOCUS UPON OUR SPIRITUAL NEEDS.
So it is God’s will for us to continually ask the Father that He may give us His Spirit so that we will be able TO LIVE LIVES WORTHY OF OUR SAVIOUR’S NAME AND SERVE HIM IN THE FULLNESS OF HIS POWER.
Consider various needs that we have in our work of ministry:
* Understanding of and perseverance in the truth
* Bearing the fruit of the Spirit abundantly — daily
* Walking in the unity of the Spirit together with our brothers & sisters
* Conviction of sin and putting off the works of darkness
* A genuine, deep love for people
* Living and praying with God-sized faith
* Godly wisdom
* Comfort in hard times
* Endurance in trials
* Encouragement — for ourselves and for others
* Speaking forth the truth on God’s behalf — teaching, preaching, witnessing
* Power for service — an anointing for ministry so that the word of divine truth impacts and changes lives for eternity
* Leading and guidance for what to do when and where
* Discernment concerning the needs of people including understanding spiritually our own needs
The Bible teaches us that the Spirit of God has been given to us to be our Divine Helper — God’s Agent who today is on earth working through God’s people as His temple (1 Cor.6:19-20).
However, God does NOT give His most special gifts to whomever regardless of whether they are interested in having these gifts or not, whether they sense any need for them or not. HE RESERVES THEM FOR THOSE WHO COME ASKING, SEEKING AND KNOCKING.
We are to ask the Father for the Spirit in order that we might do the works of Jesus. That we might have power of Jesus, the love of Jesus, the discernment of Jesus, the divine encouragement of Jesus, the wisdom of Jesus etc.
What then are two essential requirements we must follow if we are to enjoy these “good gifts” that God has promised His people through the divine operation of His Spirit?
1) A deep realization of our need
2) A simple, sincere asking & seeking (i.e. an earnest longing) for any need & help at any time
God’s promise to us is that He will then give us what we ask from Him — abundantly, in measures above and beyond what we could imagine. cf. Eph.3:20-21 “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.”
What is our response? Choose to live and serve God refusing to trust primarily in your mind no matter how strong that may be (i.e. “thinkers”, beware!), your past spiritual or ministry experiences, even your God-given spiritual giftings.
Instead choose to live by the Spirit . Ask for and seek after God’s Spirit in all that He delights to give to us, and HE WILL GIVE YOU ABUNDANTLY, GENEROUSLY even more than you could ever imagine. cf. Titus 3:4ff.
Then you will bear much fruit. And God’s holy name will be praised among the nations.
Graham M. Roberts
Missionary Training School,