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A Wild Goose Chase, Pt. 1: Keeping Up with the Work of the Holy Spirit

November 7, 2022

by Greg Henson, CEO Kairos University; President of Sioux Falls Seminary and David Williams, Kairos Executive Partner; President of Taylor Seminary

 

In his commentary on Acts, F. F. Bruce writes, “…in all the book there is nothing which is unrelated to the Holy Spirit.” Other scholars have noted that the book of Acts could have been titled, The Acts of the Holy Spirit or even The Gospel of the Holy Spirit.

In preparation for writing this post, we reread the book of Acts with an eye toward the work of the Spirit. There are 56 references to the Holy Spirit in the 28 chapters of Acts. It is staggering to see how the Spirit is moving and giving life to the early church. We see the Spirit at work at Pentecost, among the Gentiles, and at the Jerusalem Council. The Spirit is the driving force behind Paul’s missionary journeys, and it is the Spirit who sets people apart for particular ministry. The Spirit is at work. The early church is just trying to keep up!

As we were growing up, the most common image of the Holy Spirt we encountered was that of a dove or perhaps a flame. That makes sense given the references to the Spirit during the story of Jesus’ baptism and Pentecost. More recently, however, we have been drawn to the ancient Celtic tradition in which the Holy Spirit was often depicted as a wild goose. While this may seem silly or out of place or even irreverent to some, we think it accurately describes the courageous, untamed nature of the Spirit. It is not something that can be controlled.

As we read through Scripture, especially the book of Acts, the Spirit is moving. The Spirit is leading Jesus, empowering the disciples, going before and behind those who call Jesus Lord. This reference to the Spirit continues throughout the early church. In fact, in some research he and his co-authors did for their book The Council, Greg Henson discovered that first ecumenical church councils continued to reference the Spirit in the same way the apostles did at the Jerusalem council. At the conclusion of their discernment process, we see those councils say, “It seemed good to the Spirit and to us…” It is the Spirit who does the work. We have the blessing of discerning and participating in that work. The wild goose is leading the way, and we have the privilege of chasing after it!

If we are honest with ourselves, this truth can be life-giving and yet seem exhausting, encouraging and yet cause concern, exciting and yet anxiety inducing. When we embrace the fact that the Spirit is at work, we can rejoice and celebrate the fact that “all things are possible.” At the same time, however, if “all things are possible” it means we are not in control. As a result, we may have this growing or unnerving sense of concern that always seems to rest under the surface of our excitement. What do we do when the goose decides to run down the “wrong” street or fly into the “wrong” neighborhoods? What do we if it goes somewhere we don’t want to go? What if it leads us down a path we were once told not to go! What if it asks us to walk boldly into an unknown and uncertain future?

Obviously, those are rhetorical questions. The answer is we go where it leads. However, knowing that to be true doesn’t always make it easier! In the case of Kairos, when the Spirit says, “Hey reduce tuition and make theological education affordable because I am doing something over here with those who can’t afford it.” Following that lead isn’t easy if it means losing $500,000 dollars. When the Spirit says, “I am doing a new thing, but you need to give away your power and influence to join me.” We don’t tend to jump right in and say “sign me up!”

That is exactly what we see happening in Scripture, however, when the people of God listen and follow the leading of the Spirit. When that happens, God does amazing things. Thousands of people claim Jesus as Lord. New communities of faith burst forth around the world. The shackles of debt, power, and money fall away.

As a people of God, we are invited to rest in the fact that the Spirit is at work – to submit to the authority of the Spirit as we seek to join with God in that work. Next week, we will take a look at how Stan Grenz and John Franke invite us to consider the authority of the Spirit.

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