I asked a prisoner recently “what changes have you seen in your day-day life since you’ve begun exploring your faith?”. His answer was simple, clear and I thought quite powerful. “I have begun to recognise and sometimes listen to the quiet voice of reason in the chaos of all the other things going on in my head”. Recognising the still, small voice of God is often the most powerfully motivating and inspiring transformation that we can experience.
So often when we look at Acts 2 with its description of tongues of fire and the sound of a mighty wind, we expect that this is the hallmark of the movement of the Holy Spirit. We can look to see God’s activity in prison in the monumental or spectacular, the lifer turned pastor, the addict turned councillor, the steroid-abuser turned evangelist. I have often been tempted myself to try and look for this potential in prisoners I work with. It’s as if I’m saying, ‘if the Holy Spirit is active in his life, surely that would be accompanied by sights and sounds and actions that are certain to amaze and impress.’ The logical conclusion to this would be, of course, that in the little things, the ‘ordinariness’ of our lives, the daily activity of listening to a prisoner’s grief that the Holy Spirit of God is not active or moving. But nothing could be further from the truth.
Of course God can move and inspire us to great heights, and throughout history God has performed great signs and wonders – we can think of things like the parting of the Red Sea during the Exodus of the Israelites when they left Egypt; or Elijah on Mount Carmel; or Jesus calming the stormy sea with a word; or the feeding of the 5000; or the apostles healing the lame man – but more often, God’s presence and the action of the Holy Spirit appear in less dramatic fashion – the resurrected Jesus walking quietly beside the disciples on the road to Emmaus as an unknown stranger; the prophet Nathan confronting David through a riddle; or Elijah in the mouth of the cave hearing the still, small voice. We should never confuse the outward flash and show of something with its importance.
We, or those we work with, might think that the movement of the Spirit is something outside our experience or our own ‘reach’ because, quite honestly, our lives are ordinary, or unspectacular. In the first letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle tells us, “No one can say, ’Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.’ In other words, just the urge to pray aloud or affirm that we believe Jesus is Lord, is a movement of the Holy Spirit. It may not seem spectacular, or feel particularly exciting, but it is a movement of the Spirit just the same. And as the Spirit moves, we are transformed.
While we may not immediately see some spectacular or dazzling result in our circumstances from this movement, there will most definitely be an influence on others around us – and it is in that influence that the Spirit continues to move outward, reaching out through us, drawing us and others closer to God the Father, the Son and Holy Spirit. That is indeed something spectacular and amazing.