It’s been a while since I’ve written anything here. I could give you an assortment of both good and bad reasons for that, but that is not what you are here to read. For those of you who did not see the news on my Caring Bridge site, I had a followup CT scan last month which was completely clear. (Yeah!!!) I will see my oncologist in five months or so and then we will decide what to do about further surveillance. Caring Bridge has changed their website to require you to log in to read posts, so if I post something there in the future, I will put it here also so that you all have one less logon to remember.
It has been over a year now since God healed me of cancer.
Yet life has not yet gone back to normal.
How could it, really? I do not mean all this in a sad, wistful way. I mean it in a good way. Life cannot go back to “normal”. One year ago, I saw – we saw – God move in ways that we often only read about. Ways that we believe he moved at one point, ways that we hear him move in far-off places, but not ways that we expect him to move in our ordinary, modern world. And life can never, ever be the same after that. Perhaps it would be better to say that life is going towards a new normal. Normal as normal should be. Normal as God would have it.
I have been, and continue to be, on a journey. I think of the events of last May as a holy interruption. Now when God interrupts your life in a big way, you ought to pay attention. What is he trying to say? When I look back at those events (God giving me a sign that challenged my understanding of the Holy Spirit, and then miraculously healing me here, despite my Western, highly skeptical, anti-supernatural context) what I see and hear is the Holy Spirit of God – the third person of the Trinity – saying, “Ruth, you do not know me very well. You need to get to know me.”
I became a Christian in college – what I mean by that is, in college I made two decisions: one, that I believed that yes, Jesus is real and indeed God, and two, I am going to follow him and go where he leads. But at that point in my life that is not how I would have described what I was doing. I remember sitting on my bed one night, mourning the tragic death of a young man I knew from high school. As I wept, and contemplated my own fragile existence, God entered my consciousness in a way that he hadn’t before. I realized that I didn’t know God. I knew some things about him, cobbled together from occasional church attendance, but it was a superficial knowing. God and I were acquaintances. But that night, God extended an invitation to me. I decided that night that I would “get to know God.” I changed directions – away from my old life and my old way of doing things, towards God and a real relationship with him.
I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I suppose any relationship is like that. We have a vague idea of what it is going to be like to be a spouse, a mother, a close friend, a business partner; but there will always be big surprises along the way. I had no idea that night that God would call me to spend four years in Nepal as a missionary physician, and that I would go; or that I would have cancer at thirty-five years old, and that through that terrible experience I would know God and see God in ways that I previously had not. I took my first steps of my journey of faith without knowing all the twists and turns and stops along the way. And so it is with getting to know the Holy Spirit. I do not know exactly where this journey will lead, but I do know that it will take me toward a deeper relationship with God, and that is what my heart desires most.
After I was healed, I realized that I knew precious little about the Holy Spirit. Yes, I knew that after I placed my trust in Christ that the Holy Spirit came and lived in me. I knew that God is three in one – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I could spout off lots of things that I believed in my head that were all good Christian doctrines about the Spirit. But I did not pay a whole lot of attention to the Spirit of God in my life or the world around me. Occasionally the thought would cross my mind that I did not understand the Holy Spirit and his role (which, in retrospect, was probably the Holy Spirit saying, “Hey Ruth! Yoohoo! I’m here.”) But he is not preached about often, I have never had a Bible study or class that was focused on him, and people in the different churches I have attended have not talked about him much.
So the Holy Spirit and I remained acquaintances. And when I went off to Nepal to be a missionary, I did not understand or appropriate the power of the Holy Spirit that could have enabled me to do things I could not do on my own. Instead, more often than not I tried to do them through my own strength, and struggled and failed. When our church leaders laid hands on us at our commissioning before we went, I thought, well this is nice. Kind of like a side hug. I did not really believe that any supernatural imparting of strength or ability or authority was happening at that moment. When we were told that a significant number of Nepalis who became Christians cited divine healing as the major factor in their decision, never once did I think, hmm, I should learn more about that. Not once did the thought cross my mind.
I can give plenty of examples from my non-missionary life too. When I was struggling to forgive someone who had deeply wounded me, I did not cry out to the Holy Spirit to help me and bear the fruit of forgiveness in my life. Of course I asked God to help me, but not with an attitude of expectation. I did not really believe that the God who dwells in my heart could clean it like that and enable me to let go of years of hurt and bitterness – much less genuinely love this person. But that is the work of the Holy Spirit too. Of course we have a part in this work also – of choosing to reconcile, and choosing whether to ruminate in our dark thoughts or to take them captive to Christ. But the Spirit enables us to do things that are not in our nature to do.
I do not want to stay acquaintances with one third of the Godhead. I do not want to hold the Spirit at arm’s length any more. I have decided to get to know the Holy Spirit.
So how does one do this? The same way we get to know anybody – we find out what they are like, what they do for a living, what they have to say. I’ve been doing a lot of reading over the past year. Outside of the Bible, the book I have found most helpful is Paul, the Spirit, and the People of God by Gordon Fee. Fee does an excellent job showing how for Paul and the early church, “the presence of the Spirit, as an experienced and living reality, was the crucial matter for Christian life, from beginning to end.” I am reading it a second time now, since there is so much in there to take in. Forgotten God by Francis Chan is also good as a place to start, and an easier read (but I would still recommend the Fee book after you are done reading this one). I’ve been praying a lot more also – for myself, that God would show me the truth about himself, and correct what I believe about him that is wrong; and for others, believing that the same power of the Holy Spirit that enabled Jesus to do the will of God also empowers me, and that God will work through me as I step out in faith. I am learning.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, are you in the same boat that I have been in? You do not need to stay there. Has there not been some longing in your heart for more of God than you have had? Does not our world need the Holy Spirit to move, and be our experienced and living reality, now more than ever?