“Jesus returned from the Jordan River full of the Holy Spirit, and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness. There he was tempted for forty days by the devil. He ate nothing during those days and afterward Jesus was starving.”
Luke 4:1-2 (CEB)
There is an odd unpredictable side of the Holy Spirit that I do not think we would wish for that often. Take today’s verse for example. Jesus goes down to be baptized by John in the Jordan, the Holy Spirit descends in the form of a dove and God blesses Jesus by calling him his son. Jesus was empowered and excited by the presence of the Holy Spirit. You know this feeling if you have ever gone to a retreat, summer camp, or heard a great speaker. You walk away feeling like you could convert the most selfish of sinner and argumentative atheist you could find. You are ready to build your own church and travel to the most remote and unreached people group.
You feel like Jesus probably felt. Full of the Holy Spirit and ready to take Satan on.
Ask and ye shall receive.
The same Holy Spirit that Jesus was amped up on also directed him to, “the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished.” Within a little over a month Jesus is moved by the Holy Spirit from a mountain-top experience to almost literally walking through the “valley of the shadow of death” where he is tempted by Satan and starving for a decent meal.
By show of hands, who would sign up for that Holy Spirit experience? Anybody? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?
This is not the peaceful dove experience of the Holy Spirit most people think of when they pray for a stronger presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives. However, I think this story illustrates a pretty standard example of how the Holy Spirit works in the world and in our lives. Scripture does tell us that the Holy Spirit is a good thing to have in our lives. We want to have the presence of God around us and in us, this is something to be desired. Although, it is not something we can control or take for granted. As often as the Holy Spirit is comforting and peaceful, the Holy Spirit is just as unpredictable and uncontrollable.
Wind is a good image of this. It moves and blows where it pleases and generally out of our control. Sometimes it is helpful for moving your boat across the sea to your destination and other times it wants to shipwreck you on an island where you end up getting bit by a snake. But, there is another image of the Holy Spirit I have heard about recently that seems to be a good illustration of its ability to be unpredictable and unknowable.
Let’s take a minute and examine how the Holy Spirit can be like a wild goose.
Yes, I said a wild goose.
Mark Batterson, Pastor of National Church in Washington D.C. wrote a book called “Wild Goose Chase” where he examines this fairly obscure image of the Holy Spirit. It is supposedly a Celtic Christian tradition where the Holy Spirit is referred to as a wild goose. From the introduction to his book, Batterson describes the Holy Spirit as something that, “cannot be tracked or tamed. An element of danger, an air of unpredictability surround Him.” I do not know how familiar you are with wild geese, but that nails it on the head. I had an unfortunate experience as a child with a goose that has scarred me for life. I was riding my bike to a friend’s house when I got caught in the crosshairs of an angry and territorial goose. He approached me fairly unassumingly but then started to make that distinctive (and frightening) honking sound geese make and began to attack the wheel of my bike. I barely escaped with my life. To this day, geese still make me anxious to be around.
When we begin to acknowledge the unpredictability of the Holy Spirit I think we begin to accept God more for who he is rather than what we would like him to be. During Lent, we give up something that we want and strive to be more like who God would rather us to be. We look for things in our lives that might be hindering our relationship with God or with others and set those aside for the sake of strengthening relationships and not for feeding our own selfish desires. To us, the Holy Spirit is unpredictable, moving like the wind and escaping our grasp like a wild goose. You cannot contain it, bottle it or sell it. It restrains any attempt at being wrapped in a box with a neat little bow for easy presentation and consumption. Lent calls us to drop those neat and tidy assumptions about God and the Holy Spirit and enter into the alternative, unpredictable and slightly messy reality that God is in control and we are not. Jesus followed the Holy Spirit from his baptism, to his temptation, to feeding 5000 people, to the pain of the cross and then to the glory of his resurrection. Jesus followed the movement of the Holy Spirit wherever it led him, during Lent throw off your preconceptions of the Holy Spirit and see where it might take you.
It may feel like a wild goose chase, you might confront Satan, you might witness a miracle or you might shine a light on a dark place within yourself. Wherever the Holy Spirit leads, at least you are chasing after God.
“May the strength of God pilot us, may the wisdom of God instruct us, may the hand of God protect us, may the word of God direct us. Be always ours this day and for evermore.”