Dynamite in Prayer
Sal: Well, Chris, what do we talk about today?
Chris: How about talking about dynamite?
Chris: The dynamite in prayer.
[also in print/eBook]
Kreeft and Nevins dialogue on experiencing Charismatic Gifts—catalysts to more interactive, “two-way” prayer. See also:
Chris: Because theres nothing more practical than the Holy Spirit.
Sal: Wow! Whats that?
Chris: The Holy Spirit.
Chris: You sound disappointed.
Sal: Well... you have to admit, dynamite is more of an attention-getter than the Holy Spirit. I thought you were going to talk about something more well, more practical.
The Holy Spirit is dynamite.
Chris: I couldnt possibly do that, Sal.
Sal: Why not?
Chris: Thats part of it. But you seem disappointed again.
Sal: Oh? What practical difference does it make, then?
Chris: Not it, he. Hes a person, remember?
Sal: O.K. But what difference does he make? Or is that a wrong question to ask?
Chris: Its a very good question. If something makes no practical difference, no difference to your life, then you dont care about it. Who cares whether the moon has 1,000 or 2,000 craters on its dark side? Only astronomers. But we care about dynamite, if its in our neighborhood. Because dynamite can make a difference, right?
Sal: Right. And the Holy Spirit can make as big a difference as dynamite?
Chris: The Holy Spirit is dynamite. The word dynamite comes from one of the Greek words used in the New Testament to describe the Holy Spirit: dynamis. It means power.
Sal: Oh, I think I understand. You mean unless there were a Holy Spirit, there couldnt be the power to start the Church and the power to inspire the writers of the Bible and so on. Hes sort of like spiritual electricity?
Sal: Because thats theoretical, theological. I want to know what practical difference he makes here and now. If hes spiritual electricity, I dont just want to know that he happens to be the source of power, I want to know if I can get a shock.
You know Jesus,
Chris: Good question. Thats the other part of it, the practical difference he makes. Yes, you can get a shock. You can touch him.
Sal: He makes a difference, then. Good. But what difference?
Chris: The same kind of difference Jesus does. Just as Jesus gives you a new relationship with God the Father, the Holy Spirit gives you a new relationship with Jesus.
Sal: What new relationship?
Chris: There are a lot of aspects to it, but the heart of it is that Jesus becomes real to you, not just ideal or abstract. You know him, not just know about him. Its as big a change as Job found at the end of his story, when the God he had been praying to and complaining to and calling on finally came to him. When that happened, Job said, I had heard of you with the hearing of the ear, but now I see you with the seeing of the eye. Firsthand knowing instead of secondhand. And thats a big difference as weIl, I imagine your father had left home to fight in some foreign war when you were born, and you never saw him. You only got letters from him (thats like the Bible), and your mother told you about him (shes like the Church). Then one day he shows up at your front door and comes in, and you hug him and talk with him and play with himyou meet him.
Sal: I see. You mean the Holy Spirit brings Jesus home to me, sort of?
Sal: That is a tremendous difference.
Chris: Like the difference between a photograph and a person.
Sal: So the Holy Spirit makes Jesus more than just thought about.
Sal: More than believed in too? Beyond faith?
Its deeper than feeling,
Chris: Not beyond faith, no; your faith deepens. It becomes more than an intellectual faith. You believe in Jesus, not just believe things about Jesus. You trust him. You get to know him, as you get to know a friend. By experience.
Sal: By feeling? Is that what you mean by experience?
Chris: No, not just feeling. Feeling is only a part of it. Its deeper than feeling, just as human love and human friendship is deeper than feelings. Feelings can change, but the relationship can endure. The feelings are only in you, but the relationship is between you and your friend. Feelings are subjective, but relationships are objective. The change the Holy Spirit makes is more than a subjective thing, a change in your feelings. Its a change in the real relationship between you and God.
Sal: And this is true about my prayer and about my life, right?
Sal: O.K., I think I see where the change is: in the relationship, not just in me. But Im not clear what the change is.
Chris: One part of it is that the action doesnt come only from you, but from God. The energy of God comes into your prayer and into your life.
Sal: Is that what the Holy Spirit is, the energy of God?
Chris: Yes, but remember, hes a Person, not just energy in the abstract.
Sal: But hes like electricity in that you can get a shock. You can touch him.
Chris: Yes. Actually, he touches you.
Sal: Not physically, of course?
Chris: No, but spirits can really touch too.
Sal: It sounds exciting. He sounds exciting. He must make prayer exciting.
Chris: Yes, but he doesnt give you a perpetual high. Remember, its not primarily a matter of feeling. So even when you dont feel God is there, you still know he is.
Sal: With your mind?
Chris: No, its more than intellectual, just as its more than emotional. Deeper than both: the real presence of a persona divine Person. All three of them, in fact.
Sal: It sounds incredibly precious.
Chris: It is. More precious than anything in this world. So precious that even if only one person who reads this book believes this one point and decides to ask God for the Holy Spirit (and everyone who asks, receives), then it will be infinitely worth all the time and effort of writing and publishing and distributing it to thousands of others, just for that one.
Sal: It sounds too good to be true, too good for me. Im not good enough for it, I mean.
Chris: Thats right. Youre not. Nobody is. Nobody deserves God. God works by love, not justice. Its sheer grace, sheer gift. And hes free. He comes with the package deal. The Spirit comes with the Father and the Son.
Sal: Arent there a lot of people who are living on only a third or two thirds of the package?
A lot of Christians are living on spiritual cheese sandwiches, when steak is offered.
Chris: Yes! Theyre like the family of immigrants on a ship from Europe to America. They were so poor that they had to spend almost all their money on the ticket, and what they had left over for food was only enough to buy bread and cheese. So for the first couple of days all they ate was cheese sandwiches. Then the little boy said to his father, Daddy, please, can I have money for an ice cream cone, just this once? I hate cheese sandwiches! His father said, We have almost no money left. And cheese sandwiches will keep you alive till we get to New York. Once were there, there are golden streets and everybodys rich. The boy wouldnt stop asking, so his father finally gave him some change for an ice cream cone and waited. The boy didnt come back for two hours. His father was getting worried when the boy finally came back with a fat tummy and a smile on his face. Did you get your ice cream cone? Oh, sure, Dad. And then another one, and then a steak, and then apple pie. What? You bought all that with the money I gave you? Oh, no, Dad. Its free. It comes with the ticket!
Sal: Ouch! I see the point. A lot of Christians are living on spiritual cheese sandwiches, and the Holy Spirit is steak, right?
Chris: Right. Theres a passage in Acts where Paul goes into a church in Ephesus and asks the question: Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers? And they answer, Whos that? We never heard about the Holy Spirit. Why do you think Paul asked that question? I think he saw spiritual cheese instead of spiritual steak there. He sensed something missing: the power, the certainty, the joy. Maybe hed ask the same question if he came to most of our churches.
The experience of the
Sal: This still sounds too good to be true. Are you sure its for me? Not only for saints?
Chris: The Bible calls all Christians saints.
Sal: Isnt it only for charismatics? Pentecostals? Holy Spirit people?
Chris: Dont let denominational lines and theological labels and walls of words keep you out. The Holy Spirit is for all Christians. Thats very clear in the New Testament.
Sal: But this experience of himthe joy, the power, the certaintyis that what they call the baptism in the Holy Spirit?
Chris: Thats what charismatics call it, yes, but it's not just for one group of Christians, not just for charismatics. In fact, thats just what charismatics say too.
Sal: You know, Ive been impressed throughout these conversations of ours with how much solid substance there is in the Christianity common to all the different churches, Protestant and Catholic, charismatic and non-charismatic.
Chris: Thats because Ive tried to stick to the center.
Sal: The center?
Ecumenical content is not a thin "lowest common
denominator", but "the beef", essential Christianity.
Chris: God himself, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Hes for everyone, not just one group. For all who will have him.
Sal: Are you saying denominational differences dont matter?
Chris: Not at all. The differences are very important. But even those very important differences cant compare with the deep agreement all Christians have about the center. We agree much more than we disagree.
Sal: Do all Christians agree about the baptism in the Holy Spirit?
Chris: No, but hes for everyone, whatever they think of him.
Sal: Is the baptism in the Holy Spirit necessary for salvation?
Chris: No. Steak isnt necessary for food either; cheese sandwiches will keep you alive. But when the steak is free, why not take it?
Sal: I thought the Holy Spirit was given to everybody whos saved, everyone whos a Christian. Didnt Jesus promise the Holy Spirit to all his disciples?
Chris: Yes, he did. The baptism in the Holy Spirit isnt the same as Christ giving us the Holy Spirit in the first place. The Holy Spirit is given to us as soon as we believe.
Sal: Whats the baptism in the Spirit then?
Chris: A release of the power of the Spirit whos already there.
What Protestants and
Sal: O.K., that point is cleared up. But Im still not clear how you know the baptism in the Spirit is for all Christians, just as the giving of the Spirit in the first place is. Only a few seem to have it.
Chris: Because when it first happened, on Pentecost, Peter said to the thousands there, who heard the mighty wind and saw the tongues of fire and heard the apostles speaking in tongues. Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spiritthats the three parts of the Christian package deal: repentance to the Father, salvation by the Son and receiving the Holy Spirit. Peter then went on to say that the promise (the whole promise, including the Holy Spirit) is to you and to your children and to all that are far off, every one whom the Lord our God calls. Its as if Peter was looking down the centuries, over the heads of his listeners, and saw us, and said to us, This is for you too. Look; it makes sense. God is love, and whats the gift a lover longs most to give? What do flowers or a wedding ring symbolize?
Sal: The lover himself. The gift of self.
Chris: So God wants to give each one of us himself, his whole self, Father and Son and Holy Spirit. God is pure love, pure generosity, and the aim of love is always intimacy, oneness with the beloved. Doesnt the lover always want to get closer and closer, to get inside the beloveds soul? You want to give your whole self to the one you love. Thats why God gave us the Holy Spirit. And thats why its better to have the Holy Spirit than to have Jesus only physically present, as the first disciples did.
Sal: Better even than having Jesus here on earth?
We're better off after
Chris: Yes, thats what he said himself. He said, It is better for you that I go away (he was speaking of his ascension into Heaven) because if I do not go away, the Spirit will not come to you, but if I go away, I will send him to you.
Sal: Why is that?
Chris: Because no matter how close you are to Jesus, without the Holy Spirit, Jesus is still somebody outside you. Hes close beside you, but the Holy Spirit is inside you. Thats even closer, and thats what love wants, remember: closeness.
Sal: You mean were really better off now without Jesus, with the Holy Spirit instead?
Chris: No, no, not instead. Jesus is with us too. He promised that: Behold, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. The Holy Spirit is his Spirit. The Holy Spirit reveals Jesus to us.
Sal: But were better off without Jesus bodily presence? Better off after Jesus ascension into Heaven than before?
Sal: Thats pretty hard to believe. Frankly, I should think it would be fantastic if we could talk to him now, directly.
Chris: Ah, but you can!
Sal: Oh. Prayer, you mean?
Chris: Yes. Because Jesus sent us his Spirit instead of leaving us his human body, our prayers can be more intimate.
Chris: You know the one you talk to. Hes your friend, not a stranger. And he talks back, and you hear him. Not usually in words... well talk later about that. And heres another difference he makes: he lights up Scripture. When you read it, its not a dead book, but alive.
Sal: What do you mean by that? It sounds pretty vague.
Chris: Whats the difference between a love letter and an encyclopedia?
Sal: I see: the first one is alive.
The Bible becomes
Chris: And the whole Bible becomes a love letter written to you personally, not some old, historical encyclopedia.
Sal: To me personally?
Chris: Yes. God doesnt address his mail Dear Occupant.
Sal: You can really see that big of a difference in the way you read the Bible?
Chris: Yes. It reads you now. It becomes like a sword: not dead on the ground, but alive because Somebodys hand is using it.
Sal: That Somebody is the Holy Spirit?
Chris: Yes. The Bible calls itself the Sword of the Spirit, you know.
Sal: It sounds almost scary.
Chris: It can belike looking through a keyhole and seeing an eye looking back at you. But its the eye of Infinite Love. Heres another way to put the difference it makes: Did you ever see one of those kids puzzles in the Sunday papers, where theres a jungle scene or something, and the puzzle reads, Find the man in the picture? After you squint and turn it sideways you notice that that tree trunk is his mouth, and that elephant ear is his chin, and so on. Then, once you see all the lines as part of his face, you can never see that picture the same again. Its not just a jungle; its a man. Its a little like seeing the man in the moon". But in the case of Scripture, hes really therethough hes not just a man, hes God. Every word becomes part of his face, tells you about him. You meet him now when you read.
Sal: Really? Youre not exaggerating or idealizing?
Chris: No. It really happens.
Sal: Thats a way to pray, then: reading Scripture.
Chris: Yes. Well talk about that later too.
Sal: And I suppose the Holy Spirit makes a difference to your life too, right?
Chris: Of course. One difference is that he gives you a sense of direction, of guidance. You need more than written rules, you know.
The Spirit directs us
Chris: Because no set of rules can cover everything. Situations and personalities are different. There are rules, but we have to apply them to different situations. Thats where the Holy Spirit helps. You sense what his will is because you know himjust as you can tell what your father would want you to do in a situation because you know him. But you dont know what some stranger would want you to do, because you just dont know him personally.
Sal: O.K., enough! Its for me. What do I do? How do I get it?
Chris: Only ask.
Sal: Thats all?
Chris: Thats all.
Sal: No, that cant be. Its too simple, too easy. Whats the catch?
Chris: No catch.
Sal: What are my chances?
Sal: Of getting all these great things you described.
Chris: Oh, 100 percent.
Sal: Can you prove that?
Chris: I sure can. Read Luke 11.... Here it is. Dont believe me; believe Jesus. Heres what he says: I say to you, ask and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.
Sal: How can it be that simple? And how do you know that Jesus was talking about the Holy Spirit in that passage?
Chris: He himself answers both of those questions in the next few verses: If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent instead of a fish? Or if he asks for an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!
Sal: Just those who ask? Thats all it says?
Chris: Thats all.
Sal: Its just too good to be true.
Chris: If it isnt true, Jesus is a liar. Isnt that even harder to believe?
Sal: Of course, but maybe were misinterpreting his words.
Chris: How much clearer and simpler could they be? In fact, its too simple for you! Thats your objection: It just cant be that simple. But it is. Love is very simple-hearted. It just loves to give gifts, just because its love. Thats what God is: just love.
Sal: I think love just trapped me in a corner. And I dont want to escape.