Forgotten God

I’ve just finished reading the book ‘Forgotten God: reversing the tragic neglect of the Holy Spirit’ by Francis Chan and it proved to be one of the best books I’ve read for a while. It’s a clarion call to the Church to get back to the Bible and look again at the importance of the ministry of the Holy Spirit in our lives and the Church’s.

It’s a challenging read but not a difficult one – if that makes sense. Chan has an easy-going, easy to read style that anyone can follow but the message he brings is a very challenging one. The questions he asks are valid and timely, I agree with him that we, as a Church, have lost sight of the ministry of the Holy Spirit or wrongly dismiss it as something for the days of the apostles but not now. For example, the question on the blurb on the back of the book asks “powerful. When is the last time someone used that word to describe you?” or when he asks if we were converted on a desert island by ourselves with just our Bibles, when we were rescued and began to attend church would it match our expectations from our reading the New Testament (NT)?

Jesus says that “another Counsellor” (John 14:16) was coming (the word Counsellor here means ‘another of the same’ stressing the divinity of the Spirit). Jesus even goes so far as to say that it is to our advantage that He goes in order that the Spirit can come (John 16:7). That in itself is challenging. How seriously do we take these words of Jesus? How many of us would swap the presence of the Spirit for the physical presence of Jesus? If so, we are guilty of unbelief in what Jesus says!

When we read through the NT the power and work of the Holy Spirit is very much in evidence. IT is He who empowered the believers to living new lives and carrying out the great commission of Jesus, yet for some reason we have divorced this from our day to lives. It is clear that we would expect our new lives with the Spirit to look radically different from our old lives and the lives of those who are not Christians, but the reality very often (myself included) is that we see little difference. We live as though we don’t expect the Spirit to act or worse, we live as though we don’t need him.

Chan struck a chord with me when he writes of his tiredness of living in a way that looks exactly the same as non-believers:

“I want to consistently live with an awareness of his strength. I want to be different today from what I was yesterday as the fruit of the Spirit becomes more manifest in me. I want to live so that I am truly submitted to the Spirit’s leading on a daily basis. Christ said it is better for us that the Spirit came, and I want to live like I know that is true. I don’t want to keep crawling when I have the ability to fly.” P37

I certainly want this, and here is where the book really struck a chord deep in my soul as to the apparent dis-connect I feel between the vibrant power of the NT believers to what I see in myself. To change we need to rediscover the Bible’s teaching on the power and the work of the Holy Spirit. To not be afraid of being labelled, but to come to the Bible with a desire to see afresh what God says to us about the Spirit’s work.

Chan begins by setting out the necessity of the Holy Spirit’s ministry – why we need him, then outlines a big problem we have – fear. Perhaps this will not resonate so strongly with everyone but it did with me. He says that we are often paralysed by fear, but this can be in different ways. We can be afraid of rejection by others in the congregation; afraid to step outside of the accepted norms in the congregation, afraid of being labelled a “charismatic” or such-like. Yet we are called to shape our lives according to the Bible, we must not let such fears prevent us from doing so. Are we prepared to really pursue the truth? A challenging question for us all.

We can also be afraid that God won’t answer our prayer for the Holy Spirit if we ask him. Chan rightly shows that this is unfounded as God will always give the Spirit to those who ask for him. Otherwise Jesus is a liar – read his words in Luke 11:13. This really is symptomatic of a deeper issue, our habit of not asking for things because we are ‘covering’ for God. We don’t expect an answer so we don’t ask to save God the embarrassment of not answering.

“I cant imagine how much it pains God to see His children hold back from relationship with the Holy Spirit out of fear that He won’t come through. How much it grieves Him to watch His children ignore the promises He’s made throughout Scripture due to fear that those promises won’t be kept! Empowering his children with the strength of the Holy Spirit is something the Father wants to do. It’s not something we need to talk him into. He genuinely wants to see us walk in His strength.”  p47-8

The third fear is, I believe, the most prevalent. We are scared that God will answer us and we won’t like what we hear. That we will be asked to do things we are not comfortable with, to go in a direction we won’t want to go in. This confronts us with the basic question – do we really want to do God’s will? Do we?

Chan turns the discussion on its head with the conclusion that we need to fear the right things, and what we should be more concerned about is not grieving or quenching the Holy Spirit of God. I must admit it has made me think more about the Spirit’s work and my grieving of him, something which rarely occurred to me previously. Another thing I must repent of.

I also like how the author devotes a chapter to an important point. He argues we should not waste too much time asking ‘what is God’s plans for my life?’ but ‘what is the Holy Spirit prompting me to do today?’ Food for thought there!

This is a book that confronts us with a wake-up call. Are we prepared to really enter the life of discipleship Jesus desires for us, to be led by the Spirit in the will of Jesus? Of course, we need to examine our motives for wanting the Spirit lest we be like Simon the Sorcerer (Acts 8). He wanted the Spirit for his own gain and reputation, whereas God gives us the Spirit for the common good. The power of the Spirit in our lives draws attention to Jesus, not us.

We need the Holy Spirit. Not just to know about him, but to know him in our personal experience and in the life of the Church. The Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead lives inside every Christian, we have that power available to us for the common good and the extension of Jesus’ Kingdom. Let’s face the challenge Francis Chan gives us and, fears and all, follow the will of Jesus and be led by the Spirit, filled by the Spirit, empowered by the Spirit. This book is well worth a few hours of your time.

You can find out more at the accompanying website