Walking with the Holy Spirit in Dark Places

Bus 46 is my favorite. When I turn the corner out of my neighborhood, I usually find it idling and empty after releasing the last passengers from a previous run. The bus driver takes a smoke break. Meanwhile, I climb the steps, show my pass, and pick out a seat. I like the seats toward the back because they’re higher and I get a better view.

One by one, others join me. A lot of older people ride the bus mid-morning, waiting until after the early rush hour to venture out for doctor’s appointments, grocery runs, visits to grandchildren. College students board the bus in clusters—phones out, earbuds in.

I watch, and I pray. It’s a simple thing: when I have a free day, my go-to activity is to pick a bus to ride with no particular destination in mind. The goal isn’t to get somewhere but to be somewhere. I want to be present with the Spirit of Jesus in a place where he is not yet recognized. And I’m here to pray for those around me while looking for opportunities to speak of him.

I May Not Be a Great Missionary

The truth is, I don’t feel like a very good missionary most days. I understand a good bit of the two languages spoken in the Central Asian city where I live, but I struggle with fluency. Often, I wonder whether I can make any difference. And then God reminds me of the Holy Spirit living inside me.

The Spirit is here, interceding on behalf of the people on Bus 46, aching for the two million souls in our city. He wants to show himself to the students and pensioners, young moms, and businessmen. And he wants to use my feet, my hands, my mouth.

“The Spirit is in my life to stay . . . wanting to fill me, equip me, satisfy me, move me to greater worship and greater risk for God’s glory.”

I haven’t always lived with this conscious understanding of the Holy Spirit wanting to work through me. Two years ago, after thirty-five years as a believer and nearly twenty years serving in Central Asia, I stumbled upon this quote:

It is also of the highest importance . . . that we decide whether the Holy Spirit is merely some mysterious and wonderful power that we in our weakness and ignorance are somehow to get hold of and use, or whether the Holy Spirit is a real person . . . who is to get hold of and use us. —R. A. Torrey, The Person and Work of the Holy Spirit

For most of my life, I have kept the Holy Spirit at arm’s length. At least subconsciously, I have thought of him as a power to be used in ministry, rather than a person who wants to use me to accomplish his purposes. But after reading this quote, I began poring over the Scriptures. Both in my personal time with God and along with our small house church, I sought to understand more deeply the person of the Holy Spirit.

The Spirit Is a Person . . . in Me

The Old Testament references told me about the Spirit who would come and go, empowering his servants for special moments of service. Jesus’s words in the gospel of John reminded me that the Spirit is in my life to stay, that he is living inside me and wanting to fill me, equip me, satisfy me, move me to greater worship and greater risk for God’s glory. Jesus said to the crowds in John 7 that anyone who is thirsty should come to him in faith and drink, and the result will be that “rivers of living water will flow from within them.” Then John explained: “By this, he meant the Spirit.”

The Spirit is the living water? I reread the story of the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4. Jesus tells the woman if she would just ask, he would provide the living water. Ask? So I began to ask. Every day. Over and over. Suddenly I understood that my thirst could be quenched. I wanted to drink deeply and often. I knew I needed the constant comfort, conviction, joy, and power of the Spirit.

This asking and receiving has changed my walk with God. While the Bible shows us many ways the Holy Spirit works, his movement in my life has impacted my cross-cultural ministry in three specific areas.

The Spirit Enables Us to Worship

The first is in the experience of deep joy and spontaneous worship. In Jesus’s last hours with his disciples before his arrest, he saw their pain and confusion and anticipated the trial to come for them. He explained that it was actually for their good—and ours—that he leave because the Spirit would come and live inside us in a way that Jesus could not. In John 17, Jesus prayed that we will know the “full measure” of his joy within us. Intimately linked with that joy is worship.

“The Spirit in me is in constant communion with the Father and the Son, and the language of that fellowship is worship.”

C. L. Culpepper, a missionary to North China during the Shantung Revival of the late 1920s, witnessed this sort of joy: “Old people who could not read or write memorized the songs and sang with their eyes closed, their bodies swaying to the rhythm of the melody and tears of joy running down their cheeks. God had taken away their sorrow and given them a new song. I saw that many old women who could not carry a tune were filled with the Spirit, singing a melody that seemed to come from an angel of heaven.”

The Spirit in me is in constant communion with the Father and the Son, and the language of that fellowship is worship. And the fruit of that worship is joy—overflowing, abundant joy.

The Spirit Speaks Life

The second thing I’ve learned is to count on the Spirit to speak words of life. It is his job to do what I cannot do: to convict people of sin, to convince them of the coming judgment, and to open their eyes to the righteousness of Jesus (John 16:7–11). From the days of creation to this present moment, the Spirit has been speaking life where there is death, chaos, and confusion. Through the mouths of his children, God wants to speak life and peace today into the death we see all around us.

I am a jar of clay holding the precious treasure of the Spirit where I live in a part of Asia that is less than .01 percent Christian. God wants me to speak his truth. In cross-cultural and cross-language situations, I can easily feel afraid and inadequate, but as I grow in my understanding of the role of the Spirit, I have felt emboldened to speak. The Spirit-filled believers at Pentecost to give them the ability to speak in other languages. Likewise, I keep praying and expecting that the Spirit will speak words of life through me.

The Spirit Convicts and Calls

The third way a deeper understanding of the person of the Holy Spirit has impacted my ministry has been in a renewed calling to take the gospel to those who have not heard. Shortly after our house church finished our study of the person of the Holy Spirit, I was reading the book of Jonah. God’s word to Jonah was to go and proclaim the words that God would give. Jonah finally obeyed God.

As he walked through Nineveh, Jonah called people to repentance (faithfully speaking God-given words). The Spirit, through Jonah, brought deep conviction of sin among the Ninevites—something only God could accomplish.

This story reminded me that God has an agenda. He is working to bring people from every tribe, language, and nation to himself. Walking in the Spirit, I have the privilege of participating with him.

By His Spirit, I Try

Last Friday, my bus ride took longer than expected and I ended up hailing a taxi for the ride home. The road was clogged with traffic around a mosque, and I saw an opportunity to ask my driver about the resurgence of Islam in our city. He craned his head and looked back at me, asking me where I was from. Immediately, I felt the distance between us—language, culture, and traditions. I stumbled forward with words about Jesus anyway.

I keep trying. Most days my efforts feel small and even foolish. But I have to believe God has taught me about his Spirit because the Spirit wants to move. So I will keep sowing the seed and waiting for a harvest.