One of the huge questions people often ask about the Holy Spirit is this: if the Holy Spirit is given to all followers of Jesus (which it is), why does Jesus tell us to ask for it? Which is it? Is it automatic or only given on request?
This question has caused endless debates within the Church. So you will find, in the blue corner, those who advocate that we don’t need to keep asking because it is a once-for-all gift which we just need to cultivate. And, in the red corner, those who make much of the need to keep asking, that what we get at the start isn’t enough. Seconds away…!
As is so often the case, the argument tends to polarise towards either/or, when actually the bible seems quite comfortable with ‘both/and’.
(As an aside, you’ll find this a good rule of thumb in most debates about faith – the answer is usually not either/or, but both/and. We get into trouble whenever we try to ‘resolve it’ – far better to embrace both truths and live accordingly.)
The best way I can explain it is to think about birthdays. My son’s birthday is in a week’s time. He’s been asking for various things for his birthday, which is great, and Alise and I will love to buy those things for him (mostly!). But since he’s our beloved son, we would have bought him gifts anyway. He doesn’t only get presents because he asked! He is guaranteed to receive gifts – it’s just also nice for him to ask, so we know what to get.
Our Heavenly Father, God, looks at his children in much the same way. Note that this teaching on the Holy Spirit is set in the context of the Lord’s Prayer. We pray to a loving heavenly parent who is delighted to give good gifts to his children. So we ask for the Spirit (v13) as one of the good gifts, knowing that God loves to answer that prayer. He’s given us the Spirit anyway, but there’s no harm asking, is there?
And because, as we observed yesterday, the Spirit is a person, with a personality, we can also afford to be specific. Yes, we can pray for more of ‘the Spirit’ in general, just as my teenage son might say ‘just buy me stuff, dad’. Or we can pray that the Spirit fills us with peace, or joy, or gives us the gift of teaching, or discernment into a situation – the equivalent of a more specific birthday gift, like, say an Xbox game or a pair of Nike shorts.
So let’s rejoice that God gives the Spirit unconditionally to all who follow Jesus. And let’s also rejoice that we can keep asking, confident in the words of our master, Jesus: ‘How much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.’
What good gifts will you ask for today?