Here’s a soul-stirring thought: If you’re in Christ, then God in the highest has made your heart his home. The Holy Spirit has come in, so to speak, filling with Himself the halls and chambers of your soul. And he will never, ever move.
“If anyone loves me,” Jesus said to his disciples, “he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him(John 14:23). In Christ, not only do we have a home in heaven (John 14:2), but heaven has made a home in us now. Already we feel some of the warmth of our Father’s fireplace, and hear some of his music dancing through the halls, and smell some of the food from his table, because the very Spirit of this house is here.
And what a Spirit he is. Richard Sibbes (1577-1635), one of the great Puritan theologians of the Spirit, writes that when the Spirit takes us “for a house of his own”, he
also becomes to us a counselor in all our doubts, a comforter in all our distresses, a solicitor of all our duties, a guide in all the course of life, until we dwell with him forever in heaven, for which his dwelling here in us tends. (The works of Richard Sibbes5:414)
Before the Spirit brings us to heaven, he brings us something from heaven. What madness, then, to ignore or refuse this glorious guest – and how happy to welcome him.
Entertain the mind
Sibbes, in his seventeenth-century fashion, liked to speak of “entertaining” the Spirit, by which he was simply referring to our hospitality (as in the language of Hebrews 13:2, “Some have amused unconscious angels”). If the Holy Spirit dwells in us (Romans 8:9-11), then our great duty and our great joy is to entertain him, to welcome him, to welcome him with love until he brings us to the sky.
And how? Consider four tips from Sibbes, a master in spiritual hospitality.
1. Listen to his voice.
The Spirit, like the best of hosts, comes to speak to us. And though he can sometimes give a prophetic word (1 Corinthians 12:8, 10), he speaks most clearly, and with definitive authority, in the pages of Scripture. These are the words that he once breathed out (2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:21), and to those who have ears to hear they are “alive and active” (Hebrews 4:12), the breath of the Spirit is still warm on them.
“Read the Bible” is, I guess, old advice for most of us. But Sibbes alerts us to two common ways of reading scripture with ears quenched by the Spirit: by listening selectively and by listening superficially.
“If the words of the Spirit never hurt us (and heal us), we do not hear his voice.”
First, he writes: “It is a dangerous mourning of the Spirit, when, instead of drawing us to the Spirit, we will work to draw the Spirit to us” (works, 5:420). He has in mind the person who reads scripture to hear not what the Spirit is actually saying – however uncomfortable that may be – but what he wanna the Spirit to say. How easily I forget that the word “alive and active” is also “sharper than any two-edged sword” (Hebrews 4:12) – and the Spirit wields the weapon. If his words never hurt us (and then heal us), we don’t hear his voice.
Second, Sibbes speaks directly to our rushed times:
Another way we commonly grieve the Spirit of God is, when the mind is troubled by a multitude of affairs . . . for a multitude of affairs engenders a multitude of passions and distractions; that when the Spirit of God dictates the best things that tend to our comfort and peace, we have no time to hear. (422)
The voice of the Spirit can be drowned out by the noise of a distracted life (Mark 4:19). We can hear his word in a rapid and superficial way, as a husband hears his wife rushing for the door. But “we don’t have time” to listen, unhurried and undistracted, so the voice of the Spirit sinks deep.
Hear the Spirit – truly audience him — requires humility, time and calm, just like hearing from a spouse or a friend. We would therefore do well, first thing in the morning, and perhaps at key moments of the day, to put aside all other company of the soul and invite the Spirit to speak.
2. Consider his movements.
Intimately linked to the voice of the Spirit are what Sibbes calls the “movements” of the Spirit. By “movements” he is not referring to what some today call “impressions” (often the feeling that we should take an unusual course of action), but to what many of us might call a ” conviction”. Motions are spiritual promptings to apply a specific part of scripture – read, heard, or memorized – to a specific part of life.
Say, for example, you hear a sermon or a teaching on fasting, and (as happened to me recently) you feel your neglect of this spiritual discipline and feel the need to change. You can at this moment feel one of the movements of the Spirit, “sent to make room for God in our hearts” (works5:426).
Now the question is: what are you going to do? We can probably resonate with Sibbes when he says, “How many sacred movements are kindled by hearing the word and receiving the sacraments, etc., which die as soon as they are kindled for lack of resolution!” (428). Sermon finished, we leave the gathering, we get carried away by the current of the day and forget what we felt (James 1:22-24). The Spirit invited us to enjoy more of his presence and power, and through our actions we silently said no.
How then do we pay attention to the movements of the Spirit? By what Paul calls a “resolve for good” (2 Thessalonians 1:11). Sibbes writes, “When the Spirit suggests good moves, transform them presently into holy resolutions. Is it my duty, and what tends to my comfort? I certainly will. May these movements not die in us” (428). Sermon over, we leave the gathering and perhaps tell a trusted friend how we felt, discerning if the move was truly spiritual. If so, then we could make a plan for how we will “do” the movings of the Spirit “with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12), striving to open all doors to Him.
3. Hate his enemies.
Opening all the doors to him requires all doors to be closed Fishing. As Sibbes writes, “Who will think himself well amused in a house, when there are amusements given to his greatest enemy with him, and will see more regard, and a better countenance shown, to his enemy than to himself? (works, 5:419). Holiness is much more than the observance of an abstract law or code of conduct. Holiness begins with good hospitality.
“How many of our excuses for sin would wither and die if we remembered the holy host in our souls?”
How many of our excuses for sin would wither and die if we remembered the holy host in our souls? Where can we go from this Spirit? Or where can we flee from his presence? If we ascend to angry heights, he is there. If we make our bed in hidden fantasies, it is there. If we take the morning wings and sin where no human eye sees, even there he is with us; even there, his heart grieves (Ephesians 4:30).
Listen to the spiritually sound advice of Sibbes: “Beware of small sins, which we consider lesser sins perhaps than God does” (429). Yes, beware of small sins, for every sin, if entertained, will seek to destroy the work of the Spirit. Beware of gossip and borderline shows. Beware of greed and second glances. Beware of bitterness and snap judgments. Beware as you would a thief at your door.
The counsel will not seem too strict to those who have enjoyed the fellowship of the Spirit. When he is master of the house, and all the enemies are out, then the music plays, the feast comes, the fires kindle; then the soul rests happily at home. Thus, we will not hesitate to say: “Come and help me to kill your enemies” (Romans 8:13).
4. Have his grace.
Of course, anyone who has received the Spirit knows what it is to grieve the Spirit — to quell his voice, to stifle his movements, to welcome his enemies (Ephesians 4:30). And yet, even in the aftermath of those miserable times, we don’t have to wait to entertain him again – or worse, try to return to a welcome. No, we can entertain him here, now, by agreeing to have his grace.
To nurture the Spirit is essentially to welcome the Spirit into its various offices. And his most precious office is to glorify Jesus (John 16:14). So we are never more hospitable than when we let him lift his eyes to Christ.
“Let our despairing hearts not cross the Spirit in his comfort,” writes Sibbes (works, 5:428). To refuse the comfort of the Spirit, even after confessing our sin, may seem humble. But those who stubbornly refuse the comfort of the Spirit stubbornly refuse the Spirit himself, as much as a host who leaves his host outside.
Let your broken heart take heart. The Spirit comes to us with grace. It comes with comfort. He comes to give us Jesus Christ.
The happiness of heaven on earth
“It is the happiest condition in the world,” writes Sibbes, “when the soul is the temple of the Holy Spirit; when the heart is like the “holy of holies”, where there are prayers and praises offered to God. . . . While we entertain the Spirit and its movements, we will be happy in life, happy in death, happy for eternity” (works5:432).
The deepest, most lasting happiness, a hint of the joy of heaven, is felt here below. It is the gift of the Holy Spirit to those who entertain it. So listen to his voice, heed his movements, hate his enemies, have his grace – and welcome the Spirit of joy within you.
Scott Hubbard is editor of Desiring God, pastor at All Peoples Church and a graduate of Bethlehem College & Seminary. He and his wife, Bethany, live with their two sons in Minneapolis.