The Holy Spirit loves messes. How do I know? Because of the second verse of the Bible: “The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters”(Genesis 1:2, ESV). At the Creation, as the Holy Spirit was lingering over the formless nothingness, God spoke into being the world as we know it. The Spirit of God loved the chaos to life and transformed it from a mess to magnificence. To this day, that is how He operates.
So the most basic answer to the question, “How does the Holy Spirit move?” is that He hovers. He stays over something until He chooses to move on, having completed His inspection or implementation. That’s how He moves.
Bible scholars call the first time something is mentioned in the Bible “the law of first mention.” The first time you find something stated in Scripture fixes its characteristics from that point forward. In the verse above, which is almost the very first verse of the whole Bible, we see that the Spirit of God moves. All the time, He keeps moving across the face of the earth, and He brings light into darkness wherever He goes. He didn’t stop moving that way after the earth was created, because He is constantly renewing the face of the earth, along with the hearts of the earth’s inhabitants.
How are we supposed to respond to this information? Sometimes our lives may feel like “formless nothingness,” too, but we are not inert. We can make a response to the movements of the Holy Spirit of God.
How to Respond to the Holy Spirit
I can think of at least three primary ways we should always respond to the Spirit. You and I should make it a point to…
Honor Him as a guest. Welcome Him into your home, into your own spirit. Greet Him on a first-name basis, but without over-familiarity. Acknowledge Him as the third person of the Godhead, with His own distinct personality and ways. As John the Beloved wrote, “But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come” (John 16:13).
Now “guest” may not be the best word to use. When we welcome Him as a guest, we need to recognize Him not only as our guest but also as our landlord. When we open the door for Him, He’s not just making a guest appearance. Don’t forget—He owns the place!
Seek for His presence. He is more than a special guest; He is our equipper. As we ask for Him, we must seek to be equipped by Him—continually—so that we can do the work of ministry. He is utterly generous with the gift of Himself, but He wants to be asked. Jesus put it this way:
So 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. Now suppose one of you fathers is asked by his son for a fish; he will not give him a snake instead of a fish, will he? Or if he is asked for an egg, he will not give him a scorpion, will he? 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? (Luke 11:9-13)
If a son asks his father for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he? Neither will the Holy Spirit give you a counterfeit gift. And He will never give us too little—or too much. We can never get too full of Him, because He increases our capacity along the way, opening new rooms in our hearts, expanding us to receive more. Sometimes in my journey with God, I feel as though He has almost done open heart surgery on me. It’s as if He has broken open my chest wall and exposed my heart so that He can come in more fully.
What do I mean by “seek for His presence”? Let me put it more animatedly: Woo Him. Create a magnetic atmosphere through worship that draws Him. Speak to Him words of blessing and wonder and celebration.
Give Him liberty. Once you have welcomed Him into your innermost being, let Him take charge of you. When you allow Him to have full control, you will find true freedom and liberty. You will discover that the Spirit enables you to control the deeds of your human nature:
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:17-18)
He will change you—and you will like the results!
How the Spirit Moves
It’s not always easy to track with a Spirit who comes and goes like an invisible breeze. But we can depend on His promises to help us follow Him and learn His ways.
Before Jesus returned to the Father, he reassured His disciples that He would provide for them. For three years, they had walked closely with Him, but soon He would be taken away from them. Jesus talked to them about what was next: “I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you” (John 16:7). He continued,
Jesus had a whole lot more to tell them, but he was leaving. He was going to make sure that they could hear Him and follow Him. Somehow, the Spirit of truth—about whom the disciples knew very little—would “come,” and somehow He would “disclose” to them whatever they needed to know.
As we know now, it happened on the day of Pentecost (see Acts 2). Immediately, the newly Spirit-baptized believers began to learn to identify the principles of how the Holy Spirit moves and acts. By paying attention, they could now move with Him anyplace in the world. To this day, those of us who follow Jesus can only do so because of His Holy Spirit with us.
The Spirit reveals Jesus as a living reality, and brings us into a deeper relationship with Him in an ongoing way. Jesus introduces us to the Father, saying, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me” (John 14:6). Jesus reveals the Father. And the Holy Spirit reveals Jesus. It’s an interdependent cycle, and we are privileged to participate in it. The Holy Spirit reveals the unified counsel of the Father and the Son. He (the Spirit) doesn’t talk about Himself He talks about God the Father and Jesus. He listens to their conversations and He speaks about what He hears, on their initiative, not independently on His own.
He is our life-giving source, the one who brings us into the life of the Lord Jesus. He makes true disciples of us, because He is interested in maturing our character more than in bringing us personal comfort. He brings us truth, not false assurance or consolation. He convicts, persuades, shepherds, and leads us to the life-source of God. He helps us overcome our fears and He stretches us beyond ourselves, moving us to testify of the love and power of God and showing us how to bear fruit that lasts.
We can get to know Him, because He lives inside us. We can lean into him, walk with Him, live with Him, listen with Him. We can depend on Him to always lead us out of darkness and into the light.
In all that He does, the Holy Spirit never moves contrary to the written Word of God. He complements and does not compete with its instructions and doctrines. We would do well to store up the words of Scripture so that we have a functioning plumb line in our own spirits. Then when we think the Spirit is telling us something, we can see if it aligns with the straight Word. We can verify or adjust our understanding of our visions and dreams. We can catch ourselves early on when we start to walk in an unbalanced way. We can activate our spiritual gifts confidently and capably. And we can enjoy the journey!
Prayer of Expectation
In the great name of Jesus, we declare that we are receiving more of the precious Holy Spirit and we are committed to activating and releasing the Gifts you give to us. We choose to create a culture of honor to the Word of God and to the Messengers of God. We believe that what we sow we will reap. So we stir ourselves up in the Holy Spirit and we expect rivers of living water to flow out of us everywhere we go!
With Honor and Hunger,
James W. Goll