Poured Out and Overflowing


Jesus warned us. He was quite clear that the Spirit could never be placed in a box. “The wind blows wherever it pleases [uncontrollable]. You hear its sound [undeniable], but you cannot tell where it comes from [unpredictable] or where it is going [unexplainable]. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”1 Jesus destroys any argument set up to define the Holy Spirit as tame. The Spirit is not just a gentle dove, but also wind and fire—overpowering wind and all-consuming fire.

Most Christians embrace the dove metaphor to describe the Holy Spirit. We like doves. We love to see them nest around our homes, hear them coo in the early morning, watch them fly gracefully across the meadow. Small. Nonthreatening. Never intrusive. Safe.

A dove instills a sense of peace. A dove comes close yet keeps its distance. Who do you know that ever got injured by a dove? No one, I suspect.

It works for us—the Holy Spirit as dove. It is the metaphor used in Mark 1:10–11 to describe how the Spirit descended upon Jesus at the Jordan River. Linking this account with other Scriptures that speak of doves, Christians have constructed a basic understanding of the nature and ministry of the Holy Spirit. It was the dove that brought back the olive branch to Noah, signifying peace with God (Gen. 8:11); thus, the Holy Spirit brings peace. Doves were permitted as an acceptable sacrifice at the Temple (Luke 2:22–24); the Holy Spirit gives himself to us. The dove was identified as a symbol of gentleness (Matt. 10:16); the Holy Spirit comes gently, quietly. And so forth.

I appreciate these qualities of the Holy Spirit. I love it when I feel the gentleness of His Presence or when He settles my anxious heart with His peace. There is, in moments like that, a quality of nearness, intimacy and love that is unspeakable, breathtaking. The Holy Spirit does move upon us as a dove, just as He did with Jesus, bringing assurance that we are the beloved of God.

But in far too many cases, pastors and other Christian leaders have prioritized these qualities to the exclusion of all others. They have built a theology of the Holy Spirit that is all about being safe, under control, quiet and orderly. I have heard about the Spirit as a gentleman for as long as I can remember. That He always comes politely, only when invited, unobtrusively.

They say the Holy Spirit is never the author of chaos, but instead does things “decently and in order.” That displays of emotion, bodily manifestations, uncontrollable responses would not—could not—be from the Spirit. After all, He is like a dove. And if one buys this, anything and everything that happens outside these narrow parameters gets rejected as not of God.

Such a limiting understanding of the person and ministry of the Holy Spirit has had devastating consequences upon the Church. It has tamed us. We have closed the door to the unpredictable and dangerous and then wonder why we are ineffective in witness and powerless in the face of evil.

We have asked the Holy Spirit to be a butler, politely attending to our vain concerns, bringing us a bit of watered down spiritual tea instead of a flood of living water. Yet He is no butler. He is wind, flood and fire all rolled into one power-packed Paraclete that frightens us, on the one hand, and breathes indescribable life into us on the other.

Benedict Groeschel, a psychologist and Roman Catholic priest, is the author of many books on spirituality and pastoral care. He is a gifted follower of Christ who knows that true change happens by the power of God. I love the way he refers to the Holy Spirit: “God in his outrageous mode.”2 How many times have you heard the Spirit referred to as outrageous? But it is true.

The Holy Spirit is unpredictable, spontaneous and uncontrollable. Welcome Him to the party and you never know what might happen. Think about Pentecost. The disciples were in an upper room praying for His coming but not at all prepared for the nature of His arrival. Did He enter like a dove or a gentleman’s gentleman? Hardly.

The sound of a gale force wind from heaven began to blow inside the house. That alone would capture anyone’s attention. All heads came up looking around in terror, I am sure. The followers of Christ saw fire burning on top of everyone’s head. Wind! Fire! This sounds like a scene out of Hollywood. But it was real. The Holy Spirit filled them all, and they began to speak in other tongues as He enabled them (see Acts 2:1–12).

Was this easy for the disciples to handle? No. They ran out of the building, right into the streets of Jerusalem, where people from all nations were gathered for the Feast of Weeks. The people heard these “crazies” speaking their own languages, telling them of the wonders of God. The whole thing was . . . what? Preposterous? Uncontrollable? Frightening? Rule breaking?

It was, in the words of Acts 2, bewildering, perplexing and wonderfully amazing! People tried to explain what they were experiencing and seeing and came up with only one answer: They were all drunk (Acts 2:13). No, Peter said, it was God (Acts 2:14–21). God the Holy Spirit, promised eight centuries earlier, poured out to overflowing upon the followers of Christ. The Church was born!

The Acts of the Apostles, called by some the “Acts of the Holy Spirit,” provides Christians with an inside look at the way Church is supposed to happen. From chapter 1 through 28, it is a story of an incredible journey, taken by ordinary people who walked in Kingdom power because of the Presence of the Holy Spirit. It is not a description of what the Church was; it is a portrait of what the Church is to be: an exciting, untamed, world-changing people aflame with the fire of the Holy Spirit.

I have often said that if a person stood up and told a gathering of Christians that the following things took place in their church, most, including pastors, would never believe them. Yet every one of the following events happened in the first-century church through the power of the Spirit.


Condensed and adapted from Untamed Christian, Unleashed Church: The Extravagance of the Holy Spirit in Life and Ministry, ©2010, Leafwood Publishers, Abilene, Tex. Used by permission. Available from Amazon.com.

1 The text is John 3:8. The words in the brackets are provided by my good friend Dr. Neal May.
2 Benedict Groeschel, Healing the Original Wound (Ann Arbor, Mich.: Servant Publications, 1993), p. 64.

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