When Jesus gave his “Farewell Speeches” beginning in John 14, he assured his disciples that they will never be alone. Rather, God will send the Holy Spirit–the “advocate”–to be with them always.
This season will be a difficult one for many people who face loss or loneliness. According to statistics as reported in the Wall Street Journal by Elizabeth Bernstein, more people will face loneliness now than in the past three decades.
She states that 40% of Americans claim that they struggle with loneliness, up from 20% in the 1980s. Furthermore, one-person households are up from 17% in 1970 to 27% last year.
Christians are not immune to the despair of loneliness; however, with a greater awareness of the Holy Spirit in our lives, we can realize that we are never truly alone. When one reads all of the scriptures about the Holy Spirit, we can sense that the Holy Spirit is with us in several powerful ways.
For one, the Holy Spirit fills us with life. In Genesis 1 and 2, God created all that existed, including humans. When God made humans the Bible says that God forms us out of dirt and mud and breathed into us (the same Hebrew word for “breathe” is “spirit”) life.
We also find this language in Ezekiel 36, when the prophet Ezekiel had a vision of dry bones. The dry bones represented all of the people who went astray from God and went after all those idols and selfish longings that don’t end up making life any better. Like zombies, these bones were lifeless drones that went about their business day in and day out, always searching, always thirsting.
In 36:22-28, God renewed a promise to Israel that they will be filled with a clean spirit, new life, and a “heart of flesh instead of a heart of stone.” The Holy Spirit is the conduit whereby Jesus gives those who trust in God “life and life more abundantly” (John 10:10).
In addition to life, the Holy Spirit gives power to fulfill God’s mission. The prophet Micah stated that his ministry was founded on the power of the Spirit: “I am filled with power, with the spirit of the Lord” (3:8).
This is the same power the Holy Spirit provided Jesus at Jesus’ baptism and the disciples during Pentecost. In all three situations–Micah’s, Jesus’ and the early church–that power was not for wielding violence but for proclaiming the Word of God.
When we are filled with the life of the Spirit, how are we to contain ourselves and not preach the good news of that presence in our lives?
The Holy Spirit is not all fun and games, however. According to scripture, the Holy Spirit also provides conviction. Many people misrepresent the Holy Spirit (and God) by making God out to be one who condemns people. We can recite John 3:16, but we forget the next verse: “For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved” (v. 17).
I heard it once said that condemnation hinders poeple from coming to God, but conviction draws people to God. It is the Holy Spirit that draws people with the power of conviction, for no one can draw near to God as long as sin stands in the way. Jesus’ message had always been one of love, but also of challenge: “Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand!” (Mark 1:15).
The Holy Spirit also brings comfort. For those who face loneliness, this is the greatest promise that God gives to us. While some translations translate the Holy Spirit in John 14:16 as “advocate,” some other translations refer to this Greek word (paraclete) as “comforter.”
This is appropriate, for even in times of hardship and grief, winter and despair, the Holy Spirit is present with us: praying for us, speaking with a still small voice in our ears, and encouraging us to take one step in front of another.
The Holy Spirit is one of the most overlooked persons in the Trinity, but one of the most compelling. This Advent season, as loneliness sets in, I encourage you to take a second look at how the Holy Spirit can carry you through to new life and peace.