There is an old Buddhist tale of a farmer who was working in his field. He looked up just in time to see a man riding a horse that was galloping as fast as lightening.
The rider and horse zipped by the field when the farmer asked, “Hey, where are you going?”
The rider looked back and yelled, “I don’t know; ask the horse!”
Sometimes I feel like I am on a ride that I cannot stop. Some people call that ride “life” and look at it gloomily; others call it “fate.”
If we are to take Jesus’ words seriously when he said that the Spirit “blows wherever it pleases” (John 3:8), then I think we may be able to call that ride the “Spirit.”
My home church in Florida is a charismatic church. It’s worship, preaching, and ministry relied–sometimes only by instinct–on the leadership of the Spirit. I learned that the Spirit certainly moves us nearer to God, and that the Spirit cannot be tamed.
Some people would ask, “Where are we going?” We responded, “We don’t know; ask the Holy Spirit!”
I also learned that many Christians think they have a handle on the Holy Spirit. They think they have all the answers and know exactly what God is up to. Some people rely on their interpretation of the Bible to deduce what God is doing and promote their assumptions as fact.
The Holy Spirit defies all our assumptions about where God is at work and in whom God works.
The best story that illustrates the Spirit’s uncanny movement is found in Acts 10, in which Peter meets a Roman general, Cornelius, and learns that the Spirit works where Christians least expect it.
The story opens up with the Holy Spirit visiting both men. Peter and Cornelius, both prayer warriors from two different worlds, find out that they are to meet each other.
Cornelius gets God’s orders first, and sends servants and a few soldiers to fetch Peter.
Meanwhile, Peter, hungry and tired in the mid-day sun, gets a vision of animals considered unclean according to Jewish law. God tells Peter to eat the animals; Peter is offended and refuses; God rebukes Peter and says that he should not call unclean what God has made clean.
As soon as the two men meet and Cornelius tells Peter why he–Cornelius–sent for Peter, Peter understands the vision. Peter then confesses, “I see that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears God and does what is right is acceptable to him” (Acts 10:34-35, NRSV).
Before this event, Peter never would have set foot in Cornelius’ house, much less think that Cornelius would be worthy of salvation. As both a non-Jew and a non-Christian, Cornelius technically should have been left where he belongs: in the dark.
But Peter thought he knew everything there was to know about God and where God was working in the world.
The story is, therefore, really about the Spirit’s role in the conversion of both men.
Cornelius is a convert to Jesus Christ–a Christian who does not need to go through the Law of Moses to become a part of God’s people. Peter is a convert to the type of Gospel that God has in store for the whole world, a Gospel inspired by an untamed Spirit.
The story is a powerful reminder that the Holy Spirit is always on the move. God is works in the lives of individuals, families, and communities; and we Christians can’t assume we know exactly where God is at work. God is much bigger than our preconceived notions, beliefs, and interpretations of Him.