The Holy Spirit’s Gifts: Awareness, Attunement, Ability

Come, Holy Ghost, who inspires our souls with your celestial brightness; teach us to know the Father and transform us into the image of the Son, in whose name we pray. Amen.

As Christians, as those faithful people of the New Covenant living after Pentecost, we believe and we know that God the Holy Spirit is with us and in us.  We believe and we know that the Holy Spirit is – as Jesus promised – our “Helper”.

That’s part of our core doctrine, one of those things we all agree to believe if we want to call ourselves Christians. 

But what does it mean to say that the Holy Spirit is your helper

If someone who was curious about the faith asked you, maybe someone whose parents never brought them to Sunday School, or someone who showed up at GriefShare or Alpha and started to explore these things for the first time, how would you explain what it means to have the Holy Spirit as your helper?

And, if it’s true that the Holy Spirit is not just with, but is actually in you – right now – could it be that you actually have access to more divine help than you realize?

What does it means to say that the Holy Spirit is your helper?

I want to suggest three ways, three words that all start with the letter ‘A’ to help us remember exactly how the Holy Spirit is at work inside of you, even here this morning.

And those words are Awareness, Attunement, and Ability


Throughout scripture, the biggest work of the Holy Spirit is making God’s people aware of their situation.  Whether it’s the Spirit inspiring prophets to open people’s eyes to the path they’re on, whether it’s the Spirit enlightening kings to accomplish what God has in store for his people, or whether it’s the Spirit at work in the Apostles to give them the words to say to bring the message of hope and healing and forgiveness in Jesus to many different peoples and nations and cultures, the constant thing the Holy Spirit is doing in you is making you aware of your situation, from God’s perspective.

You know, the human mind is a wonderful thing.  As the Bible says, we really are fearfully and wonderfully made: we have incredible power to shape the world around us, but the same hands and the same tongue that can create and build something beautiful can also be used to tear down and destroy.

But even the sharpest human mind can never be fully aware of our surroundings or the effects of our actions.  Our mind is dependent on our senses, and that’s where we are limited.  I only have one set of eyes – I can’t see all sides of a situation; and like it or not, my senses are often clouded.  Relationships, desires, passions, hurts, past failures, scars, lessons “learned the hard way” are like lenses that block our senses.  It’s like coming inside with your sunglasses still on and instinctively reaching over to turn on the lights.  Our minds are only as good as the information coming in, but the shields and scars and coping strategies that we put on to make our way through the world really do prevent us from seeing things as they really are.

This is where the Holy Spirit helps us – but only if we’re willing to listen.

We believe that, right here, right now, the Holy Spirit is in us, making us aware of the bigger picture; making us aware of how things really are from God’s perspective.

…ok, so that all sounds nice, but how does this “Awareness” actually help us? 

The Holy Spirit is at work in you when you have a great plan to put someone in their place, when you have a great plan (at least from your perspective) to show how you’re right and someone else is wrong… and then you get that feeling in your gut.  That feeling that makes you say “darn” (or perhaps something more colourful), that feeling that puts you in your place; that feeling that doesn’t come from your mind, and more often than not is the furthest thing from what your mind wants; that feeling that says, “hold on now, there’s more to the story.  Yeah, what they did was wrong, yes you’re right – at least partially.  But there’s a broken person behind that action, a person that God wants to build up, a person that enough people have already tried to tear down.  …So shut your mouth and say your prayers”.

That’s the work of the Holy Spirit.  To bring that awareness, and that stinging, frustrating gut feeling that you need to open your eyes, shut your mouth, get over yourself, and say your prayers. 

Have you ever thought about the work of the Holy Spirit in those terms?  You know, speaking in tongues might be pretty flashy, or having a tongue of fire appear over your head would be pretty cool, but I’m thankful for the Holy Spirit dwelling within me to say “…shut up, Alex.  There’s more to the story.  See things from God’s perspective.  See the brokenness in that person’s action… and see the brokenness in your reaction, so now get over yourself and trust in God.”  That’s the help of the Holy Spirit – the gift of Awareness of how things really are.


The next way the Holy Spirit helps us is what I call “Attunement”.

Now if you know anything at all about music, you know the importance of being in tune.  You can be a star musician, you can have the best technique, the best instrument, the greatest skill, but if the strings aren’t in tune, it’s never going to turn out the way it was supposed to.

But, beyond that, an engineer would tell you that poor tuning is actually destructive.  If you build a bridge and you don’t take the vibration of the cables into account, what’s going to happen when a strong wind blows?  Same thing with a skyscraper or designing a car or anything else. 

All the beautiful sounds on earth are created by vibrations – but when things aren’t well-tuned, vibrations can bring down a building or a bridge, they become not just destructive, but self-destructive.

So how does the Holy Spirit help us with being attuned to God?

Well, remember as we read through the Old Testament, and even as we read through the Gospels, all the countless, countless times when people are heading in the wrong direction, missing the point, headed for their own destruction, making their bad situation worse than it was before, and we shake our heads and say “why are they so stubborn?”. 

…and then, maybe, we look at our own lives and wonder the same thing.

A big part of the Holy Spirit’s work is to be, more or less, a sort of built-in tuner.  As we gain awareness of how things really are, from God’s perspective, He also calls us to tune in to His will.  It’s that voice of God within that says “trust me to work all things together for good; come and be part of it, don’t get in my way”. 

And that’s a tall order.  God’s ways are not our ways, and when we look back and see God’s wisdom at work, it’s rarely the way any rational human would have guessed – I mean really, it’s Pentecost; we’re here today because God sent out some Galilean fishermen to change the world!  Not a great plan by human standards.  And, like it or not, God wants to use a couple of dozen, mostly grey-haired people in this room to bring hope and healing to Fort Smith.  Again, not a great plan by human standards.  But, if we allow the Holy Spirit within us to tune us in, when the wind of God blows, we’ll work together to create the most beautiful harmony.

That’s the attunement that the Holy Spirit provides, dwelling within us to point us and call us to tune in to God’s will, to align our own wills with His, so that rather than making a dangerous or destructive dissonance, we’re working with God to create something beyond what we can ask or imagine.

And when that happens, when we have Awareness and Attunement with God’s will, the Holy Spirit brings…


I’ve known people who’ve been really frustrated.  They want the fruit of the Spirit, they pray for the fruit of the Spirit, asking God for joy and peace, for love and kindness and gentleness and self-control.  I’ve known people who have earnestly offered themselves to be pastors and teachers and evangelists… but they hadn’t opened their eyes to that awareness that the Holy Spirit brings, and their own will wasn’t attuned to God’s, so of course a loving God wouldn’t say yes to their prayers, since they’d only end up worse off than they were before.

But when we’re aware and attuned with God, that’s when he gives us the ability to rise to the occasion.  And sometimes it’s dramatic – there are those in this room who have seen real miracles in their lives.  But often it’s much more mundane.  It’s me, having a terrible speech impediment, stuttering and being too shy to speak, to the point where half of my teachers going through school never heard my voice. 

I was a musical kid, but ask my mother, how many times did I enter the music festival or be set to play in a year-end recital, only to be crippled by fear and an upset stomach.  But when I stepped up to lead the church in singing, when I became aware of a real need and tuned myself in to God’s will, even as a child of 12, that fear went away.  God gave the ability. 

I would actually skip school when there was public speaking to be done.  But when God, through the Church, said ‘I’m calling you to ordained ministry’, and I tuned in and said ‘I don’t know about this, but if it’s God’s will, then ok’, suddenly the fear was gone.

…And you know what?  In just the three years I’ve been here, there are at least a half a dozen others in this room who have had the same experience.  When we’re aware, when we’re attuned, God will give the ability to do more than we asked or imagined, and all for his glory.

So on this feast of Pentecost, store away those three “A”s.  If you’ve been baptized and have faith in Jesus, the Holy Spirit is already in you… let him make you aware of how things are from God’s perspective; let him tune you in to God’s will; and then don’t be surprised when God gives the ability to do the work you’ve been given to do. 

To God be the glory, now and forevermore.  Amen.

Endless, free power: flip the switch!

“Peace be with you; as the Father has sent me, so I send you.”

On this Day of Pentecost, we don’t just remember that strange and awesome day long ago when the Holy Spirit came upon the followers of Jesus.  No, today, as the followers of Jesus, we don’t just remember, but celebrate that Jesus has kept his promise; that Jesus has sent us the Holy Spirit of truth and power that we, ordinary people going about our business, could be used as part of God’s plan.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that talking about the Holy Spirit is unfamiliar, perhaps even uncomfortable ground for a lot of us.  We understand our loving Father, who created us and loved us so much that he would send his Son to save us.  We understand our Lord Jesus Christ, who shared our pains and struggles, who overcame the grave, and is preparing a place for us until he comes again in glory.  But my bet is that most of us have a much foggier view of the Holy Spirit.  And, if we’re being honest – and church is the perfect place for honesty – some of us probably know people who speak about the Spirit in such dramatic and, frankly, strange ways that our reaction is a lot like the crowd in our lesson from Acts: this sounds crazy!  Remember, Pentecost is the day our Lord’s apostles were acting so unexpectedly that they were accused of being drunk at nine in the morning, so let me tell you that it’s okay if it takes us, too, a bit of time to figure out what the Holy Spirit is doing.

The Power of God.

As people grounded in the scriptures, the first thing for us to remember is that, while God is definitely doing something new at Pentecost, this is not the first time we see the Holy Spirit at work: He is eternal, and has been active since the very beginning.

It was the Spirit of God that breathed as a rushing wind over the waters of creation, driving away chaos and bringing order to the created world.  The Holy Spirit is that breath of God that was breathed into humankind at creation, giving our souls the ability to think and to reason, empowering us to interact with the living God, and giving us the potential to share in his eternal life.[1]

And, when our disobedience and the effects of sin in our lives, when that messiness and disorder meant our bodies could no longer be temples of the Holy Spirit as we were driven from God’s presence, it was then that God sent his Spirit to his appointed prophets, priests, and kings to guide his people in the way they should go; it was the Holy Spirit at work in those leaders who urged people to repent, and who invited ordinary people to participate, to play a role in God’s great plan to save and restore our fallen world.

In short, the Holy Spirit is the Power and Presence of God at work in the world.  God works by the Holy Spirit; throughout the scriptures, the example used time and time again is the wind: we can’t see it, we can’t see where it comes from or where it goes, but we know it’s there – we see it’s effects, whether a gentle, cooling breeze or a mighty hurricane, and though we can’t see it, or capture it, or put it in a box, we can feel the Holy Spirit when it blows over us.

And the good news of Pentecost, the wonder of Pentecost, is that, now that the problem of our sin has been fixed by the offering of Christ upon the Cross; now that the separation between us and God has been fixed by Christ’s ascension into Heaven, God the Holy Spirit is no longer reserved for God’s chosen leaders.  Now that those problems are fixed, the Holy Spirit can now dwell within every one of us who has been forgiven and made new in the work of Jesus on the Cross.  Pentecost is a first step towards putting things back as God intended.  Like the breath breathed into our nostrils at creation, Christ breathed that breath of God on his disciples, saying “Receive the Holy Spirit”.  And he did so with a reason: the work of God is no longer just for prophets, priests, and kings.  There’s work to be done; there are sins to be forgiven; there are deep, hurtful lies that must be confronted with truth; there are disciples to be made: and, “as the Father has sent me”, Jesus said, “now I send you”.[2]

…And, just like that, the temple of God is no longer a stone building on a mountain surrounded by guards and thick walls, waiting to be found by those who come in.

Just like that, the temple of God, the dwelling place of the Presence and Power of God is in you.  Not a temple waiting for people to come in, but millions of temples, temples with feet, and hands, and voices to bring that presence of God into every corner of the world.

Is the Holy Spirit in me?

Every one of us who calls Jesus our Lord has the opportunity to become the dwelling place of the Power of the Spirit of God.  In baptism – in that action of being included in Jesus’ work on the cross, and being made new – our God, who is faithful, wires us in to this ‘power grid’, this network, this invisible body joined together throughout the world.

But then the question remains: if we’re connected up, why do so many faithful members of the Church not feel this power of God, or at least see it’s effects like wind blowing through our lives?

Where is the power of God in our lives?  It’s a good question; but if we’re having a problem with power, then perhaps we should look to the Power Corporation for our answer…

An Analogy

Imagine: you move into a house, a house built to be a home.  A house that was well designed, where the architect and master builder have planned for there to be lights to light up every dark corner, all the comforts we crave – heat in winter and air conditioning in summer, and outlets exactly where we need them.

You’ve been given a perfectly designed house.  But all the light fixtures on the ceiling and all the outlets on the walls aren’t going to help you unless that house is connected to the power grid.

It’s in baptism that connection is made.  And, unlike the Power Corp., every time someone asks to be wired up, every time someone asks to be joined in, that work is done on time, and it’s done right.

But this is where even faithful church people get lost.  God wires us in.  Just like that, we have unlimited, endless power – more than we could ever need – right there, ready to flow in.  The Power Corporation connects you up; but it’s not their job to go it each room every evening and flick on the lights… that part’s on you.

We’re connected to – we have access to – endless power.  But whether or not we receive it is up to us.  Though the house was built to have this energy flowing through it, we’re free to leave it turned off.  If we want, in spite of unlimited, endless, and completely free power at our fingertips, we can say, “no thanks, it’s okay, I’ll manage on my own”, as we wander about in the shadows with an old flashlight, stubbing our toes and tripping over things instead of turning on the light.[3]

A lot of us live that way.  Though we’ve been wired up, though we were built to be empowered by God, for any number of reasons we say “I’ll manage”, and stay in the dark.

But God wants us to take advantage of the opportunity he’s given us.  And as he has always called and nudged his chosen people to follow his Will, God still gives us nudges to let the Spirit’s power work through us.

Now, some people claim great and miraculous things done through them by the Spirit.  I can say that I’ve never experienced something like the dramatic events of Pentecost.  But, I have felt the Breath of God; for me, sometimes it’s like the hairs stand up on the back of my neck, and that’s the nudge inviting me to ‘turn on the switch’ and let the Power of God work through me: sometimes it’s that urge out of the blue to pick up the phone and call someone, only to find that they’re in need of someone to talk to; sometimes it’s that desire to do something completely out of the ordinary that ends up giving a glimmer of hope to someone feeling lost.[4]

Yes, faith like a mustard seed could move a mountain; but our work isn’t to move mountains.  As the Father sent Jesus, so Jesus sends us to share in his work of seeking out, raising up, and drawing in those who are lost.

God’s Presence is not bound up in a stone temple; you are a temple of the Holy Spirit.

So this week – and I’m sure there will be an opportunity this week – when you feel that little nudge, that nudge, go out on a limb: this time, flip the switch.  Say, “okay, God”, and let him work through you.  You probably won’t move a mountain, there probably won’t be a flame like fire on your head, but I guarantee: even the smallest action led by the Holy Spirit can accomplish more than we could ever ask or imagine, and usually more than we’ll ever know.  To God be the glory.  Amen.

[1] I follow Cyril of Alexandria’s Commentary on John here.  A great summary is available here.

[2] John 20:19-23

[3] I remember this analogy being worked out by Fr. Darrell Critch and Richard Donnan when the youth of the parish (myself one of them) were hanging out casually discussing Baptismal Regeneration at the rector’s apartment one Sunday evening around 2005.  Yes, that happened.

[4] Compare “turning on the switch” to the various times the apostles and first deacons were “filled with the holy spirit” in the first 8 chapters of Acts.  The gift of the Holy Spirit is not a one-time occurrence, but the faithful are “filled” for the God-given task at hand.  I’m not suggesting we can control when God wills work through us, only that we must cooperate rather than being ‘possessed’ in any way.  Admittedly, this is where the analogy breaks down: we can turn on lights when we like, but we cannot say “the Holy Spirit will work through me Tuesday at 7, come and bring a friend.”