Tag Archives: Holy Spirit

What does Freedom look like?

I’ve been wondering this week what freedom looks like.  I’m painting a piece for a prayer room around the theme of finding freedom, so the question has been bubbling away all week!  One picture that comes to my mind is this hot air balloon, breaking free from the ropes that held it down and heading into a vast unexplored sky.

Freedom is finally becoming all that you were always meant to be.

The balloon is beautiful.  It is a joy to watch it become slowly inflated with warm air, to see it grow out into its shape, to watch it as it eventually strains against the ropes that tether it to the ground.

At each stage it is wonderful, holding all the potential to become truly itself, to fulfill its purpose, to be all it can be.

And yet, it is not until it is released from the ties that hold it down that it is able to be truly itself, to do what it was designed for.

I listened to a talk recently by one of my favourite authors and speakers, NT Wright.  In it he mentioned about how when people have been sick for a long time we sometimes say that they are ‘a shadow of their former self’.   But, he says, to a follower of Jesus you can say ‘you are only a shadow of your future self, because as you become more like Jesus in the way you think, feel and behave, the more free to be truly yourself you are.

I love that idea so much.  Just like this balloon, being slowly filled and then being released one rope at a time – through your choices you are transformed into his likeness, through his Spirit you are filled with power and as you are cut free from the things of the world that hinder you, you will change,  becoming more like yourself than you have ever been before.

So this postcard is an encouragement, firstly not to lose hope when the journey seems long, but secondly, not to become too accustomed to life on the ground.

Strain towards what is ahead.

Don’t fall for the lie that it’s better to stay safe and uninflated on the ground.  Don’t fall for the lie that you are all that you will ever be. And don’t fall for the lie that some chains just can’t be broken.

You are only a shadow of your future self.

You are designed to fly.


For Your Journal:

If you’re filled, but not yet flying, maybe you’re not quite free.  Even one rope can have the power to keep you close to the ground.  Take some time to ask God to show you if there are any ‘ropes’ in your life that he wants you to deal with..  Then ask him what it will take to deal with them.  If you need to, go and find someone you trust who can pray with you.

Sailboats and Rowboats

I’ll start with a confession…  I wasn’t going to post this week, I’m so tired that I was going to give myself some grace and not write anything, have a day off..

But then all day this thought that I read about in someone else’s blog* has been in my head, and it’s ministered to me so much and so deeply that I thought I’d share it with you, just in case you needed to hear it too…

“You are designed to be a sail boat, not a rowing boat”

I love this so much.  I love that all the power to do anything God asks me to do comes from him.  I love that I was never meant to serve him out of my own strength, out of my own effort.

My job is to put up the sail, his job is to provide the wind –  so simple, and so true.

No-one who has ever sailed a boat would want to row it across the lake instead.  No-one who has felt the exhilaration of catching the wind and feeling a boat suddenly accelerate across the water would prefer to slowly drag heavy oars.  It’s not that sailing is effortless, but it is less effort than rowing, and so much faster and so much more fun!

I know this.

And yet when I am tired, when life seems overwhelming, when everything is a bit too much – that’s when I start rowing.


Honestly, how sad is it that I pronounce myself too tired to put up a sail and then pick up the oars?  That when I have no strength, that’s when I start trying to do things in my own strength? I’m smiling as I write this, partly because it is just that ridiculous and partly because I can hear the theme of what God has been saying to me for weeks echoing in the words.  I’m clearly a slow learner.

When you realise your hands are empty, when you come to the end of yourself – that’s a good place, that’s when he can begin.

So this is my new piece of advice to myself:

Whatever you do, don’t try to row.

Grab hold of whatever strength you have left, and use it – to walk into his presence and to put up your sail.


And if you find there’s no wind today, no power to help you move forwards, don’t panic – it just means that today is a day to be still. To be still and know that you are you and God is God.

and that’s OK.

*This postcard was inspired by a great blog I follow written by theologian, teacher and asker-of-awkward-questions, Ian Paul… I painted the picture straight away and put it on the wall because I knew it was such an important bit of life to me –  you can read the original here.

I will pour out…

Last Sunday the western church celebrated Pentecost, this weekend it’s our turn in Cyprus. So here I am, caught between two Pentecosts, and I have this picture in my head.

I’ve been thinking about the disciples in the upper room. Meeting together perhaps to celebrate Shavout – the festival of the first fruits, but certainly to pray, to stare at their empty hands, to hope. Waiting, but not sure about what they were waiting for. Hoping, but not sure what to hope.

And then suddenly…

The Holy Spirit showed up in the room.

And he sounded like a violent rushing wind and looked like flames of fire.

I suspect the Holy Spirit can choose to look and sound pretty much how he likes, but on this occasion he came to them in a way they could not mistake. The same fire that had burned with the presence of God in the bush where Moses heard God speak now came to rest on each of them. Wonderful but terrifying.

Almost every time I read a story in the Bible, something different about it grabs my attention. What stirs me most when I read this one today is the very first gift that the Holy Spirit chose to give to those trembling disciples. As the Spirit was poured out he gave them a gift of languages, the ability to make the good news available to everyone.  

I love that. The very first gift of the Spirit was one that shouted for all to hear that everyone could be included, that the presence of God was not just for the chosen few, but from now onwards it was for everyone who called on the name of the Lord regardless of where they came from.

Of course they were misunderstood. And some who didn’t quite understand what was happening yelled out their criticism (as occasionally happens today when the Holy Spirit shows up in a way that’s not quite what we expected!) so Peter stood up to explain what was happening, quoting this beautiful verse from Joel:

‘In the last days I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,
and your sons and daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions
and your old men will dream dreams.’

Acts 2:17 NRSV

Sometimes we think about the presence of the Spirit or the gifts of the Spirit (or of some of them), as being just for ‘the special’, just for ‘the holy’ or just for ‘someone-else’.

But God is pretty clear about it here.  When he pours out his Spirit, it is on all flesh.  No-one who calls Jesus ‘Lord’ is excluded from that statement:  we can’t exclude others from it and we can’t exclude ourselves from it.

God didn’t say, “I will pour out my spirit on those who shout loud enough, or pray hard enough, sing sweet enough or close their eyes long enough”.

He said “all flesh”

even when you’re tired

even when you’re lonely

even when you’re grieving

even me

even you.

That’s the beauty of Pentecost – the good news in my language, the spirit poured out into my flesh. The precious, beautiful Holy Spirit, suddenly available and present to us all. Poured out not in a trickle or a dribble, but in abundance – a gush of the pure, sweet, inexhaustible presence of God poured out over anyone who wants to come and stand underneath it.

Any time you like.

poured out

For your journal

You might like to join me in praising God for the beauty of Pentecost, for his generosity in pouring out one Spirit on all of us that follow his son. You might like to think about what it might mean that this happened at the festival of the first fruits, of celebrating the beginning of a harvest. You might like to make a choice to stand underneath that waterfall of his presence again, or maybe even for the very first time.

On being open

This picture takes me right back to the first year of high school, sitting at a long bench on the top floor of the science block in a lab coat and goggles and nervously lighting a bunsen burner for the first time.

In case you’ve never used one, a bunsen burner is a very simple and common piece of laboratory equipment used for heating or burning things. It runs on gas and has an open flame which can be controlled by moving a collar at the bottom so that a little hole opens and closes letting in more or less air.

We soon got over our ten-year old nervousness and used them to burn all sorts of things we shouldn’t have.. but that’s another story. That evening’s assignment (my first ever science homework) was to draw two pictures of a bunsen burner: one with the collar closed, preventing air from mixing with the gas and producing a yellow flame; the other like this one, with the hole completely open, letting in lots of air and turning the flame blue.

The science is along the lines of the flame needing oxygen to make it burn more efficiently.  The hole-fully-open blue flame is much much hotter. If the gas is mixed with pure oxygen as in an oxy-acetylene torch the blue flame it produces can cut through metal!

The bunsen burner in today’s picture is burning much hotter because it is open to the air.

It’s made me think about my openness to the Holy Spirit and the work he wants to do in me and through me. I so much want to be open so that God can breathe into me and my flame burn hotter!

What I notice is that it’s really easy to let that collar slip round and become slightly (or very) closed to the Holy Spirit’s breath on me.

For me the killer is busyness: not taking the time to turn my face towards God and let him breathe, not taking the time to sit in the sunshine of his presence and be warmed.  But there are other airhole-closers…

Sometimes fear, fear of being hurt, fear that God’s power might overwhelm you, fear that you might look silly, fear of what he might ask you to do, even fear that he might reject you if you are that vulnerable to him, will drive you to close your heart off a little… or a lot.

For some people anger over what has happened (or not happened) in the past will lead them to punish God by turning their faces away. Just as we can punish other people by not talking to them, or not being open to them, it’s easy to fall into doing the same to God when we feel like he has let us down.

And lastly of course sin, whatever shape or form it takes can cut us off from the oxygen of the breath of God until we repent of it and receive his forgiveness.

For me, this picture is a call to be open, to be vulnerable to, the Holy Spirit and his work, so that the flame of our passion and ministry can burn hotter.

Today I’m going to ask God to show me how open I am to him and the breath of his Spirit, to show me how far the collar is twisted around on the bunsen burner that is my life and to show me what I can do to be more open to him. This week why don’t you find some time, make some time to be open to God and ask him to breathe on you again? Bring him your fear, your forgiveness, your pain, your sin and your hope, and in return ask for his life-bringing oxygen-carrying Holy Spirit.  It sounds like a good swap to me.

Burn hotter my friends, and who knows what you will be able to cut through…


This is how I remember it… like a page in the much-loved story book of the children’s early lives… a moment that God used to touch my heart.

It’s more than ten years since my firstborn started school, but I still remember the day when I was battling through the pile of freshly-bought school uniform, dutifully sewing in the little white woven name tapes, and my four year old came to ask me what I was doing.

Now, I’ve read that the average four year old asks around 200 questions a day, and mine was maybe even a little above average in this department, so I cast around for an answer that would pre-empt any further questions and maybe even send him back to his lego:

“I’m sewing in little tapes with your name on them, to show everyone that these clothes belong to you; and then no-one can take them away from you and they can’t get lost.”

It must have been a good answer, because he just looked very thoughtfully at me and then disappeared upstairs to his room again.

A minute later though, he reappeared, dragging his much beloved (and slightly gruesome) Blue-Blanky. This worn and grubby cot blanket had been at his side constantly for the past three years (apart from one heart-rending moment in a motorway service station and some late-night under-the-cover-of-darkness trips through the washing machine…) and was a great source of comfort to him, and occasional stress to me!

“Sew my name on Blue-Blanky Mummy,” he said earnestly, “then everyone will know it’s mine, and no-one can say it’s not and it can never ever be lost, or taken away”

So I did.

About a week later I was reading Ephesians when this verse caught a hold of my heart:

“Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession- to the praise of his glory” Ephesians 1: 13-14 NIV

I suddenly realised that the Father has done the equivalent of sewing a woven nametape onto my very heart and soul – he has marked me with a seal.

Isn’t that marvellous?… isn’t it wonderful?  The Holy Spirit is the irrevokable royal seal on your life that declares to the earth and to the heavens for ever and ever:  “This soul is MINE”.

When I look at this picture, I hear God whispering:

“Everyone will know you are mine, no-one can say you are not, and you can never ever be lost, or taken away”

I wonder if you do too?