Receiving from God . . . And Giving It Away
What Is the Message of The Word Among Us?
St. Luke tells us that when the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles at Pentecost, a rushing wind from heaven filled the whole house where they were staying (Acts 2:2). In the midst of all the excitement, Peter addressed the crowd that had gathered outside in what was the public preaching of Christ. Peter explained to the people what was happening, but he also invited them to receive the Holy Spirit as well. It’s as if Peter knew instinctively that this gift of God was meant for everyone, and he was more than happy to “give it away.”
This rhythm of receiving from God and then giving it away runs throughout the New Testament and has been a hallmark of the church ever since. We see it in the lives of the saints, in the teachings of the church on evangelization, and in die witness of millions of everyday believers who are willing to step out of their comfort zones to share the love of Christ with those around diem. In fact, it was out of the same desire to give away what God has given us that we began The Word Among Us twentyfive years ago. So what is it that we first received and are now trying to “give away”? It’s really quite simple.
As our publisher, Joe Difato, explained in the previous article, it was through the outpouring of grace in the Charismatic Renewal that the Holy Spirit reveals Jesus to us in a new and penetrating way. And this revelation changed our lives. We all felt as if God had awakened us to the possibility of an intimate, personal relationship with Christ-something many of us had originally thought was reserved only for the great saints. Then, as our relationship with Jesus blossomed, we began to learn what it meant to “live in the Spirit” so that our initial experience of Jesus could grow and deepen (Romans 8:5).
These two dimensions-growing closer to Jesus and living in the Spirit-became the central message of The Word Among Us. To this day, our goal is still to help all our readers establish a personal relationship with Jesus themselves and to help them be open to the transforming work of the Holy Spirit. Let’s take a closer look at both of these themes.
A Personal Relationship. Probably the first question we should ask is how can we even know that God wants his people to have a personal relationship with him? The best way to answer both of these questions is to look at the Scriptures.
In its very first chapters, the Bible portrays us humans as having been created with a unique capacity for God. Above all the other creatures on earth, only men and women are made in God’s image and likeness. And the man, Adam, is described as a “living being” only after God himself breathes life into him (Genesis 1:26; 2:7). These images of intimacy and Godlikeness tell us that God had something special marked out for his people.
Later, especially through the prophets, God made it clear that he wanted more for us than sacrifice and obedience: He wanted a relationship. Through Jeremiah, he promised a new covenant in which he would write his law on our hearts, and in which every one of us can know him, “from the least to the greatest” (Jererm’ah 31:3334). Through Ezekiel, he promised not just to give us a new spirit but to fill us with nothing less than his own Holy Spirit (Ezekiel 36:26-27). And finally, through his greatest prophet, John the Baptist, he promised that Jesus would baptize-fully immerse-us in this Holy Spirit (Matthew 3:11; John 1:33).
Then, at the Last Supper, Jesus went so far as to call us his “friends” and to tell us that we really could abide in his love in a deep and intimate way (John 15:4,7-9,10,15). All of these passages-and so many more-point to God’s deepest desire to pour his life and his love upon us all.
Living Witnesses. Beyond the Scriptures, we felt the Spirit also led us to some of the greatest saints in the church. People likejohn of the Cross, Bernard of Clairvaux, Ignatius of Loyola, Teresa of Avila, and Thomas Aquinas had a dramatic effect on our lives. Their life stories as well as their teachings resonated closely with our own experience and confirmed what we were learning over and over again.
We can see the theory in Scripture and the saints, but what does it mean for us, everyday men and women in the twenty-first century, to experience these promises ourselves? It means encountering Jesus in an intimate way and experiencing a taste of his love, joy, and mercy in our lives. It means a growing desire to hear him speak to us through Scripture. It means experiencing the Mass, Confession, and all the sacraments of the church coming to life for us and lifting us into the presence of God. In short, it means experiencing an exchange of love with the God who has loved us from before time began.
Spiritual Transformation. As wonderful as it is, developing a living relationship with Jesus is only one part of what we sensed the Spirit was showing us. Equally important-and equally promising-is his desire to transform us. In fact, we can’t have one without the other. We need to be in touch with Jesus if we want to be transformed. And, likewise, any transformation from God means primarily growing closer to Jesus and becoming more like him.
Jesus once told his disciples: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). It sounds impossible, but at the same time, Jesus wants us to know that he has given us everything we need to become perfect-to become more and more like him. We don’t have to wait until we die and get to heaven. We can be changed “from one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18).
Why did Jesus pour out his Holy Spirit? So that everything he said and did while he walked the earth would come to life for us and transform us (John 16:13). Practically, this means letting the Spirit fill us with God’s love and set us free from everything that does not conform to God’s intention for our lives.
St. Paul tells us that it is God’s deep desire to “transform” us by the “renewal” of our minds (Romans 12:2). On one hand, God is the only one who can show us the way to perfection. He is the only one who can transform us. But on the other hand, we have an important part to play in this transformation process.
It’s Up to Us… And God. We may never figure out exactly how much of our spiritual growth is our doing and how much is God’s grace. But we do know that it is up to us to seek God’s presence and to yield ourselves to him. It is up to us to learn, through prayer and daily examination, the ins and outs of our inner lives. Our part involves evaluating how we react to the good and bad events of our days. It involves asking how our emotions, memories, and imaginations affect the decisions we make. It involves determining which aspects of our lives we should treasure and develop, and which parts need to be put to death (Colossians 3:5).
In short, living in the Spirit means receiving God’s grace, learning how to hear the Spirit’s voice, and trying our best to put into practice what he is asking of us.
But life in the Spirit is not just about our relationship with the Lord. It also has to do with the way the Spirit wants us to treat one another. That’s why we spend so much time talking about reconciliation, healing wounded relationships, and marriage and family. It’s also why we talk about broader social issues like the sanctity of human life, the cry of the poor, and the mission of the church in the world.
God has shown us that with the Holy Spirit’s help, we really can take every thought captive and make it obedient to Jesus. He has convinced us that his own divine power is available to everyone to help demolish the arguments and pretensions that raise themselves against his will (2 Corinthians 10:5). We truly believe that it is possible for our minds to be renewed and for our lives to reflect the same kind of love that Jesus showed as he walked the earth. It may be a lifelong process, but it is possible. What’s more, it is a joyful and exciting way to live!
What Return Can We Make? ; For twenty-five years, we have felt that The Word Among Us is one way we can repay the Lord-if only in a small way-for all that he has done for us. We have sought to be hopeful, uplifting, and encouraging as we have written about how to receive God’s grace, how to listen to his voice, and how to say “yes” to the Spirit and “no” to sin.
We want nothing more than to convey our passion for Jesus on every page. He is the best thing that has ever happened to us, and we feel blessed and honored to be able to share him with each of you.
All of us at The Word Among Us feel that we are a part of you, part of a large family trying to grow closer to Jesus and trying to be his light to the world. We are very grateful that God has called us to this ministry, and we are very grateful for all of you. May God continue to bless you and draw all of us closer to his heart.
Copyright Word Among Us Jan 2006
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