Max Lucado: Help Is Here

This article was adapted from a talk Max Lucado gave at the 2022 Amplify Outreach Conference. To register for this year’s conference on October 17th & 18th go to AmplifyConference.org.

I began attending church as a youngster. Gung-ho and willing to take the mountain, I was barely into double digit years before I was reading my Bible, memorizing scriptures, doing my dead-level best to obey every command I heard from the pulpit. I hoisted the backpack of good Christian living and set out to scale the lofty peaks of morality, spirituality, and devotion.

Always tell the truth.

Never lag in faith.

Pray more.

Do more.

Believe more.

Believe me, I tried. But boy did that trail grow steep. Peer pressure, raging hormones, and guilt conspired to convince me I’d never make it. Can a fifteen-year-old suffer spiritual burnout? This one did.

Maybe you know the feeling.

The fire in your belly is running low on kindling. But where is the firewood?

It’s not for lack of searching. Lord knows you’ve tried. At least you hope he knows. You’ve signed up and stood up for everything you know to be right and good. Yet, why this cold wind in the face? Why this uphill struggle? These gray skies? This empty spot?

Something’s missing, and, for the life of you, the life of you feels like it is fading.

Drip by drip. Little by little. Day by day.

If that is you, can we talk? Can we start with this? The Lord does know. He does care. It is not his will that you lead a lifeless life. He has something, no, Someone, you need to know.

I do not recall being told about this source of strength. I don’t fault anyone. After all, I owned a Bible. I could have searched the pages. Yet, had you asked me to explain him to you, I would’ve just shrugged, “The Holy Who?”

Ask people, who is God the Father? They have a ready reply. Or, describe God the Son. Most will not hesitate to answer. But if you want to see someone hem, haw, and search for words, ask, who is the Holy Spirit?

Part of the challenge is found in the terms. God as Father? We comprehend that image.

God as Jesus, the Son? That idea is manageable, as well.

But God as Spirit? The word itself is mystical.

I do recall an early encounter with him.[i] I was wrapping up my senior year of high school when a wonderful thing happened in our small West Texas town. An evangelist from a far-off country called California showed up in a school bus that had been painted to look like a flower garden. He was a convert in the Jesus Movement that was sweeping the country in the early 1970s. He wore shoulder-length hair and bell-bottom jeans. He set up camp in the school parking lot and began preaching about Christ and the power of the Spirit. By that time in my life, I’d abandoned the steep mountain trail of spirituality. The only spirit I knew came in the form of a liquor store bottle. The hippie preacher invited a group of us to attend a Bible study in homes and learn more. So, I went to one.

The address I was given took me to a trailer house on the edge of town. I didn’t know anyone there, but everyone was very kind. We sat on the floor, read from the book of Acts, and, for the first time that I can recall, I heard someone describe the work of the Holy Spirit. The exact words I’ve long since forgotten. But the sentiment I readily remember: The Spirit is your life-giving friend, here to lead you home.

When we prayed, a couple of people prayed in a language I’d never heard. They asked if I’d like to pray in the same manner. I said, “Yes.” I tried, but nothing happened. Even so, I was impressed. These people didn’t seem trail weary. They were invigorated. Their eyes lit up when they spoke about the Spirit.

You might expect my story to take a dramatic turn at this point. A Damascus Road moment, perhaps. Saul becoming Paul. But, alas, there was no bright light in the trailer park. I didn’t become an apostle or write epistles. Quite the contrary.  I was so convinced that I was unqualified to walk with the Spirit, I didn’t even try.

More years of prodigal living ensued. The pigpen became my home address and the other pigs were my tribe. Worse still, I continued to call myself a Christian, hopping nightclubs on Saturday nights, sitting in a pew on Sunday mornings. I was the hypocrite who turns others away from Christ.

In my early 20s, a dear man, who eventually became a dear friend, helped me believe that God’s grace was greater than my rebellion. I knelt at a church altar, trusted heaven’s mercy, and set out on the trail again. Forgiveness became my message, my life story. I changed my career path, went through seminary, and served churches in Miami, Rio de Janeiro, and eventually settled down as a pastor in San Antonio, Texas.

That’s where the wheels came off again.

If you think the trail of Christian living is steep for a youngster, it is even more so for a minister. I resolved to study hard, counsel wisely, solve problems, organize committees, and satisfy each cranky member. I maintained a game face for three or four years, but somewhere in my mid-30s, I ran out of fuel. Suddenly, I could not sleep. How does a person lose the ability to sleep? I’d climb into bed and listen to the relaxed breathing of my wife. I’d imagine my three young daughters snoozing in their beds down the hall. I’d think about my friends and co-workers, each of whom was resting peacefully. Our dog was sleeping. Our goldfish was sleeping.

And me? My mind was racing, a Ferrari on a time trial. I thought of members to be called, decisions to be made. On more than one Sunday morning, I stood before the church having had little, if any, sleep. I was desperate.

Was this the season in which I found the Holy Spirit? Sort of. It would be more accurate to say the Spirit found me.

In those late-night hours, when I could not sleep, I would climb out of bed, pad down the stairs, and kneel at our couch and pray. Dejected figure, I was. Not Max, the pastor. Not Max, the church leader. That fellow in the crumpled pajamas was Max, the depleted, confused disciple.

My prayers were moans. My faith was a frazzled thread. I couldn’t even summon the energy to fake it. I was honest. Honest to God, I was. Turns out, God has a soft spot for an honest prayer.

Little by little, I began to sense the Spirit. He led with a kind touch. He wooed with a whisper. Mysterious? By all means. But figment of my imagination? No. Not at all.

I requested strength. He gave it. I asked the Spirit to heal the sick. More than once, he did. I prayed for vitality and joy. Both returned. The long winter thawed into a welcome spring.

One day, while studying for a message, I read the words Jesus used to describe the Holy Spirit: comforter and friend. I recall having this wonderful realization, “I know that Person.”

That was three decades ago. I no longer think of the Holy Spirit as the Holy Who? I now call him our Heaven-Sent Helper. He is the ally of the saint. He is our champion, our advocate, our guide. He comforts and directs us. He indwells, transforms, sustains, and will someday deliver us into our heavenly home.[ii]

Jesus called him the paraclete. The word only appears five times in Scripture, and of those five, Jesus used it four, and he did so on the night before his crucifixion. [iii]

“I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper (paraclete), to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you … the Helper (paraclete) who the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. … When the Helper (paraclete) comes, whom I will send you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. … It is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper (paraclete) will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment. … When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears, he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” (John 14:16–17; 15:26; 16:7–8, 13–14 ESV)

So much in these passages deserves our attention.

Look at the unity of the Trinity. The Son will ask the Father and the Father will send the Spirit. There is a happy cooperation at work here. As if to say, all of heaven sends help in the direction of the disciples of Jesus.

Also, take note of the pronoun. Jesus doesn’t want us to think of the Holy Spirit as an “it” or a thing. The Spirit is a person. And, like a person, the Spirit has intellect, emotion, and will. The Spirit speaks to the churches (Rev. 2:7), intercedes for the believer (Rom. 8:26),  leads and commands the disciples (Acts 8:28; 16:6-7). The Spirit appoints elders (Acts 20:28), searches all things (1 Cor. 2:10), knows the mind of God (1 Cor. 2:11) and teaches the content of the gospel to us (1 Cor. 2:13). The Spirit dwells among and within believers (1 Cor. 3:16; Rom. 8:11; 2 Tim. 1:14), accomplishes all things (1 Cor. 12:11) and gives life to those who believe (2 Cor. 3:6). He cries out from within our hearts (Gal. 4:6) and leads us in the ways of God (Gal. 5:18). He helps us in our weaknesses (Rom. 8:26), works all things together for our ultimate good (Rom. 8:28) and strengthens believers (Eph. 3:16). He can be lied to (Acts 5:3–4), grieved (Eph. 4:30), insulted (Heb. 10:29) and blasphemed (Matt. 12:31–32).

This list would surprise most people. According to one study, only one person in four believe that the Spirit is a divine person. The rest of those surveyed either don’t have an opinion or choose to believe the Spirit is more like a power surge than a divine being who empowers and teaches us. [iv] That’s regretful. How does one have a friendship with electricity?

Can you join me in a pledge? I hereby resolve never to call the Holy Spirit an “it.” The Spirit is a person. And Jesus calls him paraclete.

Translators land on different, yet, similar translations for this Greek word. “Comforter” (KJV), “Counselor”, “Advocate” (NEB), “Intercessor” (margin of the NASB). The Phillips translation interprets the name: “someone else to stand by you.” The renderings may vary, but the central message is the same. We are not alone.

Yet, to what end? Is the Holy Spirit simply a divine companion who keeps us company? If so, that would be enough. Yet, the Spirit has a specific, overarching mission. His task is to teach us about Jesus.

“He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you…When the Helper comes, whom I will send you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me…. he will convict the world …When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears, he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” (John 14:17; 15:26; 16:8, 13–14 ESV, emphasis mine)

Who would have imagined! The invisible presence of God on earth invites you to enter his classroom and learn from him.

The apostle Paul echoed this point in one of his letters. “No one’s ever seen or heard anything like this, never so much as imagined anything quite like it—What God has arranged for those who love him. But you’ve seen and heard it because God by his Spirit has brought it all out into the open before you” (1 Cor. 2:9–10 MSG).

Secularists look for answers in human philosophy and knowledge. The world religions look to the teachings of their now-dead founders: Muhammed, Buddha, Confucius. Christians, however, hold to this inscrutable and beautiful promise: our teacher not only spoke, but he speaks. He taught, yes, but he teaches still. His wisdom is not confined to an ancient document,  but is a part of the day-to-day curriculum of our mentor, the Holy Spirit.

We are not left alone with our questions. It is not up to us to solve the riddles of our existence. We have a helper, a divine instructor. He will save us from the cul-de-sac of confusion and the dead end of doubt. He does this by enrolling us in the primary course of his university: Jesus Christ.

“The Helper  who the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you…When the Helper comes, whom I will send you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. … When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears, he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” (John 14:16,17; 15:26; 16:12–14 ESV, emphasis mine)

The chief aim of the Spirit is to escort you into the Sistine Chapel of Jesus and watch you grow wide eyed and slack jawed. He will enchant you with the manger, empower you with the cross, embolden you with the empty tomb. He will infect you with his love for the Savior.

He is downright bullish on Jesus.

“It is as if the Spirit stands behind us, throwing light over on Jesus, who stands facing us. The Spirit’s message to us is never, “Look at me; listen to me; come to me; get to know me,” but always, “Look at him and see him, and see his glory; get to know him, and hear his word; go to him, and have life; get to know him, and taste his gift of joy and peace.”[v]

As Jesus foretold, “[The Spirit] will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you” (Jn. 16:14 ESV).

A classic example of this truth involves an encounter between two men: Peter, a devout Jew, and Cornelius, a God-fearing, God-seeking Gentile. They met several years after the ascension of Jesus. Their meeting was a complete surprise to Peter. Jews had nothing to do with Gentiles, especially those who served with the Roman army. Cornelius was an outsider. He didn’t quote the Torah or descend from Abraham. Toga on his body and ham in his freezer. Uncircumcised, unkosher, unclean. Look at him.

Yet, look at him again. He was kind and devout. “One who feared God with all his household, who gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always” (Acts 10:2 NKJV). Cornelius was even on a first-name basis with an angel. The angel told him to get in touch with Peter, who was staying thirty miles away in the seaside town of Joppa. Cornelius sent three messengers to fetch Peter. Peter, however, resisted.

But then “the Spirit said to him, ‘Behold, three men are seeking you. Arise, therefore, go down and go with them, doubting nothing; for I have sent them’” (Acts 10:19–20 NKJV).

The Spirit threw open the door of the gospel to welcome, not just the Jews, but the entire world.

Peter already knew that Jesus loved non-Jews. He had spent three years following  Christ. Yet, he needed a reminder. The Spirit gave it. “He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26 NKJV). The phrase “bring to your remembrance” can mean “make contemporary.”[vi] The Spirit does more than repeat the words of Jesus; he makes them relevant. He unfolds their significance for the world in which we live.

I recall an afternoon, early in my ministry, when the invitation of Jesus to the weary became the invitation of Jesus to Max. I was supposed to be studying. But I could not concentrate. I was in the throes of the weariness I described in the last chapter, battling insomnia, a dozen insecurities, and deadlines. I was under the impression that I had to fix everyone’s problems, shoulder everyone’s burdens, and never grow weary in doing so. After some moments, I moved from my office chair into the chair I used for guests. I bowed my head and sighed. When I did, this scripture came to mind. “Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28).

It was the pronoun me that got me. I was turning to everyone and everything but him. The words of Jesus went from ink on a page to balm for my soul.

Why did that verse come to mind? Simple, the Holy Spirit, my teacher, reminded me. The Spirit of Christ will do this for you, my friend.

When the Spirit whispers in our ear … and makes us aware that Jesus is for real and his invitation is for real also, then he is fulfilling a further ministry, a matchmaker ministry, whereby he urges us, draws us, inclines us, moves us, to embrace the Lord Jesus, to say yes to his invitation, to go to him and make him, by faith, our own Savior, our own Lord, our own friend, our own king.[vii]

Is this not great news! The Spirit, the Person present at creation, the one active in incarnation, the moving force in the resurrection, the mighty hand at the final revelation—he is your tutor. He will reveal new and wondrous things to you.

I came home the other day to find my wife, Denalyn, on the floor playing with our two grandchildren. She had purchased half-a-dozen brightly colored, match-box-sized cars. As I walked in, she was pulling them out of the bag. Rose and Max went crazy. That’s what you’d expect of a 4-year-old and a 20-month-old toddler. Rose knew what to do. She recognized them as self-propelling cars. She took one, rolled it back and forth until the stored energy allowed the car to zip across the floor.

Max, on the other hand, had never seen them. The idea was new to him. Denalyn was thrilled to thrill him. She was on the tile floor, teaching Max how to roll the car back and forth until it was ready to be launched. When it exploded forward, oh, how he laughed with glee. And when he laughed, Denalyn laughed twice as loud. She was so excited to see him excited.

The paraclete wants to do the same with you. He will be a Denalyn to your world. The question is, would you be a little Max to his? My grandson modeled the attitude we need—a childlike spirit. Hungry to be taught. Willing to be led. Humility is the soil out of which the fruit of the Spirit can grow.

Invite him into your world. Let your day begin with these words: “Welcome, Holy Spirit!” Make it your aim to walk in the Spirit by inviting him into the details of each day. “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit” (Gal. 5:25). Let this prayer be quick to come to your mind: “In this moment, what are you teaching me?” Or, “How am I to respond to this challenge, Lord?” Or, “Direct me, please. Which way should I go?” Pause and listen. Keep an ear inclined toward the Spirit.

I once participated in a golf outing that included caddies. It was amazing. He not only carried my bag, he offered to tell me how to play. As we walked down the first fairway, he said, “I’ll show you where to hit the ball and which club to use.”

“How do you know?” I asked.

“I’ve been caddying here for 20 years.”

I stopped, turned, and looked at him. “Twenty years? How many rounds of golf is that?”

He looked up at the sky as if he was calculating. “Around 10,000.”

Ten thousand! He knew each blade of grass by name. Every turn of the green and roll of the hill, he had experienced it. “Is there anything about this course you do not know?”

“Nope. I could play it in the dark.”

So, I peppered him with questions. How far should I hit this shot? He told me. Will this putt roll very fast? He told me. Should I quit golf and take up bowling? He told me. He told me because I asked him. For me not to consult him would have been foolish.

For us not to consult the Spirit of God would be the same. He is here to teach us. Our privilege is to stay in mindful communion with him. Day by day. Moment by moment.

Follow him into the Sistine Chapel of Jesus Christ. Listen as the divine instructor  whispers wonders in your ear. Be assured that, as you smile, the Spirit smiles with you. After all, he is your teacher.

Learn more and register for the 2023 Amplify Outreach Conference at AmplifyConference.org »

 

SOURCES

[i] Is the Holy Spirit a “he”? A “she”? The answer is neither. The Holy Spirit did not take on human form. No gender applies to the third member of the Trinity. The word spirit is both male and female in Hebrew, neuter in Greek and only becomes male in Latin. Many writers find it helpful to avoid gender reference altogether and only refer to the Spirit as “the Spirit.” For the ease of reading, and to follow the example of Jesus in John 14–16, I occasionally refer to the Spirit as “he.” (I initially attempted to rotate between he and she, but found that approach to be jarring.) To be clear, however, the Spirit is beyond our gender limitations. I trust that the reader will keep that in mind and the Spirit will bring that truth to our mind as needed.

[ii] Comforts (Acts 9:31), directs (Acts 13:2, 4; 15:28; 16:16; 21:11), indwells, transforms, sustains, and will someday deliver us into our heavenly home (2 Cor. 3:17–18, Rom. 14:17; 15:13; 1 Cor. 12:3; Jude 20)

[iii] The fifth occasion is 1 John 1:2.

[iv] http://lifewayresearch.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/Ligonier-State-of-Theology-2018-White-Paper.pdf

[v] J.I. Packer, Keep in Step with the Spirit (Leicester, England:  Inter-Varsity, 1984), 66, emphasis original.

[vi] [vi], Frederick Bruner, The Gospel of John, A Commentary Eerdman’s 2012 pg. 867

[vii]   J. I. Packer Keep in Step with the Spirit: Finding Fullness in Our Walk with God Baker Books, Grand Rapids, MI 2005 Pg. 212–213