Brian and I have been reviewing Jack Levison’s recently released book, Fresh Air: The Holy Spirit for an Inspired Life (thanks to Paraclete Press!). Today I continue the review by writing a bit about chapter seven.
Jack Levison, in chapter six, or ”Ezekiel’s Valley” brings us to two different communities. First, a devastated, hope-stricken community. Second, a thoroughly flourishing community. Using these communities, he explores two questions that he, in turn, answers. These questions are, 1) “How does the spirit work in communities as a whole?” and 2) “How can communities prepare themselves to receive the fullness of the spirit?”
Our first community is the devastated and exiled Israel. Sometime after 587 BCE, Ezekiel wrote about hope within despair, about life in the midst of everything dead. In a vision, Ezekiel was taken by the Spirit to a place any Jewish priest of that day shouldn’t have been – a place where there are bones. The place Ezekiel was taken to was a valley of death, a place without hope. Levison writes, “And yet, it is in this valley of death that the spirit has deposited him. It is in this valley, amongst these very many, very dry bones, that the spirit will accomplish its most outlandish life-giving act” (144).
When this story is read in its entirety, you will see that this act of life bestowed upon Israel is not something that happened immediately. Rather, there were steps: promises from God of sinews and flesh and breath, of bones coming together, of bodies being restored, and so on. The same is often true of communities today. The process is hard, but the Spirit enables and brings restoration. As people of the resurrection, we need to believe that the same Spirit that rose Jesus from the dead, can – and not only can – but does proleptically act powerfully in our lives, communities, and world today. And it is in regards to what would be seemingly dead churches that Jack says writes the following: “It is important, I think, never to resign ourselves to the belief that deadened communities are beyond the pale of the spirit’s influence” (148).
But what about a vibrant community? What is the picture of the Holy Spirit working in a community that is bursting forth with the life that is from God’s Spirit? Jack takes us to Acts 13. This community in Antioch is the place where followers of Jesus were first identified as Christians.
In this community we see five attributes that local communities of worship need to really consider practicing. They are the following:
- “A love of learning.” - In Acts 11 we see that Barnabas and Paul devoted themselves to teaching for a year. In Acts 13 there are two groups of people mentioned – prophets and teachers.
- “An ear for prophecy.” - We need to have an ear for the voice of the Spirit speaking through prophets. Too often today churches have silenced the voices of prophets and potential prophets. As said above, the church in Antioch had two acting forms of leadership, prophets and teachers.
- “The right practices.” - Jack makes a powerful point when talking about this; he writes, “This word of the spirit comes to Antioch while they were worshiping and fasting” (156). It was when the church was practicing the disciplines of worship and fasting that the Spirit of God communicated to them. The church needs to be serious about incorporating the spiritual disciplines of Lectio Divina, fasting, soaking prayer, song singing (which I would all sub-section off under worship) and more.
- “Extreme generosity.” - The church at Antioch gave before there was need. In particular, before tragedy struck. Especially in relation to the recent catastrophe in New York and the surrounding region, this is something that I should have done. If already not, we ought to follow the example here.
- “Multicultural leadership.” - Lastly, the church at Antioch wasn’t a church filled with just a bunch of white folk (actually, none of them were probably white). To the contrary, the church at Antioch wasn’t a church you could remark by saying, “That’s a black church” or “That’s a white church” or “That’s a Spanish church!”
A church that has these attributes is truly a church that is a source of grace for the Body and for the world. May we be challenged by what God speaks through the Scriptures.