At first thought, it doesn’t seem like the Holy Spirit could be stifled, right? I mean, the Holy Spirit is wind and movement and a force. It acts on its own accord. No one can predict where the wind will blow. How could such a wild, untamed presence be stifled?
But I’ve been thinking about this verse since I read it last week, and I’m changing my tune a bit. I think I can stifle the Holy Spirit. In fact, I think I’ve been stifling the Holy Spirit for a good long while now.
Let me explain.
I have trouble resting. I mean really, truly resting.
Sometimes I look like I’m resting. I might be curled on the sofa in a shaft of sunlight, a book on my lap. I might be out on the back patio, a cup of tea and a plate of biscotti on the table, my journal splayed open, a pen in my hands. I might be strolling along a winding path with Josie, oak leaves rustling in the autumn breeze.
But look closely. In all three circumstances, I am doing.
That open book on my lap? It’s non-fiction, probably something about spiritual disciplines or how to pray better or how to break through writer’s block.
The journal? I’m ruminating on a verse, prepping a devotion that’s due next week.
And that peaceful stroll? I don’t hear the wind in the trees because I have head phones on; I’m likely listening to a podcast.
I am always doing, never simply being. Even in my rest, I am still producing (or figuring out how to produce more). And in always producing, in always doing, in never being totally still and quiet, I am not truly open to receive the Holy Spirit. My propensity to do, do, do is not only stifling his ability to move freely in me, it’s stifling my ability to listen and heed.
Think about it. How can we be open to receive, to be guided and moved, to listen, when we are constantly on the move ourselves, when we are crowding our every moment with productivity?
How can the Holy Spirit have the freedom to flow when we have filled our every space?
Where is the space for that Wind to blow when we have crammed every corner of our lives? Where is the quiet to hear the Whisper when we allow noise to snake its pervasive tendrils into every moment?
You may not stifle the Holy Spirit in the same way I do. Perhaps it’s not productivity and noise for you. Maybe it’s worry, or overwork, or fear. Maybe it’s an addiction or pervasive shame, a tendency toward obsessive-compulsiveness, a propensity for material stuff.
But know this: while we all have the capacity to stifle the Holy Spirit, we also have the ability to clear those channels, to loosen the chains that bind his ability to work in us.
It begins with a simple question:
How am I stifling the Holy Spirit’s ability to live and move and breathe in me?