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My friends and I were hiking through the golden hills that surround San Francisco Bay on an uncommonly hot, stuffy afternoon. We regretted that we had chosen such a stifling day for a hike.

After a half hour, our path meandered near an enormous coastal oak tree at the summit of a hill. We flopped down under its gnarled, dark green arms to catch our breath, fan our faces, and tank up on water. But even in the shade, the heat was oppressive.

“Take a look at the great view from up here,” I suggested.

“Too hot for that,” one of my companions mumbled as he pulled his cap down over his face.

“We should be home in the swimming pool,” someone else muttered.

Then something happened.

It was nothing sensational. We merely began to feel a cool, light breeze. But how much happiness that breeze brought with it! We spread our arms and twirled in it. A moment later we detected on the breeze the loveliest scents: one moment the ocean, the next the fragrance of orange blossoms, and then the spicy, refreshing smell of sage. In minutes we were refreshed and chatting happily about what a nice day we’d chosen to go hiking!

How that breeze changed our day!

It’s no coincidence that Jesus compared the Holy Spirit to a gentle breeze that blows through one’s life—and changes everything.

Divine breeze

Most of us think we know something about God the Father: He’s all- knowing, completely powerful, perfectly good, and the Source of all life. We also know the story of Jesus Christ, God’s Son: He came to earth as a mortal man, taught truth and did good to everyone, and in return was executed on a cross, only to be brought to life again by God three days later. Yes, we know something of God and of Jesus.

But who is the Holy Spirit?

Jesus first mentioned the Holy Spirit in a conversation with a man named Nicodemus. This spiritual leader had looked Jesus up so he could ask Him how to be saved. Nicodemus had always tried to please God by being a very religious man—which to him meant following with absolute precision scores of rules and laws. Jesus described a spiritual experience far more personal than that. You can’t get to know God by anything you do yourself, Jesus told him. You need the help of God’s Spirit. Jesus said, “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit” (John 3:8).

Later, when Jesus was about to leave this earth to return to heaven, His disciples were sad and wondered how they could live without Him. So Jesus promised them, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. . . . He lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you” (John 14:16–18).

In other words, Jesus has accepted the limitations of a human body and can be in only one place at one time. But through His Spirit, He can be with all of us all the time, even in the most desperate circumstances. And not just with us; the Bible says the Holy Spirit will, if we let Him, live within us. “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?” asked the apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 3:16). This is surely the most wonderful and most mysterious blessing of all!

What the Spirit does

If you’ve ever prayed in grief or discouragement and suddenly felt comfort, or if you’ve asked God for help in making a decision and felt a dawning awareness of what the right choice should be, then you’ve already met the Holy Spirit. The Spirit does the very things that Jesus Himself did while He was with us: He comforts us, helps us to understand truth, provides spiritual direction and healing, helps us to admit when we’ve sinned, and reassures us of God’s love. Essentially, the Holy Spirit is the spiritual presence of God in the lives of those who love Him. Since the Spirit is so central to Christianity, it’s no wonder that Christians find it troubling that there are times when they don’t sense the Spirit—when they feel all alone, even in desperate moments when they most need divine reassurance.

At times like that, one must remember that God’s Spirit comes in unexpected ways.

Are you expecting the Holy Spirit to come to you with visions and flashes of light from heaven? That sometimes happens.

But not always.

Are you waiting for powerful spiritual emotions to overwhelm you? Sometimes the Holy Spirit does that.

But not always.

Perhaps you’ve been praying for a feeling of holiness: a sense of awe and wonder and deep assurance. The Holy Spirit may do that as well.

But not always.

Are you looking for instant deliverance from your grief and pain and problems? Yes, there are times when the Holy Spirit provides powerful comfort and instant guidance.

But not always!

You see, many different things may happen when God speaks through the Spirit. The Spirit may not speak in exactly the voice you want to hear or bring the answer that you’ve asked for. In fact, most often the Spirit comes quietly, like a soft breeze that blows through your life and is at first barely perceptible. Spiritual growth comes, as God once told a king, “not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit” (Zechariah 4:6).

Like Anna

I sat next to a father on a bench in a park one day as he played with his little daughter. Anna hadn’t been walking for very long. Daddy set her on the ground and helped her stand up. Giggling, she tottered away from him on her chubby, unsteady little legs. Despite her intense concentration, within a few yards she lost her balance and dropped with a well-padded thud onto her bottom—out of reach of Daddy’s helping hands. Anna winced and began to whimper and to reach out, trying to entice Daddy to rescue her. But he didn’t go to her. “Anna,” he said, “I know you can get up and walk back to me.”

“Shouldn’t you go and pick her up?” I asked.

“I’ll stay right here to help her if she really needs me,” he replied. “But if Anna is going to mature, she’ll have to learn to do some things for herself. If I always pick her up, it may take her longer to learn to pick herself up.”

Sure enough, it took only a moment for Anna to get back on her feet, and with her eyes on Daddy, she carefully made her way back to his waiting hands!

Anna knew that her father was watching, and that made all the difference.

So it is with God’s Holy Spirit. We can be absolutely certain that God’s Spirit is always watching us and knows what we’re going through. Sometimes we have to face great disappointments; sometimes we grieve; sometimes we’re discouraged. And He doesn’t always reach out and rescue us. God knows that if we’re going to grow into spiritual maturity, we’ll have to learn to get back on our feet ourselves.

What makes all the difference is knowing that, like Anna’s father, the Spirit is always there, always watching, always encouraging, and always ready to help us when we really need Him.

Hushing the Spirit

A few years ago, I watched a commentator interview a death-row inmate who had committed a series of cold-blooded murders. “Didn’t you feel anything—any guilt, any sadness—when you killed those people?” the interviewer asked.

“Yes,” the man replied, “I did the first time. But I didn’t pay any attention to those feelings. And after I’d done it several times, I didn’t feel anything at all.”

This man’s remarks are a chilling illustration of what happens to people who refuse to listen to the voice of the Spirit when He points out sin. The killer had ignored his conscience so long that at last he felt no guilt, no desire to repent. He had become deaf to God’s Spirit.

When the Spirit speaks, it’s important that we listen. Without His correction, we might lose touch with God entirely. Perhaps the Spirit is asking you to cease committing a cherished sin. Perhaps He’s pleading with you to commit your life to God. If you are already a born-again Christian, the Spirit may be calling you to new, but more difficult, tasks—perhaps even to a life of service to others.

Whatever He might be saying specifically to you, God asks you to believe that His Spirit is there, near you, watching you, pleading with you. Through His Spirit, God is drawing you to Himself.

You won’t turn away from Him, will you?

Sensing God's Presence in Your Life

by Loren Seibold
From the January 2015 Signs