The Most Basic of the Basics

One question I love to ask people in prayer groups, communities, and ministries around the country is, "What do you think the Lord is saying to you these days?" They respond with some pretty exciting things. They hear the Lord encouraging, reproving, loving, and correcting his people with words which are filled with promise, hope, and challenge. One word which is consistently repeated from every quarter of the country is this: "Get back to the basics." Of all the profound things being given, this rather humble message has been the most consistent "word of the Lord" throughout the past fifteen years. If the Lord is still saying it, we probably ought to still be doing it.

"Back to the basics" implies many things, because there are quite a few basics to living a Spirit-filled life. To me though, the most basic of the basics are the spiritual gifts. The very name of the charismatic movement comes from charismata, the Greek word for gift or grace. The experience of spiritual gifts in the Christian community seemed pretty normal in the early church. Take a red pen as you read the book of Acts and put a check in the margin of your Bible every time a charismatic gift is operative. You will be amazed how "basic" gifts were to the Christian life! Why does God pour out charismata upon the Christian community? Simply put, I believe charisms are given to empower the disciple to carry out the mission of Jesus. Scripture is very clear that Jesus fully intended us to carry on the work he began. I think that means take the risks he took, to suffer as he suffered, to love as he loved, and to minister as he ministered. Now when you look at his life, that's a pretty tough act to follow. After I had made a personal decision to follow Jesus, I spent about a year and a half on a spiritual and emotional roller coaster, sometimes following the Lord, sometimes not doing so well. I had the desire to follow Christ, but I just couldn't seem to pull it all together. My sister, Marilyn, who by the witness of her life drew me to Jesus, told me that I also needed to be in personal relation with the Holy Spirit. She explained to me: "You can't follow Jesus except by the grace of Jesus, the Holy Spirit. You need supernatural power to be a disciple. That power comes as we yield ourselves to the movement of the Holy Spirit in our lives." What Marilyn said made sense to me and I began to seek the encounter with the Holy Spirit. It happened about a year later and the spiritual roller coaster began to smooth out as the Holy Spirit began forming me.

As I think about it, Jesus seemed to put a lot of importance on the coming of the Paraclete upon his disciples. The Lord obviously saw the Spirit as an essential part of the disciple's life. I wonder if we share his appreciation of the Spirit. I think the gifts of the Spirit are touchstones with the heart of the Spirit. When we yield to the gifts of the Holy Spirit, an interaction begins between human and the divine. The Paraclete begins to guide us deeply in the silence of our hearts. We learn to listen, to trust, to try. We make mistakes and even abuse the gifts, but are corrected by the Spirit of God and eventually learn how to cooperate with the graces poured out upon us. To me, the greatest thing about the charismata isn't the power displayed but the intimacy between our hearts and the Lord's. Above all else, gifts are relational in nature.

That being said, however, there is still a very pragmatic aspect to the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Simply put, they help us do the work of Jesus. We've all seen situations where God moved in a powerful way though the charisms that probably could not have been accomplished through ordinary means. I've seen things happen with tongues, inspired preaching, healing, prophecy, word of knowledge, miracles, and extraordinary faith that cut to the quick of the situation. I suppose they could have built the Panama Canal by digging with teaspoons, but why would you if you had a steam shovel?

Jesus didn't give us the Holy Spirit to entertain us or to put a nice touch on our prayer meetings. He poured out the Holy Spirit on us that we may be transformed and equipped to do what he's called us to do. Charisms are God's idea, not ours. If he thinks we need them, then we need them. We really can't improve on what God has ordained. Let's have enough humility and faith to do it God's way. Let's put aside our teaspoons of conventional wisdom and our desire to be acceptable, and climb on the steam shovel of the Holy Spirit to move some mountains.

It all goes back to the Upper Room. The Blessed Mother, Peter, John, Mary Magdalen, and a host of "future saints" humbly waited for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit as Jesus had directed them. Now, of those 120 people who gathered in the Upper Room, how many of them would face martyrdom? How many would have to travel to distant lands, far from their homes and families to spread the Gospel among foreign people? How many of the 120 would have to go toe-to-toe with the enemies of Christ and proclaim a challenging word in the midst of some very tough opposition? They were to embrace, embody, and proclaim the ongoing mission of Jesus. They knew their weaknesses (Good Friday had proven that to most of them.). They knew the job was impossible without the Paraclete whom they were promised. Thank God, they had enough sense to wait for the Spirit! If these "saints" needed the embrace and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, don't you think we might too? We are all being called to venture beyond the walls of the Upper Room. We too are being called to risk all, to give all for the proclamation of the Gospel. We too must embrace and embody our master. We've been called to do it. We can do it - but not without the help of the Holy Spirit. Seek again the Lord's blessing of charisms in your life - and don't leave the Upper Room without them!

Jim Murphy is the founder and president of Vera Cruz Communications. He is a former chairman of, and currently a consultant to The National Service Committee for Catholic Charismatic Renewal. In addition to producing a weekly Catholic television program, he is a frequent conference speaker and retreat master.

Jim will be a guest speaker at this year’s Cleveland Catholic Charismatic Conference.

(Reprinted with permission of the National Service Committee from Chariscenter USA Newsletter July/August 1993, Vol. 18, No. 4)