I can’t picture the Holy Spirit. I want to, but I just can’t.
Now Jesus is different — I can see Him in my imagination: a Middle Eastern man with black hair, a beard, and smile wrinkles on His face (there are probably scars on His face too).God the Father looks like Jesus. “Philip,” Jesus said, “you still don’t know who I am? Anyone who has seen Me has seen the Father. So why are you asking Me to show Him to you?” (John 14:9).
But the Spirit is — well, a spirit, and since I can’t see Him, I have trouble wrapping my mind around how exactly our relationship works.
The Point of the Process
The closest I’ve gotten to imagining how the Holy Spirit interacts with me came through a conversation I had with my friend Sharon, who’s a horse trainer. In the course of answering some of my questions about horse training, she said something that caught my attention:
“I don’t train horses so I can take them to shows and get ribbons. I do it because I love the process.”
She explained that essentially, the goal is to get the horse to a point of willful submission, but that takes a great deal of work.
It sounds like my relationship with the Lord.
Round and Round
One day I went to watch Sharon and her horses at an equestrian competition. I hardly remember the competitive events — what I vividly remember, however, was the pleasure of watching Sharon train the horses.
The afternoon of the competition, Sharon took one of the horses into a circular, fenced area and did what’s called lunging. This required her to hold a long rope and lead the horse around in circles as she gave commands. It wasn’t very exciting to watch, actually — the horse just kept going round and round, obeying basic instructions.
That was the point.
A Leap of Faith
We then watched another horse that was jumping a fence, which can be risky. The rider wasn’t slapping the horse’s behind or hollering “yah!” like the cowboy movies. In fact, the rider didn’t appear to be doing much more than going over the fence on the horse’s back. But appearances can be deceiving.
Sharon explained that riders train horses to follow subtle commands — for example, the rider might flex his leg muscles slightly to signal to the horse that it’s time to jump. At that point, the horse has one job: It must ignore the instinct to turn away from the fence and simply obey. Doing otherwise can fling the rider forward and badly injure him.
The Growing Relationship
Throughout this process of training, a deep bond grows between the horse and the rider. The rider learns to understand and communicate with the horse. The horse learns the discipline of surrendering to a trainer who knows, far better than the horse, what the horse is truly capable of doing.
As I watched Sharon and the other horse trainers that day at the competition, I felt the Holy Spirit nudge me ever so slightly, leaving me with this humbling thought: I am the rider, and you are My beloved horse.
Training and Trust
The Spirit knows that in Christ, I am capable of far more than I can imagine. But the process of getting to the point where I submit and respond to His commands takes time and patience — on His part and mine.
Round and round I go, being tested to see if I have truly surrendered to the Spirit. And yet much of the training by the Spirit is mundane — I go through the same drills, listen to the same commands over and over again. That mundane training is essential though.
Consequential decisions come unexpectedly and there isn’t always time to calculate. I will have to be sensitive to the gentle nudges of the Spirit, and my first impulse will have to be obedience. I will have to make a leap of faith whether I’m ready or not. If I resist, someone will get hurt — at the very least, the Spirit will be grieved (Ephesians 4:30).
I will win the prize one day in heaven, yes, but the Spirit’s focus here is training me to conform to His will. And He trains me because He loves the process — because He loves me.