Thousands of people in the stadium were coming forward, and as each accepted Christ a Bible was handed to them. I watched and thought: If they open their new Bible to the beginning, they will find poetic language about God’s creation and a story of two people living in a garden. If they flip 75 percent in, they’ll find a genealogy in Matthew. And at the end, they’ll find visions of an old man in a book called Revelation. Very little of it will make sense.

We’re trained from the beginning to believe that Christianity is all about me, myself, and my Bible. We’re not given structure or instruction. We’re just told, “God will speak through it.” It’s an overused phrase packed with theology we don’t understand—until we experience it.

Later in life, as long-time Christians, we convince ourselves that God is speaking through the words, but we often don’t think about how. We just know it when we feel it; we can’t explain it. We’re not even sure how to find the Holy Spirit. We appeal to general phrases like, “God speaks to me.” That works, until we wake up one morning and say, “I can’t remember the last time I heard God.” And then it hits us: We don’t really know how to incorporate the Holy Spirit into Bible study. That thought is so frightening that we won’t tell anyone. We will just sit the Bible on a shelf.

God’s Not-So-Distant Cousin

Prior to Jesus, the Holy Spirit was primarily with select individuals, like kings and prophets (e.g., 2 Sam 23:2; Isa 61:1). They were God’s ambassadors—carriers of His Word.

But prophets, like Isaiah, looked forward to the day when the Holy Spirit would be poured out upon all of Israel and ultimately upon all people (Isa 32:15). He described it as the wilderness (the world) becoming a fruitful field and ultimately a forest (something worth investing in).

Jesus came to fulfill this idea. Isaiah prophesied that as well: “And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord” (Isa 11:2). Jesus wasn’t just bringing salvation to the world; He was changing the world. The Holy Spirit is the one who carries out this action.

We think of the Holy Spirit in terms of comfort and help, and He is those things. But He also has teeth. Hence all the fire:

“As the people were in expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John [the Baptist], whether he might be the Christ, John answered them all, saying, ‘I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming… [Jesus] will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire’ ” (Luke 3:15–17).

We have made the Holy Spirit into our buddy. We’ve ignored the fact that He wants us to change our ways. We’ve replaced the fire of the Spirit with only comfort, and in doing so we’ve quenched it. We’ve replaced God’s plan with ours. The Holy Spirit is our guide, and guides don’t listen to the people they’re leading. When the Spirit opens up God’s Word for us, He is trying to convince us to change—not just imparting special knowledge. I believe this is why we seem to lose the ability to hear God: We’re listening for what we want to hear, not what we need to hear.