When Jesus told His disciples that He was leaving them, they were understandably shocked and, I think, a bit outraged! They’d left behind families and roles, suffered the lack of stability, and possibly lost some status in their home communities. They’d given up so much to follow Him. So, Jesus telling them that He was now leaving them must have been a real shock; and an unwelcome one.
It’s into this very moment, though, that Jesus says that, when He goes, He’s going to leave them another ‘comforter’: the Holy Spirit. In the middle of challenging them that, if they love Him, they’ll obey His commands, He promises that this new Comforter will be with them and help them forever. But what does that mean? Giving them a hug and some gentle words of affirmation?
I love Psalm 23 and find such courage in verse 4: ‘your rod and your staff, they comfort me’. But not only does the Shepherd provide comfort with His big stick by fighting off enemies and protecting His flock from threats, but He also uses it to tap and poke His wayward sheep back into place. Maybe being pushed back into the middle of His flock could hurt them a little, but it would certainly be safer and better than the holes or dangers that they might otherwise fall into. Indeed, a wise sheep might well say ‘phew’ and ‘thank you’ rather than moan and complain about the loving provocation to stay on the right path.
Similarly, there’s a famous scene in the Bayeux Tapestry (an ancient embroidered representation of the Norman Conquest of England in 1066) where William the Conqueror ‘comforts’ his troops. Rather than an image of William embracing his soldiers, it’s actually a picture of him poking them with his sword: ‘comforting’ here also means encouraging, provoking, and pushing them onwards. While God is very good at being compassionate and loving, I think this is also what His comfort sometimes feels like: a poke with a sharp stick to push us in the right direction.
As we read about the adventures of Jesus’ disciples in the New Testament, we can see how present Jesus always was, with or beside or around and about them all the time. In a similar way, we can imagine how it is now, for us, with the Holy Spirit in our lives, always there to defend, comfort and provoke us forwards. Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. His Spirit with us now is to help us walk in the way of Jesus, to lead us into all truth and, thus, to show us real life.
So, as I consider how I invest my life in following Jesus today, I have to be honest about the things that I might therefore need to surrender to Him. If I’m opening my hands to receive the Holy Spirit’s help and guidance, there may well be things I need to let go of first. There may be ways that I live, for example seeking to control the people and circumstances of my life, that I need to bring to Jesus for His help in making the change to trusting Him more. His Spirit is with us, though, and He will even help us with this.
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