Really Understanding Sin…

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I have a question for you…

How can we look at our face in the mirror, go away from the mirror and forget what kind of person we have just seen?*

I don’t know the answer to that question but I am going out on a limb. We all do this. In the book of James, James is not really referring to our appearance. Maybe when we look in the mirror, our hair is a mess, we have bags under our eyes or our makeup is smudged…

No, James is referring to a clear look at our Christian life. He is referring to our habit of sinning and falling short of the glory of God. We may see it and then we go off and excuse it. “We go away and immediately forget what kind of person we are.”
In my previous post, I commented on understanding as a needed element for us to be filled with the Holy Spirit. We need to understand sin. Let’s get particular about that “understanding.”

First of all, we need to understand that most sin is rooted in pride. It is hard for us to stand before others and say “I am not the person you think I am. I am a sinner.” Just today my pastor preached about “people on the surface”. She asked us to look to the left and look to the right. She asked us to look in front of us and look behind us. She said you are surrounded by people who look “ok”, but not really. When you go below the surface, we are all not “ok.” We are all sinners.

Some know their sin and try to repent from it. They are actively trying to cleanse themselves through confession, repentance and forgiveness. As my pastor said, with God’s grace, we may actually get somewhere with ridding ourselves of some of our sins. However, many will get nowhere; they harbor their sins and tolerate their sins; they are too prideful to change. Let’s reference the rich young ruler in Mark 10; he approached Jesus because he wanted what Jesus had, but he wound up clinging to his sin even more; he could not give up his riches.

Graham says that there is a related problem along with pride. We can become spiritually blind to our sin. When we have a deep-rooted sin habit, we just do not see how much it has invaded every area of our lives; we don’t see how much it has infected everything we say, think and do. This is a specific example but it may serve the purpose. All my life I have been around smokers** Once a person has a need for nicotine, that need begins to take over and life is arranged around cigarettes. You awaken in the morning with a cough and the only way to feel better is to smoke. You have breakfast and eating triggers the post meal cigarette. You go to work and have a break time and the cigarette is a way to do something relaxing on your break. In your car it is easy to light up and enjoy another smoke. Reading a book is so much better with a cigarette. Lunch and dinner trigger the need to smoke after the meal. You may even treasure your time between Sunday school and regular worship on Sunday; there are ten minutes to step outside and smoke. You get the idea; cigarettes are part of a person’s lifestyle. Sins of all kinds can be like cigarettes. They can begin to permeate a person’s lifestyle.

Finally, Graham writes about man’s deepest sin. Here it is; “our failure to let Christ rule our lives.” The most basic question any Christian can ask is this “Who is ruling my life, self or Christ?” As long as we continue to put “self” at the center of our lives, we will never live the life He intends for us to live. Luke 9:23 says “If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.” Graham says it is easy to set your own goals, operate with your own motives, and seek your own desires and never ask God for His will above all else. Luke 9: 23 is pretty clear; He wants us to renounce our plans and practices and follow His way. “He asks us to step off the throne of our lives, and to let Him rule in every area of everything we are and do.”

For us to understand sin, it is in our best interest to be honest about our sin; most of us have a pride in the image we present to others. We don’t want to admit that we have problems with sin but we do. Habitual sin can infect all parts of a person’s life, making it not only hard to recognize but also hard to root out. We are spiritually blind to habitual sin. Lastly, we hesitate to answer the tough question about the role of self in our life. Do we put “self” above God? Too many of us know that we would answer “self comes first.”
The Holy Spirit wants to fill us but He cannot if we don’t have understanding about our sin. It is when we have some understanding of our sin that we can move on to the next step in being filled with the Holy Spirit.

That step is not any easier than a crystal clear look in the mirror…

That step is submission…

*a loose paraphrase of James 1: 23-24                                                                                           **I don’t advocate that smoking is necessarily a sin; it just works well to illustrate how sin infects all of life.

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“Unclogging the Pipes”

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“Is there anyone among you who is wise and understanding?” James 3: 13

When we turn to the Book of James, we find that it is such a straightforward book, written as a “pep talk”, encouraging Christians to live righteous lives.

In today’s world, we all have to fight the contemporary temptation of the strong need to express ourselves, with no wisdom or understanding as our foundation*. Something has happened in our world. As technology has given us opportunities to connect, maybe we have misused it. Have a half-baked thought, put it on Twitter. Want to share a piece of questionable advice that has helped you; post it on Instagram. Find something you think is “profound”, put it up on Facebook. Don’t examine it or think about it, just post it…


Maybe we all have this inherent need to be heard, this need to feel important.

Again, let’s turn to James: “Is there anyone among you who is wise and understanding?”

I contend that before we express ourselves, we need to have some wisdom, we need to have some understanding.

I think Billy Graham* would agree. Recently, I have been commenting on his chapter entitled “How To Be Filled With The Holy Spirit.” He says that being filled is a process. Guess what he says is the first step to being filled: we need to have understanding.

What must we know?

We need to understand that there are certain Biblical truths which are essential. First of all, we must realize that God has given all of us His Holy Spirit. That means if you have accepted Christ as your Savior, the Spirit of God dwells within you.

Does that mean you feel “the Spirit” all the time? No, none of us will ever feel the Holy Spirit all the time, but just because we don’t feel His presence does not mean He is not there. Graham says it this way: “God has promised that the Spirit lives within you if you belong to Christ, and God cannot lie.” It is an act of faith to believe in the Spirit all the time, but that is exactly what God expects of us.

The Spirit is available to us all the time.

Secondly, God commands us to be “filled with the Spirit.” When I use the word command, it sounds like an order but Graham explains this using Luke 11:13. “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your Heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?” If you love your children, you want to give them gifts even if you are not the best person in the world. Just imagine God our Father; there is no evil in Him and He certainly wants us to experience the gift of His Holy Spirit. This “filling” is not as much a command as it is a “gifting”, a gift of love.

Above I wrote that none of us feel the Spirit all the time. It is important for us to understand the number one barrier that keeps us from being filled with the Spirit all the time. It is sin. And Graham clearly states the problem we all face: it is honesty about our sin. “This may be very painful for us, as we face up to things that we have hidden or not even realized about our lives. But there will be no filling by the Holy Spirit apart from cleansing from sin, and the first step in cleansing from sin is awareness of its presence” [Graham, 136].

He compares the effect of sin to a blockage in a water pipe or a clog in an artery. It is a common experience for all of us when we sin. We feel God is distant, we have trouble praying and we want to “hide” from God [as if that is possible]. There is no clear connection to God. Graham explains it quite simply, “Sin is the great clogger and the blood of Christ is the great cleanser” [Graham, 136]. We may have a need to live for God, but guess what, our old habits of living for self are still there.

So being wise is important in desiring to be filled with the Holy Spirit and wisdom is based on understanding. We know that God gives us the Holy Spirit when we accept Jesus Christ as our Savior. We also know that God wants us to accept the gift of the Holy Spirit, in fact He desires for us to be filled with the Spirit. We also know that the most common barrier we experience to feeling the Holy Spirit is sin.

The major question we have in our understanding of how to be filled with the Holy Spirit is what we can do to live for self “less” and for God more. When the Spirit’s work is blocked by sin, we need to look at sin more closely. We will never have victory over sin, if we aren’t honest about it.

If we just allow sin to remain…

If we don’t find a way to unclog the pipes…

*maybe I have fallen prey to this temptation…you decide about my thoughts…wisdom or folderol?

**from his book The Holy Spirit

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Falling in Love with Golf???

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I used to watch a lot of golf on television. I hate to admit this but there was a time in my life when I loved golf. I literally adored it.

Before I lost my heart to golf, I already knew what it felt like to love. When I met my wife, I was so “head over heels” in love with her that I thought about her almost every waking moment. I loved everything about her and cherished every moment I had with her.

Twenty three years ago in the midst of a major crisis, I fell in love again. I fell in love with God. I had a terrific need for answers about my life and I had none. I cried out to God for help [for the first time] and He responded. I saw my way forward and it was with His guidance. I loved Him for His help. I thought about God and His son Jesus Christ every waking moment. I soaked up anything Christian I could get my hands on.

The third time I felt an obsessive love for anything was when I fell in love with golf. I know, some of you may think that golf is not on par [pun intended] with a wife and God and you would be oh so correct, but I went overboard in my love for golf. I studied it, read magazines about it, watched any golf channel show I could find on golf techniques, bought DVDs on golf and yes I spent countless hours watching golf on the weekends. At one point in my life, I found a way to get to the golf course on average four times per week.

Neurologist Daniel Levitan* has done extensive study on what it takes for a musician to get from the good level to the professional level to the world class level. His research found that by the age of twenty good players had logged about four thousand hours of practice, professionals had logged eight thousand hours and elite performers had logged ten thousand hours. Elite performers have the edge with innate talent but they found that other key factors are discipline and persistence.

I would imagine this level of practice, discipline and persistence would apply to proficiency in golf.

I will never know for sure. I still play the game from time to time, but I guess you would say, I have fallen out of love.

Still love my wife and still love God and His Son Jesus…

This brings me to the point of this post. What do I desire in my life with Christ? I desire something that I cannot attain with all the innate talent in the world, all of the discipline I can muster and that wonderful characteristic persistence.

I would like to live a righteous life.

John Piper** has written extensively about this life. In his personal search for purpose, he feels that the Christian should live to glorify God: “God’s purpose for my life was that I have a passion for God’s glory and that I have a passion for my joy in that glory and these two are one passion.” In Billy Graham’s book The Holy Spirit, he says we cannot attain a righteous life, much less glorify God without help from the power of the Holy Spirit.

The Bible’s standard of human righteousness is God’s own perfection in every attribute, every attitude, every behavior, and every word.

The bad news is that true and perfect righteousness is not possible for man to attain on his own; the standard is simply too high. The good news is that true righteousness is possible for mankind, but only through the cleansing of sin by Jesus Christ and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. We have no ability to achieve righteousness in and of ourselves. Graham writes the Holy Spirit supplies power to us for one reason; He wants us to use it. He will permit us to have as much power as He knows we will use or need.
“Unfortunately, many Christians are disobedient and having prayed for power, have no intention of using it, or else neglect to follow through in active obedience [Graham, 130]. Like John Piper, Graham feels like the righteous life is one that glorifies God, a life that honors Him and furthermore, a life that is dedicated to service to others. This is a high calling, a calling that we cannot attain alone.

Innate talent may be wonderful for the musician or the golfer. Discipline is necessary for someone who wants to go from the good level to the professional level. Persistence is so important when we have a setback; too many people give up when problems occur.
Want to be a world class Christian?

There is only one way. You have to get help.

You have to call upon the Holy Spirit.

*Levitan, “The Science of a Human Obsession”                                                                             **John Piper, Don’t Waste Your Life

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Why Would We Seek It?

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Why would a Christian seek the power of the Holy Spirit?

God has a purpose for us to be filled with the Spirit. In Acts 4:31 it says “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak the word of God with boldness.” In this verse, Luke is most certainly speaking of the disciples being used by God for a purpose. Their purpose was to proclaim the word of God.

What is your motivation in wanting to be filled with the Holy Spirit?

Some may think that the filling is all about enjoyment of this life here on earth; they seek self-enjoyment. Some may look for the Spirit to give them an emotional experience, the Holy Spirit may seem like a sensation that will make them superior to others in their sphere. Maybe some just need help; they are encountering a problem and they are seeking a way out of their difficulty.

In short, people want the power of the filling of the Holy Spirit for all kinds of reasons.
Billy Graham says it could be yes, yes, yes to the three reasons above. The Holy Spirit can bring joy into your life. The Holy Spirit can bring a truly emotional experience into your life and the Holy Spirit may indeed give you direction about how to come out of troubles in life, but there is one purpose that overrides all the others.

We are given the Holy Spirit to glorify God.

Graham says it in his own words: “the purpose of filling is that those who are filled may glorify Christ.”

There is a well-worn expression in Christian circles and it fits right here; living a life for Christ is a life where there is “more of Him and less of me.” It is stated in Isaiah: “Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, everyone who is called in My Name, whom I created for My Glory.” In John 16:14 Jesus says “He shall glorify Me; for He shall take of Mine, and shall disclose it to you.” The Holy Spirit does not draw attention to Himself but to Christ. Jesus says “When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is the Spirit of Truth, who proceeds from the Father, He will bear witness of Me” [John 15: 26].

Graham says this is one of the tests of the Christian life. Is Christ becoming more and more evident in life? Are you seeing more of Christ in a person’s life and less of them, aka “more of Him, less of me”? John Piper, in his intensely personal book Don’t Waste Your Life, speaks of this regarding the purpose of a Christian’s life. He says “God created us for this: to live our lives in a way that makes Him look more like the greatness and the beauty and the infinite worth that He really is.”

Here is another well-worn Christian expression that is meant to express the idea that actions can speak louder than words. “The only Bible that many people will ever see is your life.” In other words, you speak volumes when you live your Christian life in front of others. Piper says that if we have a true passion for glorifying God, we will enjoy life and display His supreme excellence in all spheres of life. “The mark of God-enthralled joy is to overflow and expand by extending itself into the hearts of others. We are meant to image forth in the world what He [God] is really like” [Piper, 33].

Graham says it another way: “We need the filling of the Holy Spirit so that we may glorify Christ…by trusting, loving and obeying Him.” Jesus said “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” [Matthew 5:16]. Paul says this permeates all areas of life “Whether, then you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all for the glory of God.”
We have come full circle now. Initially my question was “Why would a Christian seek the power of the Holy Spirit?”

Graham provides an answer that is elegantly simple, that is much beyond self-enjoyment, experience-seeking or problem-solving.

Here it is: “Because only in the power of the Spirit can we live a life that glorifies God.”

We can’t do it on our own, with the energy of our own flesh.

Glorifying God takes a special power.

Holy Spirit power.

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Full or Filled…

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Full and filled…

What is the difference between the two words?

Billy Graham* uses people from the Bible to illustrate “full”. He said John the Baptist was full. The Apostle Paul was full. Let’s go further. He says they “were full of the Spirit all the time; that is, it was a continuous state.”

Can you imagine?

Some of you reading this post may think “what is the big deal?”

Here is the big deal.

Most of us may not be able to stand being full of the Holy Spirit all the time. Words come to mind: intense, extreme, focused, obsessive. Can you imagine “being on fire” about something for twenty-four hours a day, for seven days a week all your life?
Most of us could not bear the challenge; the experience would be too stressful.
If you understand the need for the Holy Spirit, most of us would admit that we need to be filled, not full.

For example, when I am asked to speak [not preach, I am not a preacher] I ask the Holy Spirit to help me throughout the process, from giving me words to say, to reworking the words and adding to the words, to practice with my manuscript, to editing into more useful notes, to practice at the podium, to delivery of the message. In this particular time, I ask the Holy Spirit to empower me with a message that will be what my audience needs. I ask the Holy Spirit to come and bathe the whole process of me giving a presentation. There was a time in my life when I did not do that. I crafted a message with my own knowledge under my own power, not relying on God.

Guess what?

When God is part of the process, it is much, much better.

He gives me what I need in my moment of great need. I depend on His provision and He does just that, He provides.

I depend on Him. I trust Him.

Note the words I am using…provision…dependence…trust. When the Israelites were wandering in the desert wilderness, they began to grumble about lack of food. God promised that He would provide and He gave them manna to eat. Those who gathered a lot of manna had no leftovers. Those who gathered only a little had enough.
God provided just enough to get the job done.

What is the meaning of this story? The Israelites were a bit upset that they did not know about the next day. They wanted leftovers. That way they could make their food plan for tomorrow. God did not allow that. God wanted them dependent on Him. One interpretation of the entire episode is that they experienced a daily exercise in dependence on God.

What would have happened if God had given them too much and allowed them to have leftovers?

They would soon lose their spiritual hunger. They needed their hunger filled on a day-to-day basis. He wanted them to believe that He would provide. He wanted them to depend on Him. He wanted them to trust Him.

When we do totally for ourselves, we can lose the meaning of those three words. We think we can do what we need to do on our own, “thank you very much.” If we can take care of our own provision, we don’t need God so much.

At such times in my life, my faith wavers. I don’t pray as much and I lose a close connection with God. I definitely find less time to read His word. I have had periods when I did not even feel the need to read a short, one page devotional. Yes, a one page devotional.

Bottom line…I just forget that I need God. I forget that I am dependent on Him.

Maybe I don’t need a 24/7 full Holy Spirit existence. Maybe Graham is right. I could not stand it, but here is what I need. I need a filling of the Holy Spirit from time to time. Circumstances big or small come my way every day. God is there for me in the big and in the small. Mark Batterson** writes that “God is great not just because nothing is too big for Him; God is great because nothing is too small for Him.” He continues by saying that the reason we miss God working in our lives is that we are not looking and listening.

In the context of the Holy Spirit working within our lives, we not only miss opportunities by not looking and listening…

We miss opportunities because we think we can do it on our own and we aren’t asking.

*From his book The Holy Spirit
**From his book The Circle Maker




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Sometimes an image is the best way to communicate. Billy Graham uses an old farmhouse kitchen to convey his thoughts in his book The Holy Spirit. At my age, I still remember my Grandmother Carter’s kitchen, the old fashioned deep rectangular sink, with the drain board on one side. She had to pump water to fill up her sink and when she needed more water, the pump handle was how she got it—no fancy modern-day spigots. Graham refers to a kitchen he was familiar with; it was even more primitive. The sink was in the corner of the kitchen and a pipe entered through the wall above the sink. There was a continuous stream of water from a spring outside. The water ran constantly, keeping the sink “brimful” of good water.

Why is this a good image for Graham and for us? Graham believes that Paul was correct when he writes in Ephesians 5:18 “Keep on being filled with the Spirit.”

We need a continuous flow…

As Christians, we are fond of speaking of our “mountaintop moments” and sometimes we have to deal with those valleys, those dark moments that are reflected in the Lord’s Prayer. The valley of the shadow of death is a real thing that we all encounter from time to time.

But Graham says that continuous filling of the Holy Spirit should be our norm, no matter what our circumstances. “Overflowing rivers and the abundant life are available blessings for all Christians. Rivers of living water fail to flow in our lives not because God denies them to us, but because we do not want them or we refuse to meet the conditions to get them” [Graham, 117].

So what is he talking about?

First of all, we must make ourselves available to the Holy Spirit. I know this is too simplistic but it is simple recognition where we all need help. When we are communicating with God, a good prayer for filling of the Spirit would come in handy. Graham cites a great Welsh revival prayer: “Fill me, Holy Spirit, fill me, more than fullness I would know; I am smallest of Thy vessels, Yet I much can overflow.”

Secondly, it is good to use the gifts of the Spirit that God has given us. Whether it is pastoring, tongues, healing, teaching, evangelism etc., any gift we have should be used. The gifts we do have will never be used to their fullest potential without help or “empowerment” from the Holy Spirit.

Thirdly, we need to grow. God want us to. If we come to have a deep and abiding relationship with God, we are naturally going to get to know Him more over time. After becoming Christians, we soon discover we are not perfect and we need God’s grace and more knowledge of Him and His mercies. What happens is our spiritual capacities enlarge. Part of this growth is due to the Holy Spirit as it convicts us of our sins and brings us to repentance. At times of repentance we need a new filling of our Spirit and we need new wisdom and strength to face more tasks and challenges in our lives.
This work of the Spirit is hard because so many of us want to work in “the flesh.” If we are trying to rely on our own wisdom and strength to fight, we won’t succeed. We just don’t have what it takes to succeed. People who don’t yield to the Spirit are people who don’t understand God’s provision.

God will provide what we need. God understands what we need more than we do. Some are disappointed that life can be so difficult, but they are confusing the idea of filling with feeling. Maybe things don’t feel right at times but those times are the times that God wants us to go through. No one wants poor health, broken relationships or great anxieties but that is what we have to deal with. Just because we are “feeling” negative thoughts does not mean we have been abandoned by God. We may be unsure about where the hard times are coming from but we can be certain; God will get us through them.

Graham speaks eloquently about his dark moments when fear and even depression were all he could feel. In his moments of tearful prayer, he felt God’s assurance. He knew God was going to be faithful in getting him through his dark times. Mark Batterson writes of the faith in the Spirit in his book The Circle Maker. Like Graham, his admonition for the Christian is to “pray through” the experience that you are going through. Hold on to God, trust God to get you through.

Guess what…

He will provide what you need…

The Holy Spirit will be the conduit…

“He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being shall flow rivers of living water’” [John 7:38].

God will keep you brimful of that water…

If you let Him…

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Getting the Most out of This Life…

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In Ephesians 5: 18 Paul writes “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit.”

As people grow older, they have a tendency to look back on life and wonder why things turned out the way they did. They sometimes have regrets. When people are young, they sometimes wonder how their life will turn out. Many young people look to their future with optimism. Much too often many people in middle age are busy concentrating on how they can make a living, trying to accumulate as much as they can in their highest earning years. Their lives tend to be focused on the here and now, not having the time for regrets from the past or dreams for the future.

And then we come to the Scripture in Ephesians 5 where Paul exhorts us to “be filled with the Spirit.”

What does that mean and how does it relate to the time of life we find ourselves in?
Being filled with the Spirit means we are experiencing what God wants us to have in life. He equips and empowers us to do more and have more than we could ever do and have on our own.

What do most of us do? We regret, we dream, we work ourselves to death and we settle.

You read those words correctly; we settle.

I once had an adult Sunday school teacher who taught a series of lessons on accepting the blessings of the Spirit.

I could not understand what he was talking about; sometimes I thought he was a little nutty.

And now I read from Billy Graham’s book* his retelling of the lesson from one of his Bible teachers: she told him “the lives of many reflect the practices and standards of this present world. True, they have been baptized with the Holy Spirit into the body of Christ, and they are going to heaven. But they are missing so much of what God wants them to have in this life. Consciously or unconsciously, they are more interested in imitating the world system dominated by Satan than in imitating Christ….Their gifts are often unused, and spiritual fruit is absent from their lives.”

The characteristics of the person who “settles” are their obedience to the commandments grow weak, their devotional life is not regular or nonexistent, and they may be much more faithful in reading the newspaper than they are in reading the Word of God. Prayer is a cheerless duty, not a joy. Sin has lost some of its sinfulness which means sensitivity to sinning is lacking and known sins are not confessed.

Paul’s command to be “filled with the Spirit” is a challenge to all Christians at any age. Graham writes “We must conclude that since we are ordered to be filled with the Spirit, we are sinning if we are not filled…our failure to be filled with the Spirit constitutes one of the greatest sins against the Holy Spirit.”

That is a pretty stinging indictment.

To be Spirit-filled is to be controlled or dominated by the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. Challenging circumstances and hard times come to us all, but with the third person of the Godhead within us, we can be stronger and accomplish more than we would ever imagine…

If we just lean on God and His Helper.

It was said of Christians in Acts 17: 6 that “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also.” Ask yourselves if this kind of power only happened in the first century. Were Christians of the first century the only ones who could turn the world upside down? Could it happen in other days?

In one of my devotional books, the writer spends many pages trying to instruct Christians on how to pray. She draws from Second Corinthians 3:3 where it says that the Spirit of the living God is written on human hearts, she draws from Romans 8:9 where it says do not listen to how human nature tells you to live but live as the Spirit tells you to do, and she draws on John 15:26 where it says the Helper will come, the Spirit who reveals the truth about God.

She says of all the prayers she has written about, the most powerful pray is a simple four word prayer “Help me, Holy Spirit.”**

Here is what will happen.

John 7: 38 “He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being shall flow rivers of living water.’”

This is tapping into Holy Spirit power…
*The Holy Spirit
** Sarah Young, from Jesus Always

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