Dr. John E. Johnson

Dr. John E. Johnson


It’s my first week after retiring from pastoral ministry. There’s writing and teaching to do, but I decided to escape to the wilderness for a few days and decompress.When we took possession of this cabin on the Pend Oreille, I knew at that moment it was a gift from God. It was almost mystical–a profound sense that God simply wanted to convey His love to us. The only thing I knew to do was stop and weep. There is something powerful, even holy, about place. We were made to find places in our lives, spaces in our journey.

Like all things, this place is not ours to keep. Whatever we have from God is to be held in trust, and as the Scottish theologian John Baille once put it, “only in continued dependence upon Thee, the Giver, can they be worthily enjoyed.” He is right. Each time I come up here and kayak up the river, or sit by the forest and watch the eagles take flight, or walk under the stars, I enter into a deeper sense of need–and a more profound depth of pleasure in what He has provided.

Yesterday, a team of us spent four intense hours building a prayer walk adjoining this place. Hopefully, it will enhance the sense that this is sacred space. Sacred spaces are places to celebrate Christ’s redemptive work and get in step with the Father’s will. They are the places the Spirit is unusually unleashed to do His work. Not that the Spirit can actually be tied down, anymore than He can be predicted or forecast or managedor manipulated. As Jesus told Nicodemus, the Spirit acts very much like the wind. He blows wherever He pleases. You hear the sound, but you do not know where He comes fromor where He is going (John 3:8). There is something elusive about the Spirit. The One who has hovered over creation from the beginning (Gen 1:2), still hovers over the rivers and mountains and men. Who knows where and when He will show up. But it seems appropriate to do all we can to facilitate the Spirit’s movement, like a sailor setting the sails and positioning the boat to catch the next breeze.

What is clear is that the Spirit is pervasive and invasive, coming upon and dwelling within. When He blows in, He works to draw us out of ourselves into a new life–from the confines of a self-centered life to a new openness of a Spirit life. From a natural life to one broken open, where one is leaving sin habits that have dulled life into boredom. Possessed by the Spirit, one becomes a person in the fullest sense. The Oxford theologian John Macquarrie, described it as a spiritual evolution, where rich possibilities unfold.

Jesus told Nicodemus this is how we see the kingdom of God–when we have experienced the work of the Spirit. And just as the Spirit moves where He will in mysterious ways–“so it is with those born of the Spirit.” Perhaps we too become less predictable, manageable—and filled with power.

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