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Pastor Glenn McDonald: The Spirit Teaches


It’s one of the iconic moments in The Matrix, a movie packed with iconic moments.


Neo, the character played by Keanu Reeves, says to Trinity, played by Carrie Anne Moss, “Can you fly that thing?” He’s motioning to a helicopter.


“Not yet,” she answers. Trinity quickly dials a cell phone. “Operator,” says Tank, a guy who’s sitting at multiple electronic consoles.


“Tank, I need a pilot program for a B-212 helicopter. Hurry.” Tank’s fingers punch a few buttons and dash across a keyboard. Trinity’s eyelids briefly flutter. Nine seconds from the moment she initiated the call she says, “Let’s go.” In the wild, wild world of the Matrix – a computer-simulated Reality in which human beings can do amazing things – Trinity is now a fully trained pilot of a B-212 helicopter.


If only learning in the real Reality were that easy. Imagine the calls we’d be placing:


“Tank, I need a repair program for a leaky dishwasher. And a parent program for dealing with kids who are whining about asparagus. And a scripture memory program for the book of Philippians.”


“Hurry.”


In the real world, not much that’s worth knowing can be downloaded as a program. And hurrying only brings chaos.


But doesn’t Jesus promise us somewhere that the Holy Spirit will teach us everything we need to know? That would be John 14:26: “But the Advocate [Paraclete in Greek], the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and remind you of everything I have said.” That aligns with Nehemiah 9:20 in the Old Testament: “You [Lord] gave your good Spirit to instruct them…”


Yes, the Spirit is able and willing to teach us everything we need to know. But that doesn’t happen as a data dump into our brains.


We have to enroll as students.


For a long time, Christian teachers have wrestled with two theological concepts: monergism and synergism. Monergism is the notion that God does it all. “Mono” (one) suggests that God acts alone when it comes to opening our eyes to spiritual truth and redeeming us through Christ’s blood. Synergism (from “sun,” or together) is the perspective that humans must cooperate with the Spirit in order to learn and grow.


While there has been plenty of room for disagreement over the centuries, most followers of Jesus would say that salvation is monergistic. It’s a God-motivated, God-powered, God-accomplished miracle that any of us actually has the privilege of knowing God.


Daily spiritual growth, however, is synergistic – a cooperative venture with the Holy Spirit who dwells within us.


What does that actually mean?


It means the only way to learn how to pray is by praying. The only way to learn how to love is by loving. The only way to learn how to lead is by leading. The Spirit will help us every step of the way. But the Spirit’s preferred method of teaching definitely seems to fall into the category of OJT – On the Job Training.


It’s never as simple as fluttering our eyelids and waiting nine seconds. Human growth requires four lifelong commitments: Try. Fail. Learn. Repeat. There are no shortcuts or bypasses on that path.


More than anything else, spiritual learning is connected to a practice that has fallen on hard times in the 21st century: reading.


According to the 2022 US Book Reading National Survey, 48.5% of Americans didn’t read a single book last year. College grads, on average, read just two books. The Barna Research Group reports that only one in six Americans will crack their Bibles this week.


One of the simplest, easiest, and most productive ways to grow a heart for God is to open a worthy book – especially if that book is Scripture.


Challenge yourself during the holidays. If you read two chapters a day, beginning today, you can read all four Gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John – by New Year’s Eve.


And you won’t need to hurry.


After all, the Spirit will be right there with you.


And, unlike Neo, He really is the One.

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