The Wind Blows Wherever It Wills

John 3:8

This is the first in a six-part series on the Holy Spirit called Experiencing God Today. Two months ago I had no idea that I would be preaching on the Holy Spirit once we finished I Peter. But as I thought about the matter, I felt impressed by the Lord that this is the direction we should go. There are four reasons why we are beginning this particular sermon series on this particular Sunday:

First, there is a personal reason. In 26 years as a pastor, I have never preached a series on the Holy Spirit. Although I have discussed the Spirit’s work in various sermons, I have never devoted a series of consecutive messages to this topic. But that is not all. I have a deep desire in my heart to experience more of the Spirit’s power in my life. I am praying that I might receive a fresh outpouring from the Holy Spirit in the next few weeks.

Second, there is an historical reason. Today is Pentecost Sunday, the day when churches around the world celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2. Churches of all denominations traditionally give attention to the work of the Spirit on this particular day. And this year we have even more reason to do that because today is also the Global Day of Prayer. Churches in North America, South America, Europe, Africa, Asia, and the islands of the Pacific, are joining together to pray for a second Pentecost, a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit in our generation.

Third, there is a corporate reason. In the last few months, we’ve been talking a lot about becoming a multi-site church. Even though the details are not completely fleshed out, we’re praying that God would allow us to become a “church in many places.” As we think and pray about our future, and as we face the challenges and the opportunities before us, we desperately need the blessings of the Lord. We want the Holy Spirit to lead us so that we go in his direction, at his speed, in his time.

Fourth, there is a practical reason. We need the Holy Spirit as never before. The early Protestant Reformers adopted this motto: “Reformed, yet always reforming.” No church ever truly “arrives.” We are always on a journey with the Lord. Every church has faults and flaws and weaknesses that cannot be hidden. This is true regardless of the age of your church, the size of your church, or the denomination of your church. Every church is in continual need of further reformation by the Holy Spirit. Nearly 20 years ago I heard J. Vernon McGee speak at the commencement service at Dallas Theological Seminary. He was an old man in his 80s at the time. Several years later he went to be with the Lord. I have forgotten everything he said that day except for one statement. He commented that if he could start his ministry over again as a young man, he would do one thing differently. He said he would preach more about the Holy Spirit because that is the great need of the church.

And so it is in that spirit that we begin this sermon series. The New Testament reveals four commands given to the Christian relating to the Holy Spirit. Two are positive and two are negative.

“Be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18).

“Live by the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16).

“Do not grieve the Spirit” (Ephesians 4:30).

“Do not quench the Spirit"(I Thessalonians 5:19).

In years past I have preached on the two positive commands. Later in this series we will spend one sermon on each of the negative commands.

I. The Wind of the Spirit

This morning we begin by looking at the words of Jesus in John 3:8. This verse occurs during the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus, the ruler of the Jews who came to Jesus by night. When Jesus said, “You must be born again in order to see the kingdom of God,” Nicodemus did not understand the concept. So Jesus explained that flesh produces flesh (speaking of human birth), but only God’s Spirit could give new birth in the realm of the spirit (v. 6). Then Jesus added this word of explanation in verse 8: “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” Pay special attention to two words in this verse: “wind” and “Spirit.” Though they are two words in English, in Greek they come from the same word: pneuma. We get the English words pneumatic (an air-powered drill) and pneumonia (a disease of the lungs) from this Greek word. Depending on the context, pneuma can mean breath, wind or spirit. In this case, the same Greek word has two meanings in the same verse.

Wind serves as a particularly good symbol of the Holy Spirit. As Jesus points out to Nicodemus, wind by its very nature is invisible and unpredictable. The wind that blows today from the north may blow from the south tomorrow or from the east or west or not at all. We feel its effect and hear it whistling through the leaves, but the wind itself is totally free from man’s control. Wind exists everywhere on the earth, is continually in motion, and may be experienced in varying degrees—from a slight breeze to a mighty rushing wind to the destructive force of a tornado. In a closed room, the air soon becomes stagnant. But when the window is open, the incoming wind blows out the stifling air. On a hot summer’s day, a cool breeze refreshes everyone. Just as the wind is everywhere in the world, even so the Holy Spirit’s work is universal, not limited to one country, region, or race of humanity. Similar to the unpredictability of the wind, no one can say for certain where the Spirit will blow in great power today or tomorrow. As the wind is beyond man’s control, in the same way no one can control the work of the Spirit. As the wind blows from the heavens, so the Holy Spirit is sent from heaven.

According to Dutch theologian Abraham Kuyper, “The Holy Spirit leaves no footprints.” Like the wind he is invisible, unpredictable and uncontrollable. Have you ever tried to catch the wind in a bottle? When I was a child and we were taking a trip in the car, I would hold a cup outside the window, hoping to somehow catch the wind. But it can’t be done. The same is true of the Holy Spirit. He is sovereign and will not be taken captive by any person. They call Chicago “the Windy City,” and with good reason. The wind blows here nearly all year round. Sometimes the wind is a gentle breeze rustling through the leaves. In the winter, the cold north wind roars into town as an “Alberta Clipper.” Earlier this week, a severe thunderstorm blew through Oak Park with winds so strong, they knocked out the power for several hours. It’s all the same wind, but we experience it in different ways. So it is with the Spirit. He comes as he wills, and he manifests himself in different ways. And as the story of Nicodemus demonstrates, no one can predict when he will invade a human heart. Last night I spoke with a person who rejoiced that a friend had responded to the gospel after just one invitation. “Sometimes you have to talk to a person again and again, and even then, they may not respond. Do you know what I mean?” Yes, I do know. Why does one person respond immediately while others take much more persuasion? While there are many explanations, one part of the answer is the Holy Spirit. Like the wind, he blows where he wills, and no one can control his movements.

II. The Descent of the Spirit

Acts 2 describes the descent of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost, as the small band of disciples waited and prayed in Jerusalem. According to Acts 2:1-4, four things happened in this order:

A. The sound of a violent, rushing wind filled the house.

B. Tongues of fire rested on each of them.

C. They were filled with the Holy Spirit.

D. They began to speak in other languages.

Wind … Fire … Holy Spirit … Languages. Later Peter preached the gospel, 3,000 were saved in one day, and the Christian church was born. Note the sequence again:

Wind … Fire … Holy Spirit … Languages … Preaching … Conversion.

Why does the wind come first? Because the Holy Spirit begins his work by blowing through each heart, preparing them for further work to come. So it is with us today. We need the wind of the Spirit to blow through our hearts,

Replacing fear with faith,

Replacing anger with forgiveness,

Replacing doubt with hope,

Replacing anger with love,

Replacing judgment with grace,

Replacing bitterness with trust,

Replacing pride with humility,

Replacing envy with kindness,

Replacing cowardice with courage,

Replacing impatience with perseverance,

Replacing harshness with compassion,

Replacing selfishness with generosity.

We need the wind of God to blow through our midst today. All our work will come to nothing without the Holy Spirit to bless our efforts. We may plan and organize and strategize and publicize to our heart’s content. We may meet and write papers all night and all day. We may discuss and ponder and consider all the alternatives. We may use all the wisdom we can muster, but unless we are changed on the inside by the Holy Spirit, nothing will change and our work will mean nothing for the sake of the Kingdom.

We need the Holy Spirit to come in a new way because there is always more of God to experience. In Ephesians 3:19 Paul prayed that his readers might be “filled with all the fullness of God.” This is the whole goal of the Christian life. Don’t water it down. The word for “filled” has the idea of being dominated by something. If you are filled with rage, then rage will dominate your life. If you are filled with love, then love dominates your life. If you are filled with joy, then joy dominates your life. When you are filled with God, then God himself will dominate your life. It pictures the total transformation of the human personality by virtue of the presence of God in your life. This is an amazing thought—to be filled up with all the fullness of God. Don’t shy away from the implications of this truth. As believers we have been created to be the containers of God. He desires to pour his life into ours and to fill us until we’re full. This prayer will never be completely answered in this life. And in eternity we will continue to experience more and more of the “fullness of God,” and we will never (not even in eternity) come to the end of who he is.

No one will ever come to the end of the Holy Spirit.

No one will ever come to the end of the Lord Jesus Christ.

No one will ever come to the end of God the Father.

It is the work of the Holy Spirit to bring us continually into a deeper, more profound experience of who God is. He brings more of God to us as we bring more of us to him.

III. The Sovereignty of the Spirit

Jesus applied the image of the wind of the Spirit in the last phrase of verse 8: “So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” Nicodemus did not come that night intending to be converted. But that is what happened. The Spirit drew him to Jesus and he came. The same is true for everyone who comes to Christ. In John 6:44 Jesus declares that “no one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” The Father draws sinners to the Son by means of the Holy Spirit. And all those who are drawn will in fact come to Jesus, and those who come will never be turned away (John 6:37).

We must change and only God can change us. This is the testimony of the entire Bible. Because we are sinners, we cannot come to God bearing our own sins. If we come with our sins, he will turn us away for sinners will gain no admittance to heaven. Here is the Bible’s testimony as to the true condition of all humanity apart from Jesus Christ.

· Blind: “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (II Corinthians 4:4).

· Captive to Satan: We should pray that unbelievers might “escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will” (II Timothy 2:26).

· Condemned: “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son” (John 3:18).

· Dead: “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins” (Ephesians 2:1).

· Bound for hell: “Whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him” (John 3:36b).

· Helpless: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6:44).

· Hopeless: “Without hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12).

· Without understanding: “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned” (I Corinthians 2:14).

A whole sermon could be preached on any one of those verses. Taken together they show how desperate is the plight of those without Christ. They are blind and think they can see. They are dead and think they are alive. They are captive and think they are free. They are helpless and think they can do anything. They are without understanding and think they know everything. They are bound for hell and think they are going to heaven.

Please understand. We all were once in the “they” of the last paragraph. Apart from Jesus, that’s our natural condition in the world. That is what we were. And now through the power of the Holy Spirit, this is our converted condition:

Once we were blind, now we can see.

Once we were condemned, now we are forgiven.

Once we were dead, now we are alive.

Once we were captives of Satan, now we have been set free.

Once we were bound for hell, now we are going to heaven.

Once we were helpless, now Christ lives in us.

Once we were hopeless, now we have hope in God.

Once we were without understanding, now we have the mind of Christ.

All this comes to us because of the Holy Spirit. This is the true power of the new birth. When Jesus said the Holy Spirit is like the wind, he meant that the Holy Spirit is sovereign, free, unpredictable and uncontrollable. He blows where he wills.

What should we learn from this? This truth should humble us because it means that our salvation depends on God, not on us. It gives us great incentive to pray because even the most hardened sinner may yet encounter the saving power of the Holy Spirit through the preaching of the gospel. It ought to make us both bold and patient as we preach, knowing that after we have done our part, the work of conversion rests with the Holy Spirit. Our words have no power to convert anyone. Finally, this truth of the Spirit being like the wind ought to make us hungry for the Spirit to blow upon us once again.

Four Days in May

Do you know where you were 35 years ago today? Some of you reading these words were nowhere because you hadn’t been born yet. Can you recall where you were on Friday, May 15, 1970? I know exactly where I was. Thirty-five years ago today, I was a 17-year-old high school senior, two weeks away from graduation. On that weekend I experienced the greatest move of the Holy Spirit that I’ve ever been part of.

I grew up in the small town of Russellville, Alabama, in the northwest corner of the state where Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee all come together. From the time I was a baby, I attended the First Baptist Church of Russellville. Every week I was there for Sunday School and the worship service. If my parents didn’t always go, they made sure their four sons were there. Even during my junior high and high school years, when I no longer had to go, I went anyway. I was there three times a week—Sunday morning, Sunday night and Wednesday night. Eventually I became one of the leaders of our youth group. In the spring of 1970 a young man named Kenny Edmundson began preaching with great effect in the Baptist churches in our area. Although he was only 19 or 20 years old, he had natural gifts and (I believe) the blessing of God was upon his ministry. Even at his young age, he could hold an audience spellbound. When he preached in revival meetings, amazing things happened. Sinners came to Christ and multitudes of young people got right with God. When some of us heard him preach, we dreamed of bringing him to the First Baptist Church for a four-day revival meeting. We thought he could do something to shake up our church, which seemed to us to be rather staid and in need of reviving.

So we approached the deacons and asked permission to have a youth-led revival featuring Kenny Edmundson. Looking back, I am utterly amazed that they said yes. We didn’t know what we were doing, which would have been obvious to anyone who asked any questions, but the deacons had the faith to say yes. So they turned the church over to us for those four days, May 14-17, 1970. We began to think about what to do. Someone designed a poster with a large red stop sign on it. The sign read:


Don’t Know Where You’re Going in Life?

May 14-17

That’s all. No mention of the church, of a revival, of services. Just the question and the dates. We thought it was very cool. And except for confusing a lot of people, it was very cool. I recall a bunch of us going from store to store in our little town, putting up those fliers. I remember that we drove over to the four-way stop in Muscle Shoals and even to the little stores out in the country. Those strange fliers were everywhere. We wrote a script for a radio ad and talked the local station into producing it for us. It wasn’t very professional but they ran it on several stations. As the days drew near for the revival meeting, we realized that we were in over our heads. So one night we decided to get together for prayer. I recall that all the guys came over to my house and we stayed up all night talking to each other, reading the Bible, and praying together.

On Thursday night the 14th, the church was mostly full. That alone was a miracle because the First Baptist Church had a large sanctuary, which I had never seen anywhere near full for a service. I forgot to mention one detail. I was the song leader for the revival. I directed the student choir and led the congregational singing. I don’t remember what Kenny preached that night, but when the invitation was given, people started streaming down the aisle. Some were coming to trust Christ, others were making a new commitment to Christ (we called it rededication), some were coming to surrender to the call of Christ to the ministry. The next night the church was completely full. Even more people than before responded to the invitation. By Saturday night the church was totally packed and when we came to the invitation, the Holy Spirit just took over. We sang every verse of “Just As I Am,” “I Surrender All,” and “Have Thine Own Way.” Young people streamed forward, filling the front of the church and backing up into the aisles. We didn’t have enough counselors to deal with them. There were tears of repentance and faces filled with joy.

On Sunday night the church was so full, there was standing room only. The invitation that night seemed to go on for 20-30 minutes. We sang, the young preacher exhorted the congregation, and they came and came and came. It was totally uncontrolled, yet it was never out of control. God’s Spirit moved in a mighty way, calling young people and more than a few adults to Christ. Some came for salvation, some came confessing their sins, and others came to make a fresh start in their Christian journey.

It was the greatest move of God I have ever personally experienced. We did not know what we were doing, we did the best we could, we worked, we believed, we prayed, we united together, and God sent his Spirit in a mighty, cleansing, healing, reviving work. Those four days in May will be etched in my mind forever. It happened exactly 35 years ago.

Thirty-Five Years Later

Looking back on it, I have three comments to make. First, the fruit remains after 35 years. Last night I received an email from a friend who was there that weekend. He is now a pastor in Memphis. I hear on a regular basis from the guys who came to that all-night prayer meeting at my house. And down in the part of the world where I come from, there are men and women in their late 40s and early 50s who recall the work of the Spirit during those four days in May. What God did that weekend, he would do in other ways in that youth group the next year and the year after that. Once the door was opened to the Spirit, he continued to move. The fruit that remains convinces me that what happened that weekend was more than youthful emotion. It was the powerful working of God’s Holy Spirit.

Second, as I pondered and remembered that story this week, the Lord spoke to me and said, “How do you know that’s the greatest move of my Spirit you’ve ever seen?” I didn’t have an answer to that question. The Lord said to me, “Don’t judge my work by what you have seen or experienced. What you saw during those four days was my work indeed, but I have worked in other ways equally great that you have not seen.” That seems right to me. We should not judge the Spirit’s work solely by our own perceptions.

Third, my own heart says, “Lord, do it again! Do in our day what you have done in other days.” I understand from a theological perspective that Pentecost can never be literally repeated. But I see no reason why the Spirit could not be poured out in our day as on that day. A generation ago we used to sing a song by Charles Gabriel called Pentecostal Power. The first verse and chorus go like this:

Lord, as of old, at Pentecost,

Thou didst Thy power display,

With cleansing, purifying flame,

Descend on us today.


Lord, send the old-time power, the Pentecostal power!

Thy floodgates of blessing, on us throw open wide!

Lord, send the old-time power, the Pentecostal power!

That sinners be converted and Thy Name glorified!

The symbol of the Holy Spirit as God’s wind ought to greatly encourage us. How we need the fresh wind of the Spirit today! He alone can wake us out of our spiritual lethargy. He alone can dispel the toxic fumes of unbelief and carnality. He alone can bring the sweet aroma of heaven back into our lives.

I commend to you the Holy Spirit as the power we need to live the Christian life.

We need to be changed and only God can change us. When the wind of the Holy Spirit blows upon us, he clears out the cobwebs of doubt and discouragement, he cleans out the dirt of sin and compromise, and he prepares us for a fresh outpouring of his power.

O Wind of God, blow upon us today. Amen.

(At the end of every service on Sunday, I told the congregation that we need to get on our knees before the Lord and pray for the Holy Spirit to come upon us in a new and fresh way. I knelt at the steps to the platform and invited all those who wished for a new outpouring of the Spirit to join me. Hundreds came and we prayed together, asking God to do for us in our day what he has done in other days and what he is doing around the world. To those reading this message, I encourage you to do the same thing. Get on your knees before the Lord and humbly seek a fresh outpouring of the Spirit in your life.)

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