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Pentecost Came Like Wildfire

I’m lying on an ice pack early this morning, doing my back exercises and listening to Pray as You Go, a tool for meditation, with monastery bells, music, and a Bible reading. It warms up my cranky body–and cold morning soul. The reading today is from Acts 2—the story of Pentecost, which goes like this.

When the Feast of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Without warning there was a sound like a strong wind, gale force–no one could tell where it came from. It filled the whole building. Then, like a wildfire, the Holy Spirit spread through their ranks, and they started speaking in a number of different languages as the Spirit prompted them. (MSG)

If you are interested, Pentecost is this Sunday, which raises the question:

How can I prep for Pentecost?

 

Seasons of Preparation

We know how to prep for the other big Christian holidays.

Christmas is preceded by Advent, a time to anticipate the birth of Jesus. There’s shopping, carols, maybe an Advent calendar. Advent gets us prepped for Christmas, so it’s hard to miss the holiday. Easter is preceded by Lent, a time for introspection, culminating in Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, when we recall Jesus’ gruesome death. Lent gets us prepped for Easter, so it’s hard to miss the holiday.

Pentecost isn’t preceded. I know that doesn’t sound right grammatically. (“Preceded by what?” you may wonder.) It doesn’t sit right theologically, either. It’s like all the air goes out of us after Easter. So we don’t have energy left to prep for Pentecost. Nothing precedes it. No Advent. No Lent. Most of us, then, don’t know how to prep for Pentecost.

That’s not entirely true.

Some churches have us wear red shirts, sweaters, and scarves–to remember fiery tongues on that first Pentecost. That takes about thirty seconds of rummaging in our closets. This hardly counts for preparation.

Some churches change their banners and vestments to red to mark the new season of Pentecost. That’s not our business, though, until the moment we step into the church. This, too, hardly counts for preparation.

Some people even bake Tongues of Fire cupcakes apparently.

The top of St. George's church in Lalibela, Ethiopia.

It’s a shame, really, how little we prep for Pentecost, since this is the third huge feast of the Christian year, when we celebrate the powerful presence of the Holy Spirit.

We celebrate a cosmic shift–rushing wind filling whole houses.

We celebrate a communal shift–the whole group of Jesus’ followers “were all together in one place” when the wind blew and the fire came.

We celebrate a mission shift–all of them, women and men, “started speaking in a number of different languages.”

 

How Do We Prep for Something as Important as Pentecost?

First, we take care of business that might get between us and the work of the Holy Spirit. That’s what Jesus’ earliest followers did. When Jesus left, an angel barked, “Why do you just stand here looking up at an empty sky?” “So they left the mountain,” the story says, “and returned to Jerusalem,” to “the upper room they had been using as a meeting place.” When they got there, they figured out a way to replace Judas, who had betrayed Jesus and committed suicide. 

We can prepare for Pentecost by doing work that needs to be done. Preparation is practical.

Second, we pray—with other people, if we can. That’s what Jesus’ earliest followers did. When they got to that upper room in Jerusalem, they prayed. Not happenstance prayers. Not occasional requests. The Greek is forceful here: “They devoted themselves all together in prayer.” That’s why Eugene Peterson, in The Message, translates the Greek like this: “they agreed they were in this for good, completely together in prayer.”

We can prepare for Pentecost by praying hard and, when we can, together. Preparation is spiritual.

Third, we get over our petty hangups about who can do what in the church. There was a state of emergency in the early church. Jesus was gone! It was no time for propriety, no time to decide whether women could pray or not, whether women could preach. Of course they could. They did! So the line about prayer continues: “they agreed they were in this for good, completely together in prayer, the women included.” Men and women, praying women and men, went on to receive the Spirit and preach in different languages on the day of Pentecost.

We can prepare for Pentecost by realizing there is a state of emergency in our world—our churches, too—so we can’t stall over the usual issues that dog us. Preparation is urgent.

So how do we prep for Pentecost?

  • We take care of business. That’s practical.
  • We pray. That’s spiritual.
  • We set our priorities straight. That’s urgent.

Do this, and on Sunday morning, you’ll be ready. Maybe even ready for a flash of wildfire, the Holy Spirit, to spread through your ranks.

Translation of the Bible by Eugene Peterson, The Message, except those that are my own.
Headshot of Jack Levinson

Jack Levison holds the W. J. A. Power Chair of Old Testament Interpretation and Biblical Hebrew at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University. Jack has won many awards, including a 2021 Christianity Today award forA Boundless God: The Spirit According to the Old Testament, and grants from the National Humanities Center, Association for Theological Schools, Louisville Institute, Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, International Catacomb Society, and Rotary Foundation. He has lectured throughout the USA, Canada, Scotland, England, Germany, Holland, Italy, and Switzerland, and his books have appeared in Chinese, Korean, German, Portuguese, and Spanish. Jack is married to Priscilla Pope-Levison, Research Professor of Practical Theology at SMU and director of the Lilly-funded Testimony HQ program. Jack and Priscilla have two adult children, Chloe and Jeremy. They live happily on the SMU campus as faculty-in-residence in Boaz Commons, where they host events, bake lots of cookies, and spend time with 200 bright and lively undergraduates; they host the gathering, Lattes in Lent, a time of honest-to-God conversation for people of faith, no faith, and any faith.

A revised anniversary edition of Jack’s 2012 book, Fresh Air: The Holy Spirit for an Inspired Life is about to be published, so watch for it in August 2024.

To learn more about his work, visit his website, jacklevison.net.

40 Days with the Holy Spirit

by Jack Levison

If today’s article has you interested in reading more of Jack Levison’s work on the Holy Spirit, check out 40 Days with the Holy Spirit, a personal, biblical, and practical book on the work of the third person of the Trinity (published, appropriately, by Paraclete Press). It invites the reader to spend time writing and praying daily as you explore your own relationship with the Spirit.

Cover of Jack Levinson's 40 Days in the Holy Spirit
Cover of Seven Secrets of the Spirit-filled Life by Jack Levinson

Seven Secrets of the Spirit-Filled Life: Daily Renewal, Purpose & Joy When You Partner with the Holy Spirit

by Jack Levison

To go deeper in the season after Pentecost, another of Jack’s books to consider is his recently released Seven Secrets of the Spirit-Filled Life. It guides the reader in prayer, scripture meditation, and embracing your relationship with the Helper.

As a bonus, if you purchase one of the books above through one of these links, you help support The Pastor’s Workshop at no extra cost to you. As an Amazon affiliate, TPW receives a small comission from purchases through these links.

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