The similarity between the Holy Spirit and the wind or breath and air is so close that you could almost say that it is not a simile or a metaphor but it’s a definition. In fact it’s his name. Most of us know more Greek than we realize. I think almost as many words come from the Greek as from the Latin, so we are using them all the time. One of them is the word for spirit, whether mine or yours or the Holy Spirit, and that is pneuma. Everywhere in the New Testament where you read about spirit, whether it is what Jesus gave up to God on the cross or the Holy Spirit that came from heaven. Of course we use it in pneumonia, or pneumatic tools and so on. Jesus naturally in talking to Nicodemus made use of that figure in John 3 when he says, “You must be born of the Spirit.” And this is fulfilled beautifully in Acts 2 on Pentecost.
The words wind and breath and air are virtually synonymous. Sixteen of our high school boys took part in a track meet and talking about their breath they would say, “I’m just winded.” Or, “I got my second wind.” Or we use the expression, “I got the wind knocked out of me.” And there was a great amount of wind that was at the track meet that had to be accounted for or reckoned with. Records can not be established if there is a greater wind velocity than this or that. But as I started to say, if there is no wind we don’t say that, we say, “there was not a breath of air.” So there you have all three words, which are virtually interchangeable. And all three of them are used to describe the Holy Spirit. There is bound to be some overlapping as we look at these three words, much like ice can become water and can vaporize and become steam. Just like that is often used as a symbol of the trinity, so too with the Holy Spirit as a symbol of himself, so He is air and wind and breath all at the same time.
Let’s look at the Holy Spirit first as air. Three characteristics: It is invisible, and it’s universal – omnipresent if you want to use that term – and it is essential. And there you have three perfect descriptions of the Holy Spirit who is the breath or the air of God. With regards to his invisibility, here is something, air now, which is very real. It is one of the most real phenomena in the world. Yet no one has ever seen it. We are sitting in the midst of it like a giant ocean but no one has ever seen it, not even with electronic microscopes. It is just invisible, and isn’t that a perfect picture of the Holy Spirit? No one will ever see it, at least with physical eyes, and yet we know it exists. One of the first experiments we had in physics in high school was to weigh air and we had to laugh thinking that air had no weight. But we found out by weighing flasks that had a vacuum with those that were pressurized that air had real weight. So here we sit in this ocean of air, we sleep in it, we work in it. We got to, and how we take it for granted, the way we do God, His Holy Spirit, in whom we live and move and have our very being.
He is also universal. Water is found in most parts of the earth, but in some parts of the world it is almost nonexistent like the Sahara desert. Air on the other hand is virtually everywhere. One couldn’t venture into areas without air unless they had some sort of artificial air. Houdini used to allow himself to buried and through control of his respiration would be able to eventually escape unharmed. There is air in water. Fish through their use of gills can extract the air out of the water. And although water is impressive in its scope with oceans that extend from California to China, it is nothing compared to the universality, the homogeneity, the commonness of air. So that the air we are “swimming in” today may be half was across the country in a matter of hours and in weeks may be in China. It is just one, singular. We demonstrate the unity of the human race by the fact that we are of one blood. Paul says to the Greeks who were rather snobbish, “God has made of one blood all nations of men to dwell on all the face of the earth.” So we can transfuse blood from one person to another and yet there are different types of blood. But in contrast to that, we all breathe the same air. The same oxygen goes into our blood. So it is a perfect picture of the omnipresence of God. Psalm 139 says, “Where can I go apart from your Spirit. Where can I go where you are not found?” We can go without bread and water, which Jesus compared himself to, but we can not go 5 minutes without air. Is it any wonder that Jesus to Nicodemus talked about his spirit, the Holy Spirit, as air. It is universal, indispensable and absolutely essential. And it is free, available, unlike water. I wonder if there isn’t poetic appropriateness in this age of culture pollution if it isn’t sort of a scientific nicety that our air is polluted, contaminated, irreversibly. And there is something very appropriate about the statement in scripture, “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.”
Air in motion is first of all a breath like what we breathe, take in. And here we take in this wonderful ocean of God’s creation that he brought into being in paradise. Isn’t that thrilling too? It’s always new yet eternal. Changing form and reusable, same air as Adam breathed, you might say. Now we personalize it, individualize it and call it breath. That’s called God’s breath; the Holy Spirit becomes part of our being, a very part of us. You don’t have to be a doctor to know that what you breathe in is passed from the lungs to the blood and taken to all the various cells in the body. Now the amazing thing is that the air all around us wants to get into our lungs. There is almost something alive about air. It wants to get into our lungs and we have to repel it, keep it out. I’m over simplifying now but one of the reasons why we can go to sleep at night and not worry about having to breathe is that it is instinctive to expel air. But it is an impulse of nature to fill our lungs. Nature abhors a vacuum and so there is a space, a cavity in our body and air rushes in. Then instinct takes over and we expel it but right away that vacuum is created and in rushes the air. There is pressure in the world, pressure around us. The air presses to get in, to be used. You know why people are lost without the gospel, who are lost for lack of oxygen, for spiritual oxygen now, God’s breath, that He breathed into man in paradise, that he chose to reject? You know why people die? It is because they hold their breath. They resist the Holy Spirit. It is as simple as that. He yearns after all men. Genesis says His spirit is jealous of us, longs to envelop us, as He does, possess us and indwell us. We got to pinch our noses and that is why Jesus said in John 16 that when the Holy Spirit is come he will convict the world of judgement. Why? Because they are such bad people? Walking corpses, because they are spiritually dead? No. It is because they believe not in me, they don’t breathe. They hold their breath. They would rather smell the decaying offal of the world.
The wonderful thing is is that we can pass on that breath. Or really prompt others to breathe since everyone has to do their own breathing. We can be the means of communicating the very breath of God. In John 20, the first day of the week or actually the new creation, when things first started again as a counterpart to Genesis, Jesus first appeared to his disciples who were gathered together. And after finishing saying, “As the Father has sent me, so send I you,” he breathed on them. Didn’t just raise his hands over them, or body to body contact. He wanted to indwell them, his very breath to possess them. “Receive ye the Holy Spirit.” We have all heard of artificial respiration but do you know it is relatively modern? When I was a boy I was in a club much like the cub scouts and we practiced the Red Cross scheme of aiding a drowning victim with them face down and straddling their back with compresses, “Out goes the water, in goes the air,” being the rhythm. But now that is obsolete and we have improved upon it. Even the home-made, rule-of-thumb respiration is mouth-to-mouth. And what is one to say of inhalation therapy that has revolutionized modern medicine. We tend to think of advances in medicine in regards to surgeries or antibiotics or cancer treatments, vaccines, and so on. But a lot of credit in surgery belongs to inhalation therapy. Many of us wouldn’t be here without that oxygen that man has learned to can, so to speak. And so when Jesus said to his disciples, “Receive ye the Holy Spirit,” he was giving them artificial respiration and they would in turn pass it on to others.
This can become power, and that is air or breath in motion. We know that hot air rises and more recently we have become aware of the movement of air on temperature. We have known for sometime how humidity can affect the feel of a given temperature, but now we know that the affect of air movement, which we call the wind chill in winter, can have just as much effect if not more on our comfort. So the movement of air or breath has so much to do with our well being and that is true in the spiritual realm as well. One of our greatest sources of energy is just this thing of moving air. I’m thinking of the windmills that dot the landscape in the Netherlands, and it isn’t just that they are quaint and picturesque but they are kept there despite the amount of land that they occupy or require. They are somewhat crude compared to our American windmills, but they persist in using them not because of sake of tradition but rather because every year they reclaim acres and acres of land for this nation. Holland is growing because of the windmill. They move oceans of water through the use of the air. Farmers get energy to light their humble cottages because of these devices. There is always ongoing studies to figure out better ways to harness moving air, which is wind, of course. Or air brakes that stop mile long trains just by the application of air.
Now then, applying it to the Holy Spirit who is air in motion, who is breath, who is wind – the only way in which we can be recipients of that power is to be in a right relationship to Him. You have to be in the center of God’s will, or everything that I have said about life, movement and energy and power is moot. We’re all aware that airplanes’ flight patterns for landing change on account of the wind. Children flying kites can stand in one direction one day and a different direction the next to get their kites in the air, depending on the wind. Now, how often are you and I powerless, bucking the wind or rowing upstream to change the figure, just because we are not moving along with the Holy Spirit, capitalizing on His power. That’s what Jesus was talking about when he was talking to Paul, [sic] “Saul, you are a man of motion, energy and power but you are kicking against the bricks. You should be going along with me. We are at a standstill so to speak, cancelling each other out. You are fighting my work. Why do you persecute me?” And then we read this pretty expression “that he who had (been) breathing out threatening” – I think it is very deliberate that the Holy Spirit who inbreathes the Bible use that expression – “breathing out threatening” – like a dragon sort of smoke and fire – “began to breathe out blessings.”
Well one form that we can exert this power, that we can share this life that we have is through prayer. Prayer is the Christian’s breath, his native air. And by means that we can reach around the world. We would never think of someone taking down a windmill because he didn’t have enough air to make more than one of them run. Air is free. You can have as many windmills as you want. That is what the Bible means when it says, “Pray without ceasing.” Why settle for 5 minutes in the morning or 5 minutes at night, if that. We should always be praying. It is our very breath. Whoever thought of just breathing for a little while, getting hyperoxygentated, then rushing to school and holding their breath the rest of the day. Breathe constantly. Pray without ceasing. And you can reach out that little windmill of yours and because you are facing the Lord, you are in tune with His power, you can change people behind the Iron Curtain and behind the Bamboo Curtain that you will never see until glory. Artificial respiration. Another form of this is the Word of God, which is the power of God unto salvation. Why does this book change lives, change people, unlike self-help books that may change your thinking or lifestyle? Books about racism may change your whole attitude towards others but doesn’t change you into those other races. What’s the difference between the Bible and other books? The Bible is God breathed, it’s in-spired. And so when the Gideons are distributing their books into the motels they are breathing out the gift of life. They are a vehicle, bottled oxygen, containing God and passing it on to others. It is said that one Bible in a motel room can reach 3000 people. What power we possess. We are the spiritual mid-wives for the world. I say again, everyone has to do their own breathing. I wish we could breath for others. We are the spiritual obstetricians that make them spark that first breath, makes them gasp for life. So say, “Lord,” like Saul, “what would you have me do?” We are the nursery for the new humanity. What an honor, what a job. So we ought to have for our first prayer be the hymn, “Breathe on me breath of God, ’til I am wholly thine, ’til all this earthly part of me, glows with Thy power divine. Breathe on me breath of God, so shall I never die, but live with Thee the perfect life of Thine eternity.”