I clearly remember the moment I noticed I was in love.
A student disappeared behind the podium after saying something embarrassing during a presentation—and stayed there while the class roared with laughter. It was in that moment that I couldn’t help but notice the complex set of emotions coursing through my body. I didn’t recognize them all, but I knew I loved her.
Shortly after we began to date. Then a few years later we got married. It has been 27 years of learning to notice her.
Noticing the way she holds her eyebrows when she is tired. Or the look she gives me when I’m talking too much. Or the subtle inflection in her voice that lets me know she wants some time to share her concerns.
At the heart of our marriage is this practice of noticing each other. Noticing her, and noticing how she makes me feel, is the key to deeper intimacy.
This is true in my marriage, but it is also true in my relationship with God. My intimacy with God is linked to my willingness to take notice of his presence and work in my life. The more I have practised noticing the Holy Spirit, the more I can recognize types of work he’s consistently doing.
An easy acronym I use to track the work of the Holy Spirit is RECALL.
I share with an open hand, never wanting to communicate that somehow we can figure God out completely and predict his activity. God is much bigger than any box I could build. However, he also is willing to be known, which is astounding to me.
Like my spouse, or any of my friends, there are certain characteristics about the movement of God that I’m learning to recognize. I will list and describe them for you, as they might be helpful in noticing the Holy Spirit at work in your life.
Have you ever felt the embrace of God? His unconditional love, washing over you, filling you with a sense of safety, acceptance, and peace? This is the work of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit helps us experience God as a loving parent or friend, rather than a task master.
In Romans 8, Scripture tells us that the Spirit of God, who lives within us, is constantly at work in our lives. He does not simply tell us that God loves us; he actually loves us. He grants us assurance that his words are backed up by action. His strong desire is to help us experience deeper intimacy with the God who loves us.
This is the driving purpose of the Holy Spirit, and all of his working in our life comes back to this purpose.
The Holy Spirit works in us to make us effective agents of God’s love in the world. He does not turn us into productive automatons. Rather, Galatians 5 tells us the Holy Spirit grants us gifts and a growing capacity to participate in the mission of God in the world.
He molds our character to become more like his own. Over time, we become both more like him, and mysteriously more like our true selves as well.
The purpose of developing effectiveness in us is so that we might experience deeper intimacy with the God (in relationship) who co-labours with us in loving others.
The Holy Spirit convicts us of sin. Yet, I often find myself tempted to take the Holy Spirit’s role and convict myself of sin.
Rather than searching for his gentle correction, I impatiently jump the process and judge myself harshly. This leads to me feeling shame and resistance in my relationship with God.
But when I wait for his conviction, it very often comes in the form of a gentle invitation to turn back to God. The Holy Spirit invites me to experience his grace which leads to deeper intimacy with him.
In John 14-16, Jesus tells his followers all about the Holy Spirit. He highlights that it’s the Holy Spirit who teaches, or reveals, God to us. He helps us to know who God is and what he’s up to.
Interestingly, we need the Holy Spirit to help us recognize the work of the Holy Spirit! But this knowledge isn’t meant for us to simply become good theologians. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13 that knowledge about God is useless—even worse than useless—without love.
The Holy Spirit brings awareness of God into our lives so that we might experience deeper intimacy with God.
Jesus also explains in John 14-16 that the Holy Spirit counsels, guides, and leads us. He helps us discern what is wise and good for us to do.
But he isn’t a compass or a map, a simple guide post on our journey. Rather than an inanimate tool, he is a constant companion, showing us the way.
The Holy Spirit is not just interested in the destination but wants to be intimately involved in our journey. Noticing his presence brings courage and inspiration as we partner with him in making decisions that define our future.
We can also notice the Holy Spirit when we pay attention to where life is growing in us.
In John 7, Jesus tells us that the Holy Spirit is life giving. He is like a stream of living water overflowing from the heart. The image here is one of abundance and fullness.
This doesn’t mean he is a giant vending machine dispensing life whenever we want it. Rather, he is like a gardener, tenderly nurturing life in our soul so that we might bask together in the joy of its beauty.
Certainly there are times in our life that feel lifeless, dark, or ineffective. Then we are tempted to conclude that intimacy with God is impossible and the Holy Spirit has abandoned us. These seasons of desolation are real. Many psalms (13, 25, 31, and 86, to name a few) speak to the pain of these seasons.
What do we do then? It can mean being still and simply staring at the deep recesses of our soul. But it’s also true that in desolate times we need to reach out for help. Perhaps a friend who is good at listening and practised at noticing the work of the Holy Spirit. A counselor or spiritual director may be helpful in these seasons.
Read more: Our top questions about counselling answered
I don’t understand why, but the Holy Spirit at times seems to relish a game of hide and seek. Generally he delights in being known, but I cannot deny that there are seasons in which his voice fades to a whisper and his presence seems far off.
Read more: Walking through my “dark night of the soul”
Rather than seeing this as abandonment, I’m beginning to realize that very often it is an invitation to go deeper. I pray that you may hear that invitation today.
Of course, any invitation comes with an opportunity to respond. The work of noticing God in your life is one that will take desire, initiative, and practice.
God is willing to show himself to you. Will you receive his invitation to notice him? Whether or not it seems obvious, he wants to draw you into deeper intimacy today.
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