“Drop by drop, the Holy Spirit moistened my heart and filled me with hope.”
It was a dusty spring. The snow melted too early, leaving the grass exposed to the sun. It burned dry and brittle in a matter of days. Even the dirt seemed scorched. Little grey dust clouds covered my feet when I walked across the “lawn.” Tree branches hung limp, longing for water. The bushes snapped when I brushed up against them. We had gone far too long without rain.
It was the spring of 2016 and wildfires were spreading in hundreds of locations across the province of Alberta. But it was the Wood Buffalo region that was the hardest hit. On May 3, the firestorm reached outskirts of Fort McMurray, forcing more than 80,000 people from their homes. The monstrous fire became known as “The Beast.” It advanced at a rate of 30 to 40 metres per minute, consuming whole neighbourhoods in its path. The hot, dry weather and persistently strong winds made The Beast unstoppable despite the heroic efforts of firefighters from all over the province. Without a change in the wind direction and the weather, it looked like the whole city might be lost. People prayed for rain.
As ominous smoke hung over my neighbourhood in Edmonton—a five-hour drive south of Fort McMurray—I was praying for rain of another kind. My soul felt as parched as my lawn. It had been a very long winter of ministry with very few hours to myself. Even church and college chapels had at times become a chore. So, while I was praying for the rains to come in Fort McMurray, I was also longing for a refreshing rain in my spirit.
The promise of the refreshing Spirit of God kept popping up in my devotions. I read in Joel where God promises His people “abundant showers” where there had been only dryness and barrenness (Joel 2:23). In Isaiah I read, “The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail” (Isaiah 58:11). Jesus made a similar offer on the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles when He stood up and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink” (John 7:37). He wasn’t offering a thimble of water; He was offering rivers of it! John explains Jesus’ statement: “By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive” (John 7:39a).
I believed that the refreshing work of the Spirit was available to me, but I felt so thirsty. Then I came across an article by Jack Hayford that encouraged me. He wrote, “Needing to be refreshed doesn’t mean that I’ve backslid or sinned. When the lawn endures a hot day, it dries up and needs the refreshing of rain. The Holy Spirit, coming as rain, comes to bring refreshing and restoration.”1
This gave me hope but, like other Christians I had counselled, I still battled with self-defeating worries. What if this is just how it is when you’ve been a Christian for as long I have? Maybe I just need to accept my condition. Maybe I need some time off. But hadn’t Jesus offered rivers of living water?
The fires raged on in Fort McMurray. Day after day I prayed for rain, both physical and spiritual, but my praying seemed futile. I went about my daily routines wondering if this spiritual dryness was how it was going to be from now on.
One morning, in a devotional before a day of planning meetings, a guest shared stories of droughts from across various parts of the United States. He told of one desperate location in Kansas where the crops were stunted and dying. Without warning, clouds moved in and erupted with a massive downpour. The banks of the rivers couldn’t contain the deluge. People put out every container they could find to collect the rain.
As he spoke, I felt the first drop of rain splash into my soul. Drop by drop, the Holy Spirit moistened my heart and filled me with hope. Within minutes I felt the Holy Spirit welling up within me. My heart felt light as life-giving water drenched my parched spirit and overflowed in praise. Once again I was being filled with the Spirit. My dry and cracked interior became a distant memory.
In the wake of that experience I found myself wondering: Why do so many Christians resist this refreshing work of the Holy Spirit? Why are they reluctant to allow God to saturate their spirit in this intimate way? What would cause someone to decide, “This isn’t for me”?
When the rain finally began falling in Fort McMurray, it wouldn’t stop. The temperatures plummeted and rain, steady rain, fell for days. The clouds dumped 57 millimetres of rain and gave firefighters a chance to restrain The Beast. Remarkably, the rain also brought new life, fresh shoots and seedlings, up through the ash. What a difference the rain makes.
And what a difference the rain of the Spirit makes. The everyday demands of work and life can bring on a spiritual dry season in any Christian’s life. In my experience, dryness set in even when I felt that I was living my life in service to God. If this is a dry season for you, I want to remind you that God offers each of us the cool, refreshing rain of His Spirit.
Take heart. Look up. From where I’m standing, it looks like rain!
Ron Powell is distance education director at Vanguard College in Edmonton, Alta.