[Jesus said,] “God’s Spirit blows wherever it wishes. You hear its sound, but you don’t know where it comes from or where it is going. It’s the same with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” -John 3:8
I was driving along Interstate 80 last week. I glanced up and saw a cluster of billboards. I looked again because the billboards didn’t make any sense. On the second look, I realized that the billboards had been peeled away by the derecho winds. Layers of ads had been partially removed, leaving a glimpse into “HOTE-” and “-EXT EXI-” and “-RGERS AND FR-” and “-EE WIFI,” the remnants of ad campaigns past. In some cases, only the skeleton of a billboard remained.
That wind was something else, wasn’t it? It peeled away those billboards as easily as you or I peel an orange. Talk about power.
In our Bible, we hear about another powerful wind: the Holy Spirit. In Hebrew and Greek, the languages our Bible was first written in, the words for wind are the very same as the words for spirit and breath (in Hebrew, a feminine noun, “ruach,” and in Greek, a neuter noun, “pneuma”). The wind, whether it came as a gentle breeze or a rushing blast, was like a breath of God’s Spirit, unseen and powerful.
Those peeled off billboards got me thinking. What if the Holy Spirit sometimes shows up like a derecho to peel away the layers we use to cover ourselves? We cover up with all kinds of layers, after all. We talk about putting our best foot forward, but we seldom admit to the times when we’re feeling wrong-footed.
Instead, we cover up fear with bravado. We cover up uncertainty with disdain. We cover up guilt with excuses. We cover up wrongdoing with good deeds. We cover up worry with “I’m fine.” We cover up prejudice with self-righteousness. We wrap ourselves in layers of attempts to look good. We layer up our broken pieces with duct tape and super glue, hoping it’ll hold up to inspection.
It never works. We’re not billboards, you and I. We can’t just cover ourselves up with something new and shiny when the old self doesn’t satisfy. We can’t even strip off the layers to find something better underneath. When the Holy Spirit blows through, it peels away all that we try to wrap ourselves in to look good. The Holy Spirit is called the Spirit of Truth, not the Spirit of Reassuring Half-Truths.
The Holy Spirit reveals the truth of what’s beneath: broken, worn out, wrong; in other words, sinful. By the time the Holy Spirit is finished peeling our sin away, we look worse than the broken billboards. We’re like skeletons scattered by the wind.
Fortunately, we’re not billboards, you and I. The Holy Spirit might come like a derecho sometimes, peeling away our covers to reveal what’s beneath, but the Holy Spirit never leaves us broken in a ditch.
Instead, that mighty wind circles back to us in a way that is infinitely gentle, but no less powerful: breath. Sin, no matter how it’s packaged, only offers death. The Holy Spirit gives our dry bones her very breath for new life.
The Spirit, like the wind, blows where and how it will, not according to our plans. We need the layers of our sin to be peeled away as surely as we need the breath of new life. The Holy Spirit brings us both mighty wind and gentle breath according to what we need. If you keep wrapping up in layers to cover your sin and give the impression you’ve got it all together, know that the Holy Spirit will come at an unexpected time and blow your cover away. If things are coming undone in your life as the layers are being peeled away, fear not: the life-giving breath of the Holy Spirit will come to your dry bones and breathe life into you.
O Holy Spirit, breath of life and whirlwind of truth, blow in my life. Peel away what hides my sin. Peel away my attempts to hold it all together. Peel my sin completely away from me. Breathe into me the life that only you can give. Amen.