There is a difference between willpower and passion. You can learn all the rules of basketball and put all your effort into being the best on the court, but if you don’t truly love the sport, you’ll only go so far before burning out. You can memorize scales and learn all the rules of music theory, but that alone does not make you a musician. You have to play with passion—music is something that comes from deep within the soul, and it is much more than technical skill. Knowledge and effort are both necessary to perform well, but they grow naturally when you develop a genuine love for what you do. Willpower alone will only take you so far. And sometimes, even when you know all the notes, you might freeze up at the recital. If, when the moment comes for you to perform, you find yourself paralyzed with fear, you have much in common with Jesus’s apostles as they waited in the upper room.
After Jesus ascended into Heaven, His apostles retreated into an upper room, away from the crowds of the city and from everyone who was asking them questions about Jesus. They weren’t ready to face these people, to spread Jesus’s word, to undergo persecution in His name. Jesus had told them to “go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation” (Mark 16:15). They believed in the truth of His death and resurrection and knew the importance of sharing it with others. They wanted to follow His commands—but they couldn’t bring themselves to step outside. Their faith lacked action and passion; they were overcome by human weakness and fear.
Sometimes, when I am faced with a challenge in following the Christian life or when I am inspired to do something to share the faith, I become paralyzed by a spiritual inertia before I can even begin. I get caught up in the details, frightened by the possibilities of what some people might say if I follow through, ever aware that I am not worthy or capable of carrying out any sort of grand plans. But God does not promise us that we will be comfortable and safe in this life if we follow His will—rather, He tells us the opposite: “If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20). And He does not call the equipped; he equips the called. We have to step out in faith, away from our comfortable hiding places and out into the world.
What happened to transform the cowering disciples in the upper room into the brave, powerful martyrs who carry out such amazing miracles in the Acts of the Apostles? What gave them the strength they so lacked before, the resolve to follow through in performing God’s commands? What gave them the faith to take seriously what Jesus had told them, when they had such trouble earlier to internalize His teachings and instructions? The Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the only difference between hiding away in a small, dark room and speaking in tongues to all the nations. The Holy Spirit equips us with the graces we lack, at the time we need them to carry out God’s will in our lives; He fills us with the strength to forget our mortal constraints and trust that God will fill in our weaknesses. God wants to use us as His instruments, imperfect though we are, and the Holy Spirit acts as the channel for this to occur. With the help of the Holy Spirit, we can do hard things.
But there is a gap between the Ascension and Pentecost. We must wait for the Holy Spirit to come to us, and we must have faith that God will send the Spirit to us when the time comes. Until that time, we are reminded of our own human weakness, so that we know that whatever we do to further His Kingdom comes from the Spirit and not from us. This can be a hard truth to accept when we are trapped in the upper room, waiting for help to arrive—that we cannot do it ourselves, that we need an Advocate. But the Advocate is coming for all of us; He will come when we need Him if only we invoke His name.
God has entrusted us with a mission to fulfill, to be His hands in the world. Instead of being fearful of making mistakes, we can step out in confidence, knowing that God will cover our imperfections. We can focus on doing what we are called to do instead of worrying about the obstacles we will encounter in the process. The Holy Spirit fills us with the “perfect love [that] casts out fear” (1 John 4:18). We can’t force feelings of love, but we can turn to God and ask Him to provide us what we need. He can set a fire in our soul that will fuel everything we do.
Come, Holy Spirit! Fill the hearts of Your faithful and kindle in them the fire of Your love.
Send forth Your Spirit and they shall be created, and You shall renew the face of the earth.