Max Lucado "The Holy Helper in Anxious Times" | Episode Transcript
Karen Pascal: Hello, I’m Karen Pascal. I’m the executive director of the Henri Nouwen Society. Welcome to a new episode of Henri Nouwen, Now and Then. Our goal at the Henri Nouwen Society is to extend the rich, spiritual legacy of Henri Nouwen to audiences around the world. Each week, we endeavor to bring you a new interview with someone who’s been deeply influenced by the writings of Henri Nouwen, and someone whose writing is an important and valued resource to spiritual seekers.
We invite you to share the daily meditations in these podcasts with your friends and family. Our core purpose is to share Henri Nouwen’s spiritual vision so that people can be transformed by experiencing themselves as God’s beloved.
Now, let me introduce you to my guest today. Today on this podcast, I have the pleasure of talking with Max Lucado. Max serves as the teaching minister of Oak Hills Church in San Antonio, Texas, but Max has been dubbed “America’s pastor” by Christianity Today, having sold 96 million books in 56 languages. Max’s voice and inspiration stretch way beyond the borders of America. For me, over the years, the books of Max Lucado have come into my life and truly enriched and deepened my personal faith. This latest book is no exception. Titled Help is Here: Finding Fresh Strength and Purpose in the Power of the Holy Spirit, this book came to me just when I needed it most.
Max, welcome to Henri Nouwen, Now and Then.
Max Lucado: Well, Karen, that is so kind of you. Yeah. Thank you so much. Hello from San Antonio, Texas.
Karen Pascal: Well, I want to thank you for writing this book. I truly mean it. I needed it. It’s so full of good news and truth. You remind us so clearly of what God has offered us in the Holy Spirit.
Max Lucado: Amen. What was it about the book that you, was there anything particular that you found helpful in the book?
Karen Pascal: I think it was just the constant reminder that God is on our side and that he intends us to have the Holy Spirit. I mean, every single page gave me like a prompt, a reminder of things that I have found to be true, but I needed to be reminded of. And I had been going through a particularly difficult, crunchy situation, you know, where I needed wisdom, where I needed authority. And your words were reminding me of God’s abundance in all of this. Tell us just a little bit about the Holy Spirit. Let’s start right there with what you want us to know as you have us read this book.
Max Lucado: Well, I thank you so much, by the way, for this opportunity. Forgive my raspy voice. I’ve just come out of COVID number-two. Isn’t that terrible!
Karen Pascal: Oh, my goodness. That’s not fair, is it?
Max Lucado: Oh, I’m not contagious anymore, but I am still recuperating my voice. It got me in the throat, so . . . But thank you for letting me have these minutes with you. I describe the Holy Spirit as “my unfailing friend.” He is my unfailing friend. He is the presence, the living presence of our invisible God, in our world today and, most specifically, in our hearts. What strikes me about the way the Bible portrays the Holy Spirit is, number one, as a mystery. Jesus himself said that the Spirit is the wind. It’s a wind. We don’t know where the wind comes from or really where the wind blows. So immediately, we’re taught that the Holy Spirit cannot be captured, controlled, cajoled, or forced into doing what we want him to do.
But also, Jesus described the Holy Spirit as our – I just love the word – comforter. Comforter. He’s the one who comes alongside us and comforts us. In the book, I unpack a variety of word pictures, because it’s not one word picture that works. No one word picture suffices, but I found well over a dozen – I had to pick and choose between the ones I found – that help us understand what the function and what the role, what the quest of the Holy Spirit is in our lives. But I think the big message that I’m wanting people to get is what you got, Karen. And that is, we’re in a tough season. These are hard days, but we don’t have to face them alone. There is a supernatural help that will come to any person who simply requests it. And that’s the presence, the living presence of the Holy Spirit.
Karen Pascal: I love the fact that within the book you keep reminding us of this wonderful, personal, persistent love of God expressed in the Holy Spirit. But you write: “Your name is not written in God’s book with pencil. He does not hover an eraser above your entry, just waiting for an excuse to remove it. He is no cruel master who demands perfection and promises retribution. He is a good father, who has recorded your name in the Book of Life with the blood of the Lamb.” And I think people need to be reminded of that when they feel the crush of circumstances, that God is still there and loves them and is for them, is for them more than anything else.
Max Lucado: Hmm. What a great point to bring up. And one of the metaphors that the Bible uses to describe the Holy Spirit is “seal” – S.E.A.L. We have been sealed with the Holy Spirit. I don’t know – when I hear that in my mind, a picture of bubble wrap comes to my mind. I think it’s because when I was in high school, I got a job at a factory that built vacuum cleaners, and on the assembly line, the last thing that would be done to the vacuum cleaner before we would put it in the box is we would wrap it in bubble wrap. I mean, seriously, wrap it over and over and over, so that there was no way that a particular vacuum cleaner, that machine could be hurt. Surely, it might get jostled and, you know, bounced about in the back of a truck. But by the time it was to reach the person who bought it, it would still be in pristine shape. And maybe I should have shared that illustration in the book, because I think that’s a picture of the Holy Spirit.
We have been sealed with the Holy Spirit. He has wrapped himself around us. And every person hearing my voice, including me expressing my voice, has, in recent history, stumbled. We stumble, we do things we regret. We lose our temper, we lose our self-control, we lose our perspective. And we worry during those seasons: Have I out-sinned the grace of God? Have I have I cut myself off? And we can grow angry at him or we can grow afraid of him. But the promise of the Holy Spirit is: He has sealed us. He has sealed us. Satan may tempt us, influence us, and even cause us to lose our way, but we can never lose our salvation, because it’s God’s work. What saved us initially secures us eternally. And I think you’re absolutely right, Karen: We need that assurance because, in addition to the guilt we can sometimes feel, the devil brings fear, fear that we’ve out-sinned the grace of God. And so, one of the roles of the Holy Spirit is to seal us so that we will be delivered spotless and holy in the presence of God, on that great day. And so, thank you, Holy Spirit, for sealing me and not challenging me to save myself or to stay saved myself. It is completely a work of grace.
Karen Pascal: You write, “The Spirit of God is not a computer to be programmed. He’s a person to be welcomed.” I don’t know if everybody understands that the Holy Spirit is a person. Can you just open that up?
Max Lucado: Yeah. You know, it’s hard to have a relationship with electricity. It’s hard to be friends with a jolt of lightning, but many people see the Holy Spirit as this impersonal force of power, a bit like electricity or a bit like fire. But Jesus, in his beautiful teachings on the Holy Spirit in John 14 and 15 and 16, always referred to the Holy Spirit as a person, “he.” We have a pronoun there, to help us understand that the Holy Spirit is not an “it.” And I do hear people mistakenly refer to the Holy Spirit as “it”: “It has helped me,” or “It has come,” or “I don’t understand it.”
So, maybe we should all make a declaration that from now on, I will call the Holy Spirit as Jesus did: as a person, a person, a person who can be quenched, a person who can be angered, a person who can love us, who can comfort us, who can guide us, who can teach us, who can strengthen us, who can give us the same power that was used when Jesus was raised from the dead.
And so, maybe the first place to begin in our understanding of the Holy Spirit is to move out of the impersonal and into the very intimately personal, and understand that the Holy Spirit is a person who offers himself to be our friend, our unfailing friend, to walk us through any season of life.
Karen Pascal: I have enjoyed your books so much. I’ve enjoyed your writing in this book. You’re a master with words and images, and you’re a storyteller and you’re a master with compassion. And I must admit it was in your honesty – you bring forward your failings and share those – I find you to be a bit of a kindred spirit to Henri Nouwen. I think that’s something that people have been attracted to in reading Henri Nouwen’s books, is that level of almost self-disclosure that says, “This is the real me,” and then discovers that God loves the real me. I’m curious if you have been in any way, if Henri’s writings or teachings have been a resource for you.
Max Lucado: Oh, no doubt. And some of the stories that he has used have been so, so very, very helpful through the years. And I think you’re right. My impression of Henri Nouwen – I would’ve loved to have met him – but my impression is that he was accessible, that he never elevated himself, that he never said, “I’ve got it figured out, so come and listen to me.” But it was much, much more an invitation that says, “I’m a fellow struggler, I’m a pilgrim on this road with you. Let me share where I fell, let me share how God helped me.” But the big message of Mr. Nouwen was grace and forgiveness and help and renewal and God’s commitment to us. So, I’m embarrassed that my name might be considered to be like his, because he’s in a stratosphere that few people can dwell, but I’m very, very grateful for the work that he has done and did in his life.
Karen Pascal: I found a quote from you that I thought was very special. You were mentioning that as a pastor, as a minister, that you would ask the question as you were approaching the sermon: What can I say on Sunday that will matter on Monday? And quite frankly, I think that’s the kind of books you write. You’re writing books that matter in the Mondays of our life. That’s what I’ve appreciated so much. I think you named the time we’ve been living through in such an accurate way. It’s been more challenging and more discouraging, perhaps, and isolating in so many aspects of the last couple of years. I think that’s a very special gift you have. I think that’s, in a way, it’s a prophetic gift, but God has given you the gift of naming the moment and speaking to it. And so, even though this book is about the Holy Spirit, it’s really bringing God’s answer into the question of the times we’re in.
Max Lucado: I love to discuss the Holy Spirit, because there’s so many different applications, so many different directions. The Holy Spirit, again, is the living presence of God in our lives today. He is God in our world, directing and leading us.
I was impressed by the writings of a dear man by the name of Frederick Dale Bruner. And Dr. Bruner has written the best commentaries on Matthew and John, in my opinion, that have ever been written. And then he has a small volume on the Holy Spirit, in which he calls the Holy Spirit “the shy member of the Trinity.” What a great little phrase, the shy member of the Trinity. And the reason that he calls the Holy Spirit the shy member of the Trinity is because the Holy Spirit’s assignment or quest is to direct people to Christ, not direct people to himself.
He is the one who will lead us into an understanding of Christ. And so, it’s almost as if the Holy Spirit is that quiet voice, prompting us to look to Jesus, to look to Jesus for our identity, to look to Jesus for our security, to look to Jesus for salvation. The Holy Spirit is ever prompting, ever stirring, even bringing to remembrance the things that we might have forgotten, or maybe we never knew we knew, about Jesus Christ. Now, I think that’s such a wonderful image to understand the Holy Spirit.
Now, another thing I think is interesting is that we live in such a non-spiritual era. I’m not saying anything new when I say we are a secular society. That is to say, we have come to depend upon only what we can see, what we can touch, what we can explain. And we cannot explain the Holy Spirit.
No, no, no. The Holy Spirit has a mind of his own, and he cannot be coerced or cajoled. And so, let’s not think of him as a genie in a bottle, that if we come up with the right formula or say the right words, then he has to respond. He will come and go as he wishes, but he will always reflect Christ and he will always encourage and help the saints.
And so, I find it to be a great adventure in our secular society to talk to people about the most non-secular promise. And that is, there is an invisible, supernatural presence alive and well on Planet Earth, working and touching the hearts of people who seek him.
Karen Pascal: Max, why do you think it is that the Holy Spirit brings out the extremists among us? I mean, we do know there’s kind of a sense of divisiveness as people have various opinions. Why do you think that is?
Max Lucado: Yeah. I mentioned this early in the book, that the topic of the Holy Spirit can bring out the two extremes. On one extreme is the person who – I think in the book, I said, he’s got a backstage pass to the Holy Spirit and can see and experience things that most of us common people will never see nor experience. And he or she loves to brag about being a favorite student of the Holy Spirit. On the other extreme is the person or the church who, if they cannot explain it, they don’t believe it. You know, if you cannot predict it or find it in a recipe, it does not exist. And so, they find themselves to be kind of the self-appointed hall monitors who exist to shut down or criticize any reference to the Spirit that they cannot explain.
So, I think those are the two extremes. But I do believe in the middle is that dear sister who is longing to receive everything the Lord wants to give. And there’s that dear brother who believes that when Jesus said, “I must go away so that the Comforter can come,” he believes that. I believe that there are great quorums of people who are weary and tired and need and want and long to receive the power of the Holy Spirit. And if that describes you, then we’re in the same camp. I’m wanting to be very careful and not go where we’re not permitted to go, but also to go everywhere we’re invited to go. And again, the Holy Spirit is a mystery. No-one’s going to crack the code. Nobody’s going to control him. Nobody’s going to create the list of things he does and can’t do. All we have are those beautiful invitations from Jesus, inviting us to trust him and follow him and receive him as our comforter, as our unfailing friend to walk us through life.
Karen Pascal: Very inviting, very inviting. Absolutely. Let me ask you just very specifically, because we’ve talked about anxiety: What role has the Holy Spirit played in fighting anxiety in your life, Max? In a way as I listen to you, I think that beautiful kind of rolling, subtle accent, for me anyway, sounds like you’re full of peace. But do you have times of anxiety, and how does the Holy Spirit help you?
Max Lucado: Well, yes, I do have anxiety. It’d be very difficult not to in this day and age. And some anxiety – you know, anxiety has caught a bad name, caught a bad rep, but the truth is some anxiety’s helpful, because it does quicken us to turn our hearts back to the Father, to alert ourselves that we need his help and his strength. And so, I would never want people who battle with anxiety to have to, in addition, battle with the guilt of anxiety, because anxiety just comes with life, but it does not have to take our lives. The Holy Spirit is the living presence of God on the earth, in our lives today. And one of his desires is to comfort this troubling stirring that we feel within us, this chaos.
In fact, one of the things that I find most wonderful is the first appearance of the Spirit in scripture. After there had been a declaration that the earth was going to be created, the scripture says, “The Spirit of God hovered over the earth.” Up until that point, there was, at least in my mind, just teeming violence, you know – volcanoes erupting, waves crashing – so much needed to be done to create the Garden of Eden. And here comes the Holy Spirit and he hovers, the scripture says. It’s a very rare word in the Bible, used only twice. He hovers over the earth. In other words, before there can be creation, there must be calm. He comes as he calms. You know, the Spirit is often portrayed as a dove in scripture. And what does a dove do, but symbolize the presence of purity and peace? The Holy Spirit is that presence of God’s calming that comes into our lives.
In my own life, I’ve sensed him calming me. I find myself getting wound up and kind of running or rushing through a day. And I’ll just sense this voice inside me saying, “Take a deep breath, slow down, calm down.” Or oftentimes when I’m in the midst of a decision situation, if I’m aware, I’ll turn my heart toward the Holy Spirit, and I’ll say, “Dear Lord, guide me here, direct me here.” And I will listen for my next thought, because I believe the Holy Spirit is speaking to me through my thoughts and through my actions. Or I’ll open the scripture and I’ll say, “Direct me, Lord, help me here, please, because I don’t know what to do.” And so, I think there’s such great news, because anxiety is just sucking the joy out of our society – but it doesn’t have to. The next time you feel that voice of anxiety, that flush of fear come into your life, rather than consult your fears, turn to your heavenly father in faith and say, “Blessed Lord, blessed Spirit, help me as I face this, as I struggle through this issue.”
Many times, I will awaken in the middle of the night. I don’t know what it is about that place in between real sleep and being awake. But there’s a spot in between there in which I feel like I’m susceptible to anxiety, and I’ll wake up and I’ll think of all the challenges that are coming my way. I’ve learned through the years, though, to pray. And my prayers in the middle of the night are nothing more than incoherent mumbles. If my wife were to wake up – and she has before – she would hear me just saying, “Jesus, help me, Jesus, help me. Jesus, help me.” And he will come and help us. So please, before you give into your fears, turn to your heavenly father in faith. The Holy Spirit is here to help you calm the chaos of this life.
Karen Pascal: Oh Max, that is a good message. That’s one we’re going to take to Monday, I have got to tell you. In fact, everything that’s come out of this conversation, I would say, is going to go into the Mondays of our lives right now. It doesn’t stay within this podcast. But first of all, Max, I want to thank you for being with us today, on Henri Nouwen, Now and Then. What a privilege to have you as our guest today. Thank you.
Max Lucado: Well, Karen, it’s a great privilege and I pray all the very, very best for you and your wonderful audience and this very important ministry.
Karen Pascal: And I want to thank you for writing this book. You really have introduced us afresh to this gift, the Holy Spirit. Listeners, your life is going to be enriched by Max Lucado’s latest book. I really want to encourage you to get Help is Here: Finding Fresh Strength and Purpose in the Power of the Holy Spirit. I recommend it wholeheartedly. You’ve gotten a little taste in this conversation, but I want to tell you it will feed you, inform you and transform you. Honestly, it will. Thank you, Max.
Max Lucado: Thank you. And all the best, Karen.
Karen Pascal: All the best to you, too. Bye-bye.
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