Peter Kreeft

Dynamite in Prayer

Dynamite representing charismatic power

Sal: Well, Chris, what do we talk about today?

Chris: How about talking about dynamite?

Sal: Dynamite?

Chris: The dynamite in prayer.

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Kreeft and Nevins dialogue on experiencing Charismatic Gifts—catalysts to more interactive, “two-way” prayer.  See also:

Chris: Because there’s nothing more practical than the Holy Spirit.

Sal: Wow! What’s that?

Chris: The Holy Spirit.

Sal: Oh

Chris: You sound disappointed.

Sal: Well... you have to admit, “dynamite” is more of an attention-getter than “the Holy Spirit”. I thought you were going to talk about something more well, more practical.

The Holy Spirit is dynamite.

Chris: I couldn’t possibly do that, Sal.

Sal: Why not?

Chris: That’s part of it. But you seem disappointed again.

Sal: Oh? What practical difference does it make, then?

Chris: Not “it”, “he”. He’s a person, remember?

Sal: O.K. But what difference does he make? Or is that a wrong question to ask?

Chris: It’s a very good question. If something makes no practical difference, no difference to your life, then you don’t care about it. Who cares whether the moon has 1,000 or 2,000 craters on its dark side? Only astronomers. But we care about dynamite, if it’s in our neighborhood. Because dynamite can make a difference, right?

Sal: Right. And the Holy Spirit can make as big a difference as dynamite?

Chris: The Holy Spirit is dynamite. The word “dynamite” comes from one of the Greek words used in the New Testament to describe the Holy Spirit: dynamis. It means “power”.

Sal: Oh, I think I understand. You mean unless there were a Holy Spirit, there couldn’t be the power to start the Church and the power to inspire the writers of the Bible and so on. He’s sort of like spiritual electricity?

Sal: Because that’s theoretical, theological. I want to know what practical difference he makes here and now. If he’s spiritual electricity, I don’t just want to know that he happens to be the source of power, I want to know if I can get a shock.

You know Jesus,
not just about Jesus.

Chris: Good question. That’s the other part of it, the practical difference he makes. Yes, you can get a shock. You can touch him.

Sal: He makes a difference, then. Good. But what difference?

Chris: The same kind of difference Jesus does. Just as Jesus gives you a new relationship with God the Father, the Holy Spirit gives you a new relationship with Jesus.

Sal: What new relationship?

Chris: There are a lot of aspects to it, but the heart of it is that Jesus becomes real to you, not just ideal or abstract. You know him, not just know about him. It’s as big a change as Job found at the end of his story, when the God he had been praying to and complaining to and calling on finally came to him. When that happened, Job said, “I had heard of you with the hearing of the ear, but now I see you with the seeing of the eye.” Firsthand knowing instead of secondhand. And that’s a big difference as weIl, I imagine your father had left home to fight in some foreign war when you were born, and you never saw him. You only got letters from him (that’s like the Bible), and your mother told you about him (she’s like the Church). Then one day he shows up at your front door and comes in, and you hug him and talk with him and play with him—you meet him.

Sal: I see. You mean the Holy Spirit brings Jesus home to me, sort of?

Chris: Exactly.

Sal: That is a tremendous difference.

Chris: Like the difference between a photograph and a person.

Sal: So the Holy Spirit makes Jesus more than just “thought about”.

Chris: Yes.

Sal: More than “believed in” too? Beyond faith?

It’s deeper than feeling,
just as human love
and human friendship is deeper than feelings.

Chris: Not beyond faith, no; your faith deepens. It becomes more than an intellectual faith. You believe in Jesus, not just believe things about Jesus. You trust him. You get to know him, as you get to know a friend. By experience.

Sal: By feeling? Is that what you mean by “experience”?

Chris: No, not just feeling. Feeling is only a part of it. It’s deeper than feeling, just as human love and human friendship is deeper than feelings. Feelings can change, but the relationship can endure. The feelings are only in you, but the relationship is between you and your friend. Feelings are subjective, but relationships are objective. The change the Holy Spirit makes is more than a subjective thing, a change in your feelings. It’s a change in the real relationship between you and God.

Sal: And this is true about my prayer and about my life, right?

Chris: Right.

Sal: O.K., I think I see where the change is: in the relationship, not just in me. But I’m not clear what the change is.

Chris: One part of it is that the action doesn’t come only from you, but from God. The energy of God comes into your prayer and into your life.

Sal: Is that what the Holy Spirit is, “the energy of God”?

Chris: Yes, but remember, he’s a Person, not just energy in the abstract.

Sal: But he’s like electricity in that you can get a shock. You can touch him.

Chris: Yes. Actually, he touches you.

Sal: Not physically, of course?

Chris: No, but spirits can really touch too.

Sal: It sounds exciting. He sounds exciting. He must make prayer exciting.

Chris: Yes, but he doesn’t give you a perpetual high. Remember, it’s not primarily a matter of feeling. So even when you don’t feel God is there, you still know he is.

Sal: With your mind?

Chris: No, it’s more than intellectual, just as it’s more than emotional. Deeper than both: the real presence of a person—a divine Person. All three of them, in fact.

Sal: It sounds incredibly precious.

Chris: It is. More precious than anything in this world. So precious that even if only one person who reads this book believes this one point and decides to ask God for the Holy Spirit (and everyone who asks, receives), then it will be infinitely worth all the time and effort of writing and publishing and distributing it to thousands of others, just for that one.

Sal: It sounds too good to be true, too good for me. I’m not good enough for it, I mean.

Chris: That’s right. You’re not. Nobody is. Nobody deserves God. God works by love, not justice. It’s sheer grace, sheer gift. And he’s free. He comes with the package deal. The Spirit comes with the Father and the Son.

Sal: Aren’t there a lot of people who are living on only a third or two thirds of the package?

A lot of Christians are living on spiritual cheese sandwiches, when steak is offered.

Chris: Yes! They’re like the family of immigrants on a ship from Europe to America. They were so poor that they had to spend almost all their money on the ticket, and what they had left over for food was only enough to buy bread and cheese. So for the first couple of days all they ate was cheese sandwiches. Then the little boy said to his father, “Daddy, please, can I have money for an ice cream cone, just this once? I hate cheese sandwiches!” His father said, “We have almost no money left. And cheese sandwiches will keep you alive till we get to New York. Once we’re there, there are golden streets and everybody’s rich.” The boy wouldn’t stop asking, so his father finally gave him some change for an ice cream cone and waited. The boy didn’t come back for two hours. His father was getting worried when the boy finally came back with a fat tummy and a smile on his face. “Did you get your ice cream cone?” “Oh, sure, Dad. And then another one, and then a steak, and then apple pie.” “What? You bought all that with the money I gave you?” “Oh, no, Dad. It’s free. It comes with the ticket!”

Sal: Ouch! I see the point. A lot of Christians are living on spiritual cheese sandwiches, and the Holy Spirit is steak, right?

Chris: Right. There’s a passage in Acts where Paul goes into a church in Ephesus and asks the question: “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?” And they answer, “Who’s that? We never heard about the Holy Spirit.” Why do you think Paul asked that question? I think he saw spiritual cheese instead of spiritual steak there. He sensed something missing: the power, the certainty, the joy. Maybe he’d ask the same question if he came to most of our churches.

The experience of the
Holy Spirit is for all Christians
not just charismatics.

Sal: This still sounds too good to be true. Are you sure it’s for me? Not only for saints?

Chris: The Bible calls all Christians “saints”.

Sal: Isn’t it only for charismatics? Pentecostals? Holy Spirit people?

Chris: Don’t let denominational lines and theological labels and walls of words keep you out. The Holy Spirit is for all Christians. That’s very clear in the New Testament.

Sal: But this experience of him—the joy, the power, the certainty—is that what they call “the baptism in the Holy Spirit”?

Chris: That’s what charismatics call it, yes, but it's not just for one group of Christians, not just for charismatics. In fact, that’s just what charismatics say too.

Sal: You know, I’ve been impressed throughout these conversations of ours with how much solid substance there is in the Christianity common to all the different churches, Protestant and Catholic, charismatic and non-charismatic.

Chris: That’s because I’ve tried to stick to the center.

Sal: The center?

Ecumenical content is not a thin "lowest common denominator", but "the beef", essential Christianity.

Chris: God himself, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He’s for everyone, not just one group. For all who will have him.

Sal: Are you saying denominational differences don’t matter?

Chris: Not at all. The differences are very important. But even those very important differences can’t compare with the deep agreement all Christians have about the center. We agree much more than we disagree.

Sal: Do all Christians agree about “the baptism in the Holy Spirit”?

Chris: No, but he’s for everyone, whatever they think of him.

Sal: Is “the baptism in the Holy Spirit” necessary for salvation?

Chris: No. Steak isn’t necessary for food either; cheese sandwiches will keep you alive. But when the steak is free, why not take it?

Sal: I thought the Holy Spirit was given to everybody who’s saved, everyone who’s a Christian. Didn’t Jesus promise the Holy Spirit to all his disciples?

Chris: Yes, he did. The “baptism in the Holy Spirit” isn’t the same as Christ giving us the Holy Spirit in the first place. The Holy Spirit is given to us as soon as we believe.

Sal: What’s the “baptism in the Spirit” then?

Chris: A release of the power of the Spirit who’s already there.

What Protestants and
Catholics agree about is
incomparably more important
than what they disagree about.

Sal: O.K., that point is cleared up. But I’m still not clear how you know the “baptism in the Spirit” is for all Christians, just as the giving of the Spirit in the first place is. Only a few seem to have it.

Chris: Because when it first happened, on Pentecost, Peter said to the thousands there, who heard the mighty wind and saw the tongues of fire and heard the apostles speaking in tongues. “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit”—that’s the three parts of the Christian package deal: repentance to the Father, salvation by the Son and receiving the Holy Spirit. Peter then went on to say that “the promise (the whole promise, including the Holy Spirit) is to you and to your children and to all that are far off, every one whom the Lord our God calls”. It’s as if Peter was looking down the centuries, over the heads of his listeners, and saw us, and said to us, “This is for you too.” Look; it makes sense. God is love, and what’s the gift a lover longs most to give? What do flowers or a wedding ring symbolize?

Sal: The lover himself. The gift of self.

Chris: So God wants to give each one of us himself, his whole self, Father and Son and Holy Spirit. God is pure love, pure generosity, and the aim of love is always intimacy, oneness with the beloved. Doesn’t the lover always want to get closer and closer, to get inside the beloved’s soul? You want to give your whole self to the one you love. That’s why God gave us the Holy Spirit. And that’s why it’s better to have the Holy Spirit than to have Jesus only physically present, as the first disciples did.

Sal: Better even than having Jesus here on earth?

We're better off after
Jesus’ ascension into Heaven than before.

Chris: Yes, that’s what he said himself. He said, “It is better for you that I go away (he was speaking of his ascension into Heaven) because if I do not go away, the Spirit will not come to you, but if I go away, I will send him to you.”

Sal: Why is that?

Chris: Because no matter how close you are to Jesus, without the Holy Spirit, Jesus is still somebody outside you. He’s close beside you, but the Holy Spirit is inside you. That’s even closer, and that’s what love wants, remember: closeness.

Sal: You mean we’re really better off now without Jesus, with the Holy Spirit instead?

Chris: No, no, not “instead”. Jesus is with us too. He promised that: “Behold, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.” The Holy Spirit is his Spirit. The Holy Spirit reveals Jesus to us.

Sal: But we’re better off without Jesus’ bodily presence? Better off after Jesus’ ascension into Heaven than before?

Chris: Yes.

Sal: That’s pretty hard to believe. Frankly, I should think it would be fantastic if we could talk to him now, directly.

Chris: Ah, but you can!

Sal: Oh. Prayer, you mean?

Chris: Yes. Because Jesus sent us his Spirit instead of leaving us his human body, our prayers can be more intimate.

Sal: How?

Chris: You know the one you talk to. He’s your friend, not a stranger. And he talks back, and you hear him. Not usually in words... we’ll talk later about that. And here’s another difference he makes: he lights up Scripture. When you read it, it’s not a dead book, but alive.

Sal: What do you mean by that? It sounds pretty vague.

Chris: What’s the difference between a love letter and an encyclopedia?

Sal: I see: the first one is alive.

The Bible becomes
a personal love letter,
not an old encyclopedia.

Chris: And the whole Bible becomes a love letter written to you personally, not some old, historical encyclopedia.

Sal: To me personally?

Chris: Yes. God doesn’t address his mail “Dear Occupant”.

Sal: You can really see that big of a difference in the way you read the Bible?

Chris: Yes. It reads you now. It becomes like a sword: not dead on the ground, but alive because Somebody’s hand is using it.

Sal: That Somebody is the Holy Spirit?

Chris: Yes. The Bible calls itself “the Sword of the Spirit”, you know.

Sal: It sounds almost scary.

Chris: It can be—like looking through a keyhole and seeing an eye looking back at you. But it’s the eye of Infinite Love. Here’s another way to put the difference it makes: Did you ever see one of those kids’ puzzles in the Sunday papers, where there’s a jungle scene or something, and the puzzle reads, “Find the man in the picture”? After you squint and turn it sideways you notice that that tree trunk is his mouth, and that elephant ear is his chin, and so on. Then, once you see all the lines as part of his face, you can never see that picture the same again. It’s not just a jungle; it’s a man. It’s a little like seeing the “man in the moon". But in the case of Scripture, he’s really there—though he’s not just a man, he’s God. Every word becomes part of his face, tells you about him. You meet him now when you read.

Sal: Really? You’re not exaggerating or idealizing?

Chris: No. It really happens.

Sal: That’s a way to pray, then: reading Scripture.

Chris: Yes. We’ll talk about that later too.

Sal: And I suppose the Holy Spirit makes a difference to your life too, right?

Chris: Of course. One difference is that he gives you a sense of direction, of guidance. You need more than written rules, you know.

Sal: Why?

The Spirit directs us
in different situations.

Chris: Because no set of rules can cover everything. Situations and personalities are different. There are rules, but we have to apply them to different situations. That’s where the Holy Spirit helps. You sense what his will is because you know him—just as you can tell what your father would want you to do in a situation because you know him. But you don’t know what some stranger would want you to do, because you just don’t know him personally.

Sal: O.K., enough! It’s for me. What do I do? How do I get it?

Chris: Only ask.

Sal: That’s all?

Chris: That’s all.

Sal: No, that can’t be. It’s too simple, too easy. What’s the catch?

Chris: No catch.

Sal: What are my chances?

Chris: Chances?

Sal: Of getting all these great things you described.

Chris: Oh, 100 percent.

Sal: Can you prove that?


Chris: I sure can. Read Luke 11.... Here it is. Don’t believe me; believe Jesus. Here’s what he says: “I say to you, ask and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.”

Sal: How can it be that simple? And how do you know that Jesus was talking about the Holy Spirit in that passage?

Chris: He himself answers both of those questions in the next few verses: “If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent instead of a fish? Or if he asks for an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

Sal: Just “those who ask”? That’s all it says?

Chris: That’s all.

Sal: It’s just too good to be true.

Chris: If it isn’t true, Jesus is a liar. Isn’t that even harder to believe?

Sal: Of course, but maybe we’re misinterpreting his words.

Chris: How much clearer and simpler could they be? In fact, it’s too simple for you! That’s your objection: “It just can’t be that simple.” But it is. Love is very simple-hearted. It just loves to give gifts, just because it’s love. That’s what God is: just love.

Sal: I think love just trapped me in a corner. And I don’t want to escape.



From Prayer: the Great Conversation