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The London Institute for Contemporary Christianity

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Indescribable | Reflections on Pentecost

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
Acts 2:1-4


Have you ever had an experience so incredible that when you tried to explain it to someone else, words didn’t really suffice?

More than a ‘you had to be there’ joke, more than a ‘you’ll understand one day’ moment… something so utterly indescribable that you cannot even begin to find the words to communicate its beauty and significance.

I get the feeling that Pentecost was one of those moments for the disciples. We can imagine Luke’s struggle to put into words the disciples’ experience of being filled with the Holy Spirit for the very first time. How do you describe an encounter with – and infilling by – God himself?

So incredible was the moment that Luke uses the language of analogy: ‘a sound like the blowing of a violent wind’ fills the house, and ‘what seemed to be tongues of fire’ appear.

‘Wind’ and ‘fire’ were accepted symbols for the powerful and cleansing work of God’s Spirit, and so it makes sense that he should appear in such a way that can be likened to these elements. We can make attempts to describe it – its unfathomable power, beauty, and truth – but it cannot be fully comprehended by those who have not experienced it.

But this event had ramifications far bigger than that – because of Pentecost, the church is equipped for its task of witness and mission. The Holy Spirit gives the means to communicate ‘the wonders of God’ (Acts 2:10), as shown in the disciples’ speaking in ‘other tongues’. This is a key event in salvation history – the birth of the church.

Today, we may find it difficult to communicate the reality of God’s power to those around us. We may feel that words are not enough. It is true – often, they are not. But we are able to ask God to send his Holy Spirit, with his wind and fire, his powerful and cleansing work, to work in us and speak through us. And we can pray that our friends, neighbours, colleagues, and family would discover God for themselves and have a similarly indescribable experience of his power and love.

Nell Goddard


Tell the Truth | Reflections on Pentecost (4/4)

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Nell Goddard