Do you remember how important it was to make the transition from tricycle to 2-wheeler? That’s one of the earliest rites of passage in our lives and one that most of us remember.
I was about four when I began to show an interest in riding a 2-wheeler. Our family’s custom was that when we turned six we could go down to the Schwinn bike shop and pick out our very first bike. Although I still had a couple years to wait I was eager to ride the way my big brothers and sister did. I wanted to be fully prepared when the time came for me to have a bike of my own.
We didn’t believe in training wheels at our house so I would sit atop a bike that was once my sister’s, barely able to turn the pedals all the way around without tiptoeing. I’d clasp the handlebars with a white-knuckle grip and push the pedals as best as could as my older brother or dad would hang on to the back of the seat, hold one side of the handlebar and run alongside me. It was exhilarating! I was riding a bike! …until they let go.
Do you remember that? Do you remember that feeling of safety and security, that strength and undaunted courage you felt as long as someone was holding onto the bike? You could do anything! The world was at your disposal. But do you also remember the sheer panic you felt when they let go? Suddenly you had to somehow wield the balance and control of this machine that felt a thousand times bigger and heavier than you were, a machine that had the power to cause serious injury to you. The front wheel would start to wobble from side to side, the feet that had just been pedaling smoothly would simply freeze in fear until the whole bike jerked like a bucking bronco beneath you and threw you to the ground. Ah… in the words of the legendary sportscaster Jim McCay, it was “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.”
How could that feeling change so quickly? One minute you’d feel totally in control with the whole world ready for you to explore beneath your pedaling feet. The next minute you couldn’t see beyond the next crack in the sidewalk, sure that it would jump up, grab a hold of your tire and send you sailing into your neighbor’s front yard. What was it? What was the secret? And would you ever figure it out?
My dad or brother would hold on for shorter and shorter periods of time. Eventually they’d take their hand off the handlebars and just hold the seat. For a time they would let go and just run alongside me, making me think they were still hanging on. Ride after ride. Fall after fall. Skinned knee after skinned knee. Until… eventually, it’s there. It’s like a switch gets flipped and you begin to realize that the balance, steering, speed and control are coming from inside of YOU. It’s in you. The bike really is just an inanimate object, not the maniacal bucking bronco with a mind of its own. The power to master it is within you.
I remember that feeling of freedom once I could make it to the end of the block by myself. I could sense the presence of my dad or brother fade behind me, and when I finally made it without falling, hearing their cheers in the distance. That feeling of having the world at your disposal returns but it’s different now. There is not only a sense of accomplishment in mastering the basics of bike-riding there is now an independence, and with it, responsibility. We’re not leaning on those who have helped us along the way, we’re leaning instead on that which we discovered within.
This reminds me of how Jesus’ disciples must have felt in those days and weeks following His death on the cross. John 14 is one of my favorite portions of scripture. It’s the night of Jesus’ last supper with his most beloved friends, those final precious hours before He is taken into custody and ultimately crucified. Judas has already left the Upper Room and is on his way to carry out his betrayal. Jesus is using these final moments together to try to prepare the disciples for what is about to happen.
He begins by telling them that He is going away, going back to His Father to prepare a place for them. I don’t believe the disciples could even begin to imagine what their life was going to be without Jesus. I’m not sure they fully understood the gravity of what He was saying. He wasn’t going to physically be with them anymore. They had spent the last three years together – almost everyday as far as we know, soaking up His teaching, watching His miracles, listening to Him talk about their Heavenly Father. They must have thought, “Now He’s going away? But, He’s the Messiah, He can’t leave now! His work has just begun. If He leaves who will carry on in His place?”
And Jesus gives them the answer. “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” (John 14:12) THEY were the ones to carry on His ministry. And Jesus tells them they will do even greater things than He did! Can you imagine? Could they even take that in?
He goes on to say, “All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I.” (John 14:25-28) He says, “Listen fellas, you should be glad I’m leaving you, because what’s ahead for you is even better than these past three years have been of hanging out with me.”
What could ever be better than hanging out with Jesus, than serving alongside of Him as He walked through the streets of Galilee? What could be better? But Jesus knew there was more to come for these disciples. There was more to come for every believer ever, for the rest of human history! What was coming, was His Holy Spirit. Once Jesus returned to the Father, He was going to send the very Spirit of God to live inside of every believer! The disciples would do far more than He did because there were 11 of them, and millions more to follow. His Spirit would infiltrate the world for the rest of history through believers of all nations, fulfilling the ministry that He started, bringing others into the family of God and bringing God the Father all the glory He deserves.
It’s exciting stuff isn’t it? Remind you of what it felt like as a kid when suddenly you would be able to ride almost anywhere on two wheels? But I’m sure for those disciples it had to be filled with moments of sheer panic. Just the grief of losing Jesus in such a horrific, unjust way and then waiting those three days without any hope must have been devastating. To even want to fulfill the calling He placed on them without Him must have seemed unbearable, impossible, overwhelming.
Then He rose from the dead! There He was in the flesh, alive again after being dead. Surely that must have re-energized them to ride on towards their purpose. But He was not going to be able to run alongside them and hold their handlebars much longer.
After His ascension into heaven, those next ten days must have brutal. The unwieldy weight of His expectation, the whole future of The Church, rested solely on their shoulders. There must have been many falls, many skinned knees, in those ten days until… the switch is flipped.
The Holy Spirit entering the disciples changed everything. They suddenly had Jesus’ power within them, His very Spirit living inside of them. The calling that was placed on their lives they were now able to master. Not because of their own power and might but because something on the inside of them had changed. The Holy Spirit was in them. They were no longer leaning on the physical presence of Jesus, they were leaning instead on the One who was within them.
The Holy Spirit is within each one of us if we believe in Jesus as our Savior and as the Lord and Master of our life. He is there for us to lean on and He is greater than the physical presence of even our most precious loved ones around us. The presence of God’s Spirit changes everything. The unwieldy burdens and weights of this world are no match for Him. His presence allows us to fulfill our purpose, to live lives that are pleasing to Him and bring Him glory.
There are times that I struggle with internalizing truths that I know God wants me to know and believe. In His infinite grace and love He has sent others into my life to hold on to my handlebars, make me feel safe and courageous until the time that they know it’s okay to let go, because they know I’m ready to ride on my own. I am so grateful for those people who patiently wait for the switch to get flipped inside of me, when I remember the Spirit of God is living within me making me capable to fulfill the purpose I have been given.
I pray that you have a life filled with people patient to hold your handlebars when you need them to. People who are acutely tuned into the Spirit to know when it’s time to let go and cheer you on as you ride on your own.
Jesus, I thank you for the gift of your Spirit. Lord, we truly can do all that you have called us to do because He is living inside of us. Praise to you and glory to our Heavenly Father! Lord, I thank you for the people you have brought into my life that have patiently and lovingly held on tight, run alongside, tended to my scraped knees, and cheered me on throughout my journey. Bless them, Lord! Keep reminding us of the power, comfort, and love we have living inside of us that comes directly from you. Oh Holy Spirit, help us to never forget that you are in us. Give us the courage and the strength to carryout the mission you have called us fulfill, that we may bring glory to you, Father, until your Son returns. It’s in His name I pray, amen.