The biggest obstacle to getting electric cars on the road is the batteries -- they require frequent recharging. Which brings us to Pentecost and the power of the Holy Spirit.
What is wrong with this car? Perhaps you've asked the question yourself. Most of us have, at one time or another.
You are driving along, thinking about your work, your schedule, your home life and a million other concerns that you juggle each day. Suddenly, as you are about to pull onto the highway, your engine cuts off and the car coasts to a stop. You feel a sense of panic, confusion and concern.
Your car is dead. It was running great, really humming along ... and then it wasn't. What in the world could be wrong with it?
Then you look at your dashboard.
Out of gas. Instead of cursing your car, you begin to curse yourself.
Wouldn't it be great if we never had to worry about putting gas in our tanks? That is part of the promise of electric cars, vehicles that have the advantages of mechanical simplicity, huge acceleration and quiet running. Of course, they still need to be plugged in, and currently the recharge can take hours.
Engineers are now working to shorten the time it takes to recharge batteries -- from hours to minutes. Paul Braun and his colleagues at the University of Illinois have succeeded in building prototype batteries which can be recharged in just two minutes. That's about the time you spend filling your tank with gas.
But here's the challenge, according to The Economist magazine (March 26, 2011): "To take advantage of fast-charging batteries, a car's electrics will have to be hardened up to cope with the huge amperage involved." Today's electric cars simply cannot handle such a strong current of electrical energy. They need to be hardened up -- strengthened -- to handle such a highly charged system.
If such changes can be made, quick-charge batteries will make electric cars a highly desirable form of transportation -- simple, fast and silent. They may even push the old-fashioned internal combustion engine off the road forever. Of course, you'll still have to watch the dashboard. Running out of electricity is every bit as easy as running out of gas.
Today is Pentecost, the day that God sent the Holy Spirit into a room full of the first followers of Christ. The book of Acts tells us that divided tongues, "as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability" (2:3-4).
What a shock to the system! The apostles must have been worried about a meltdown, with tongues of fire on their heads and new languages coming out of their mouths. But fortunately, Jesus had strengthened their spiritual circuits.
Later, the apostle Paul spoke of the high charge of this Spirit in his letter to the Romans. "We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now," he observes (Romans 8:22). Something new is being born in the world, as innovative as the invention of quick-charge batteries and hardened-up electric cars. The new age of God is not just a redesign of the old age, but is the birth of something fresh and unexpected. God's new creation will come out of the old creation, and will quickly grow up to replace it.
At the center of this transformation is the Holy Spirit, a current of divine power that comes directly from God. Paul says that "we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, grown inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies" (v. 23). We have already tasted the "first fruits" of the Spirit -- the sure sense of God's presence that comes to us in moments of prayer, in the uplift of worship services, in close bonds with other Christians, in acts of selfless service.
But we still "groan inwardly" because God's work in us has not yet been completed. The invention of our quick-charge batteries and strengthened circuitry has not yet been finished. We still "wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies," knowing that the day is coming in which we will gain the resurrection body of Jesus, one in which there is no more pain or crying, illness or dying.
We wait, and we wait. Just exactly when will electric motors replace internal combustion engines? No one knows. And when will our earthly bodies be transformed into resurrection bodies? No one can predict.
All we can do is wait ... with hope. But this is a perfectly appropriate posture to take, because "in hope we were saved," says the apostle Paul. Hope is a critically important part of this entire process, because when we hope we open our spiritual circuits to the high charge of the Holy Spirit, and we patiently wait for God to act.
"Hope is built in to Christian experience from the start, and remains one of its central characteristics," writes New Testament scholar N.T. Wright. We "cannot expect present Christian living to be anything other than a matter of straining forward for what is yet to come, for what is unseen." Paul reminds us that "hope that is seen is not hope" (v. 24). If we could see the future, we wouldn't have to hope for it! "But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience" (v. 25).
Fortunately, as we patiently strain forward for what is coming, we receive the strengthening of the Holy Spirit. This is similar to the process of hardening an electric car, so that it can survive the high amperage of quick-charge batteries, but it is not a process that makes us inflexible, rigid or stiff. We need to be made strong enough to receive the high charge of God.
"The Spirit helps us in our weakness," says Paul, walks beside us to help us; "for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with signs too deep for words" (v. 26). The Holy Spirit strengthens and improves our prayer lives, creating a direct channel between ourselves and God. Such intercession makes it possible for us to pray as we ought, for the Spirit gives us both the words we need and the assurance that God hears them.
"And God," observes Paul, "who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God" (v. 27). God is already penetrating our hearts, filling us with divine power. The Spirit is at work within us, to do God's will and bring about God's new creation.
Paul assures us that we are not powerless victims, vulnerable to all the struggles and heartaches of life. No, our powerful and creative God is at work inside us, like an inventor tinkering with a new technology, shaping us into the creations that he wants us to be. We are God's workmanship, says Paul in his letter to the Ephesians, "created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life" The gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost reveals that we are recipients of God's power, like electric cars that receive a jolt of juice in their batteries. Our challenge is to strengthen ourselves through prayer, confident that the Holy Spirit is always at work, helping us in our weakness.
Notice, however, that the Spirit does not eliminate our weakness. Instead, the Spirit "helps& us to go through our sufferings triumphantly," writes pastor P.G. Mathew. "Our weaknesses include all the suffering of this present age -- physical pain, mental depression, spiritual conflicts."
As we face these difficulties, we may sometimes wonder exactly what we should be praying, but the good news of Pentecost is that the Holy Spirit comes to our aid. As long as we turn to God in prayer, the Holy Spirit helps to bear our burdens. The Spirit "comes as the heaven-sent Comforter, Counselor, and ever-prevailing Advocate, who has never lost a case and never will," says Mathew. " The Holy Spirit acts like a tugboat in a big harbor that comes alongside a ship to nudge it safely out to open sea or into a narrow docking berth.
We know we need assistance. We know we need relief. We know we need peace. We know we need power.
Fortunately, God comes to us and fills us with his highly-charged Spirit.
When you run out of gas, you might shout out in frustration: What is wrong with this car? When you run into suffering or adversity, you might wonder: What is wrong with my life?
The answer is nothing. Nothing, that is, that cannot be improved by the power of God's Spirit. You can strengthen your spiritual circuits by turning regularly to God in prayer. You can take your weakness, pain, depression and conflicts to God, and the Holy Spirit will surely assist you. The Spirit will intercede for you according to the will of God, and shape you into the strong and loving and faithful person that God wants you to be.
God will give you the high charge of his Spirit. And then you can hit the road, on the way to God's glorious new creation.