tanding near the Southwest Airlines gate counter at T. F. Green International Airport in Rhode Island, my level of uneasiness steadily escalated.
It was a sunny summer Sunday evening; I was on my way back to Washington, D.C. Thanks to a Ford Foundation Grant, I was about to finish my research on the African Diaspora. This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I was determined to get to D.C. soon enough to start working early Monday morning.
My thoughts raced, my conscience kept yelling, and the Holy Spirit persisted. I knew I could not go. Research or no research, there was only one right thing to do. I asked the gate agent to take me off the flight, and I turned in my boarding pass. Rather than moving on as if nothing had happened, I had to stop and make things right with my daughter.
In my haste from the pulpit that Sunday morning, to a hurried meal at the house in the afternoon, and in a rush to get to the airport, I had spoken harshly to her. The Holy Spirit rebuked me, but I had just kept going.
Now I was in a taxicab on my way back to the house with my heart bleeding with remorse; I must make it right. When I walked into the house, I went straight to her and said, “I’m sorry, Honey. I should not have spoken to you like that. I was wrong.”
“It’s OK, Dad,” she replied.
“No; it is not OK. I was wrong.”
I guess the way we live out personal holiness is much more important than the way we talk about it.
Growing up Pentecostal, I was taught externals—holiness that could be seen. So we did not swim with the opposite sex, neither did we play sports or work on Sundays. We could not go to the movies or attend dances, and we could not wear trendy clothing. We never wore jewelry, and girls could not use makeup or lipstick. Personal holiness was all about what we could not do.
Over time, keeping the rules became easier but not always enjoyable. I guess these restrictions helped us to be disciplined, but they were not sufficient. They did not provide the tools we needed for self-examination that engenders internal holiness. They never showed us how to examine our lives through the lens of the Holy Spirit.
Keeping rules never taught us how we could become so committed to the Lord that regardless of what others did, like Joseph we could question, “How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” (Gen. 39:9). Or, like David, the rules could not teach us to cry out, “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me” (Ps. 51:10).
As I mature in my walk with God, I often search deep inside to ensure I do the right thing. Sometimes I have had to lay aside my pride and humbly surrender to God’s will.
When I asked my daughter to forgive me for being harsh with her, the Holy Spirit had already spread multiple layers of holiness over the depths of my soul; so when the time came, I was responsive to His insistence and just did what was right. It was not easy, but I had to do it.
This aspect of the Christian life is not conjured up in the fires of emotionally charged worship services. It takes time to be holy, and it will take holiness to see God!