I like old music – by that I mean the rock songs of the 60’s and 70’s – the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton and Cream, Led Zeppelin and so on.
All of these rock dinosaurs would be the first to admit that they owe a great musical debt to the American blues singers and guitarists whose names have now passed into legend.
One of them was Jimmy Reed. A share-cropper’s son, Reed brought the throbbing harmonica-and-guitar-driven black rhythm-and-blues of the Mississippi Delta into the popular rock-and-roll mainstream.
There’s an interesting story behind the Jimmy Reed records. In placing the old gramophone needle again and again in the grooves of Jimmy Reed’s records, you began to notice something curious.
If one listened very carefully, there could sometimes be heard, ever so faintly in the background, a soft woman’s voice murmuring in advance the next verse of the song. The story that grew up around this — and perhaps it is true — was that Jimmy Reed was so absorbed in the bluesy beat and the throbbing guitar riffs of his music that he simply could not remember the words of his own songs. He needed help with the lyrics, and the woman’s voice was none other than that of his wife, devotedly coaching her husband through the recording session by whispering the upcoming stanzas into his ear as he sang.
Whether or not this story is accurate, Christians will surely recognise a parallel experience. Jesus tells his followers that the role of the Holy Spirit is, in effect, to whisper the lyrics of the gospel song in the ears of the faithful. When Jesus was present, he was the one who instilled in them the right words, coached them through the proper verses, and taught them the joyful commandments. But now that Jesus approaches his death, now that he draws near to his time of departure, now that the disciples will be on their own without him, that task is to be handed over to the Holy Spirit:
“If you love me, you will obey my commandments.” He says, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, who will stay with you forever. He is the Spirit who reveals the truth about God…” (John 14:15-17).
The primary task, then, of the Holy Spirit is reminding the faithful of the truth, jogging the memories of the followers of Jesus about all of his commandments so that they can keep them in love, whispering the lyrics of the never-ending hymn of faithful obedience in their ears.
It may surprise us to think of the Holy Spirit in this way, as a quiet, whispering teacher of the commandments of Jesus. Often the Spirit is advertised in flashier terms: The Spirit gives ecstasy; the Spirit evokes speaking in unknown tongues; the Spirit prompts dramatic and miraculous healings.
Indeed, the Holy Spirit of God does perform such deeds, but these are all derivative of the one, primary activity of the Spirit — reminding the children of God about everything that Jesus taught and commanded (John 14:26), whispering the gospel lyrics into the ears of the forgetful faithful.