When Max Lucado was diagnosed with an ascending aortic aneurysm just over a year ago, he doesn't believe he "set the best example."
"As far as dealing with anxiety, I really spiraled downward," the famous author and leader of Oak Hills Church in San Antonio, Texas, told The Christian Post.
An ascending aortic aneurysm is defined by Johns Hopkins as an "abnormal bulging and weakening in your aorta at the point before the curve." In Lucado's situation, the aneurysm is "pretty large," he said, about "two centimeters shy of needing open heart surgery."
"I'm 67, almost 68 years old. And I'm finally coming to grips with the fact that I'm not getting younger. I'm a slow learner," he said. "I kept thinking, 'I'm going to dodge all these major health issues.' So for the first two or three days, it was really a wake-up call."
That diagnosis came on a Monday. But by that Thursday, something miraculous happened: The bestselling author, whose sermons and books have brought hope and encouragement to millions worldwide, felt his anxiety lift.
"I really felt, in a supernatural way one morning … I felt it lift," he said. "I really did it just lift. And it's not that I was healed, because I'm not, but the fear or the anxiety was lifted. And I attribute that to the Holy Spirit. I sought prayer and I received prayer, and so I can say now honestly, I do not live in fear of that."
Days still aren't easy. Lucado said he suffers from "severe" mood swings due to his medication, which for him is uncharted territory.
"I've always been a pretty happy-go-lucky guy. But when I started taking this beta blocker, I found myself just kind of a bit sad," he said.
But in these times, the pastor has learned to lean on the power of the Holy Spirit and ask God for help. And in the process, Lucado says he's gained greater compassion for himself and others struggling.
"In that sense, it's been a blessing because it's caused me to be more aware of leaning on the Holy Spirit more, and it's also caused me to be more compassionate toward people who have battled mood swings or depression, whether slight or severe, all of their lives because I do not," he said. "I have been spared that particular struggle. But now I'm much more compassionate with a person who goes through that what they may be feeling."
Now, the New York Times bestseller is sharing what he's learned about the Holy Spirit, both recently and over his decades in ministry, in his new book Help is Here: Finding Fresh Strength in the Presence and Power of the Holy Spirit.
In the book, Lucado candidly discusses his journey of getting to know the Holy Spirit and encourages others to rely on the power, freedom and comfort He brings — something he said is desperately needed as mental illness, exhaustion and stress levels continue to rise nationwide.
"We're a worn out people, we're worn out or absolutely exhausted," he said, citing statistics revealing that 84% of Americans feel stressed at least one day in a typical week.
"That means that nearly nine out of 10 people you see walking down the street feel stress. That's not how we're intended to live. So the Spirit gives life; the flesh is of no help at all. That is to say, my pep rallies, my self-motivation talks, that they're not helping me. I need help from outside, help from above," he said.
Lucado knows that for many in the Church, the Holy Spirit is a somewhat uncomfortable topic. A recent study found that most of America's self-identified Christians, including many who identify as Evangelical, believe God is all-powerful and the Creator of the universe.
Yet, more than half reject several biblical teachings and principles, including the existence of the Holy Spirit.
Often, those in the Church fall into two categories when it comes to the Holy Spirit, Lucado said. The first group believes they have a "backstage pass" to the Holy Spirit, possessing superior strength and insight. The second group feels the need to police everything others say and believe about the Holy Spirit, condemning viewpoints other than their own.
"I think those are the two challenges that are going to always be around," he said.
Instead of going to either extreme, approaching the Holy Spirit from a posture of humility allows the fruits of the spirit to grow, Lucado contends.
"Somewhere in the middle is the God-fearing person, the Bible reading student, the disciple, the follower of Jesus, who truly wants everything that the Holy Spirit will give him or her and is not seeking any platform, not trying to show off, but always just keeping a humble heart. And I believe that's the best posture in which to be; that's the posture that really creates the soil out of which the fruit of the Holy Spirit can grow."
According to Scripture, the Holy Spirit is "our comforter or our friend; the one who comes alongside to help us as we as we journey through life," Lucado posited.
In his book, in which he describes the Holy Spirit as "a life-giving friend, here to lead you home," he delves into the significance of the metaphors used to describe the third person of the Trinity: "Fire, wind gift giver, intercessor, advocate all."
"Let Jesus teach you," Lucado said. "I mean, ... who knows more about the Holy Spirit than one of the other two members of the Trinity? When Jesus describes the Holy Spirit, first of all, one of the great lines is, 'The Spirit gives life, the flesh is of no help at all.' So the Spirit exists to give life to us. And boy, don't we need that today?"
If the Body of Christ fully embraced the power and presence of the Holy Spirit, it would "spend much more time in prayer," a "little less doing and a lot more praying," Lucado said. He cited Acts 1:8: "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."
"When Peter preached, 3,000 people responded because the Holy Spirit touched their lives. And when they declared the Gospel, everyone that day heard the Gospel, Scripture says, in their own language, so something miraculous was happening that caused the wonders of God to be articulated in the heart languages of the people. So what would that be like today?" he asked.
The pastor stressed that the Church is "hungry" for a simple Gospel and renewal of power.
"We seem to have gotten a bit off track in terms of politics and controversies," Lucado said. "May the Lord bring us a new day in which we return to the simple message of the fact that God loves us. He came for us, and now He gives us power. And if we were to be a Church of the Holy Spirit, I think that we would see those kinds of outpourings yet again."
Lucado said that in the Church, there's often the misconception that Christians won't have trials, whether relational, mental or physical. But that's "just not the case in this world," Lucado said, and that's why the Holy Spirit is so desperately needed.
"Jesus didn't say, 'In this world, some people have tribulation.' 'In this world, you will have tribulation,'" Lucado maintains. "But then He said, 'Be of good cheer, because I've overcome the world.' So whatever you're facing, Christ has already overcome it, and He will help you as you move forward."
"Do not buy into that lie that says if you were a better Christian, you wouldn't have these struggles," he stressed. "The fact of the matter is, sometimes, the fact that you are a Christian creates these struggles because the devil sees you as a candidate for his attack."
As he struggles with his own health battles, Lucado encourages others in similar situations to "turn to your Heavenly Father, who can help you face the struggle, and also turn to others."
"Don't try to shoulder this on your own. And don't beat yourself up," he said. "I do think it's important for us to remember this life is not intended to last forever. We all will have afflictions, and we all will get sick. And unless Christ returns, we're all going to have a heart that stops beating at some point. And that's not bad because the minute we close our eyes to this earth is a minute we open our eyes to the New Kingdom. And that will be the great thing; the great victory."
Help is Here: Finding Fresh Strength in the Presence and Power of the Holy Spirit is now available.
Leah M. Klett is a reporter for The Christian Post. She can be reached at: email@example.com