Noemi Vega Quiñones on How the Crucial First Step of Ministry Begins With the Holy Spirit

Noemi Vega Quiñones is the South Texas area ministry director for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. She is a coauthor of Hermanas: Deepening our Identity and Growing Our Influence (InterVarsity Press).


Twelve years ago, I was an energetic campus minister leading outreach to college students at Fresno State. I longed to see their lives transformed by Jesus the way that he’d transformed mine. But in my eagerness, I pushed one particular student to explore her faith in connection with her ethnic identity as a Mexican American. When she said she wasn’t interested in growing in that area, I misinterpreted it as a lack of teachability rather than as a “not now” from the Holy Spirit. Eventually, trust was broken and she left the fellowship to join another ministry. I was heartbroken. Where had I gone wrong?

Years later, I became the Latino student outreach coordinator for central California and Las Vegas. In that season, wise Latino mentors coached me to grow in listening to the Lord. They encouraged me to take time to pray with students and listen to the Lord’s yearning for their lives. This time, I began to approach ministry differently. I listened and waited on the Holy Spirit for strategy and vision. By the end of three years, we had reached over 100 Latino students in our ministry.

How often do we minister out of our own insights or impulses rather than relying on the Holy Spirit’s guidance, however long it takes to discern? Waiting is countercultural; it’s antithetical to the pace of our daily lives. The technological age we live in values efficiency and urgency. As a culture, we abhor waiting. Our world is not designed to help us stop and reflect on the presence of God at any given moment. Listening and waiting, thus, are disciplines we must exercise regularly—especially when it comes to partnering with the Holy Spirit.

I’ve learned—and I’m still learning—that listening to the Holy Spirit is the first step in ministry. It is our first act of love.

Listening to Our Guide

The Holy Spirit is not an “it” or a distant force. The Holy Spirit is a person, the third member of the Holy Trinity. “Spirit” is the name of the divine person Jesus promised would come to believers after he ascended (John 14:15–17). “Spirit” is the name of the divine person who hovered over the waters during Creation (Gen. 1:2). The Holy Spirit was present from the very beginning and even to the very end of the age (Matt. 28:20). The Holy Spirit has many other names in Scripture, including advocate, counselor, breath, wind, life, and Spirit of Truth.

While various Christian traditions understand the embodied gifts of the Spirit in different ways, Paul is clear that in the different gifts and Spirit-led ministries of God’s people, “in everyone it is the same God at work” (1 Cor. 12:6). The Holy Spirit gives every Christian believer the gift of partnership with God. Just as Jesus is described as a friend to believers, the Holy Spirit can be described as a helpful guide. We can rest assured that when we listen, this person of the Trinity is present with us—whispering, speaking, sharing, guiding, and loving.

Waiting with Hope

When I moved to minister in San Antonio, where I now serve, my new staff team and I spent our first seven months listening to the Lord and waiting on his vision for our area. At first, this waiting felt restless and heavy. Worry tried to creep in and internal pressure to come up with a captivating vision statement was mounting. But eventually my posture shifted toward waiting with hope instead of fear. In Spanish, the word for “wait” is espera and the word for “hope” is esperanza. Hope is embedded with waiting in faith. Waiting in hope cultivated a peace, trust, and dependence on the Lord that slowly emerged into a clear vision centered in love for God and his people.

When we seek to partner with the Holy Spirit in mission, waiting in hope for the Spirit’s leading is essential. Two biblical examples of people who waited with hope to receive instruction from the Holy Spirit stand out to me: Anna and Elijah.

Anna, in Luke 2:36–38, was an 84-year-old prophet of God waiting for the redemption of Israel. For many of those years she lived as a widow, worshiping and fasting day and night. When Anna saw Mary and Joseph in the Temple holding baby Jesus, she walked up to them and started praising God. She was able to recognize who Jesus was because she lived in the presence of God, her spirit connecting with his Spirit every single day as she prayed.

She waited for years in hope. She waited with a focused vision of the redemption of Israel, birthed out of years of prayer and worship. While others misunderstood, Anna knew that redemption would not come from the false messiahs who attempted to overthrow their oppressors. Anna’s years of waiting, listening, and partnering with the Holy Spirit prepared her to recognize the Savior! The longer we partner with the Holy Spirit in mission, the easier it becomes to distinguish his truth from false narratives.

Elijah pressed into hope amid hardship. Consider the desperation Elijah felt after all the other prophets of Israel were slaughtered (1 Kings 19). Jezebel promised to kill Elijah, too, so he ran to save his life only to later ask the Lord to take his life. Twice during this time an angel ministered to Elijah and provided him with food and drink. Instead of continuing to run, Elijah chose to go to Mount Horeb, the same place where Moses had heard from the Lord. Perhaps in his desperation, Elijah remembered that Mount Horeb was a place of hope, a place where the Lord speaks.

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Source: Christianity Today