THE NEEDLE KEPT bouncing up and down. “That’s odd,” I thought, but continued to drive with confidence that we had enough fuel to get back to the city. I had never run out of gas before, and sometimes the needle went well below “E” before the next fill up. Now we were returning from a remote missions project site, and the needle was bouncing around a quarter of a tank.
When the road started to incline and curve around the mountains, I knew something was wrong. The power seemed to bob up and down, just like that needle. Eventually my foot hit the pedal harder, and there was little or no acceleration. And then it happened- empty and stuck in the middle of the road! But the needle was showing a quarter of a tank!
How frustrating to think that you have enough to go on, when in reality you are empty! Sadly, this describes many people’s lives. There is an emptiness on the inside. Their “needle” goes up and down depending upon their circumstances, but their tank just isn’t full. So there is an endless pursuit of whatever it takes to keep them going. If it is not sex, drugs, and alcohol, it takes its form in more ‘respectable’ pursuits:
Maybe a bigger house will do! But in the end, only the Creator Himself can truly satisfy the void, because we humans were made in His image, and were never meant to be separated from Him.
Religion isn’t the answer
Religion is a means of trying to reconnect with God. But religion itself cannot fill you up. In fact, it can be quite misleading. The Pharisees were the most religious people of their day. They were experts in the Scriptures, and were among the foremost looking for Israel’s Messiah. Yet when the Messiah came, He came in a manner that they never expected!
Their expected Messiah would come in stately power and deliver Israel from all its enemies. Instead, He came as a poor carpenter’s son, and they missed Him: “And they said, Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How is it then that He says, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” (John 6:42). They never expected a seemingly plain and ordinary man.
They expected a Messiah who would affirm them in all of their religious works and traditions. They expected applause because they were such ‘righteous’ citizens. They commanded respect from those who were ‘common sinners’ (John 9:34). But when Jesus called them HYPOCRITES, it shocked them to their very core. They remained religious when they should have become repentant. They, who were most zealous for truth, could not receive the Truth when He stood before their very eyes.
Before we point the finger, the modern church has largely fallen into the same error as the Pharisees. Only it is not Jesus that has been rejected, but the Holy Spirit! I don’t mean that there has been conscious or willful rejection, and most Christians would speak of longing for more of the Holy Spirit. But practically speaking, modern day Christianity looks more like a group of believers struggling to uphold morals and values than it does a supernatural people led by the Spirit of God. There seems to be more attention given to religious traditions, duties, and social activities than to righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Ghost (Romans 14:17).
Confession of faith and participation in church are no substitutes for being filled with the Holy Ghost and walking in the Spirit. “If we live in the Spirit let us also walk in the Spirit” (Gal.5:25). “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God” (Rom.8:14). To walk in the Spirit, or to be led by the Spirit implies movement. It implies moving forward in the spirit of Jesus- delighting in Him and reflecting His love.
To be led is to follow. Yet the sad witness of the church is that many do not follow the Spirit of love. Many say “Jesus is Lord” without ever really submitting their lives to Him. At the same time, they can be quite religious!
A recent book has come out written by a reporter who lost his faith. As a Christian, his newspaper assigned him to cover religion in America. He became confused and disturbed when he discovered so many “Christians” acting no better (and sometimes worse) than atheists!
It doesn’t take long to find “Christian” sites on the Internet written with more concern to prove somebody wrong than to exhibit grace and the fruit of Christ in their lives. And we have all heard of famous (and not so famous) Christian leaders falling in disgrace from their respected positions.
There may be many reasons for the huge disconnect between what the church is professing and how she is behaving, but it is more than likely that she is being led by a form of religion more than by the Spirit of Jesus Christ.
The difference is love
1Corinthians 13:13 says, “the greatest of these is love.” Through religious motivation, one could move mountains, feed the poor, and even die for the faith, but without love it profits him nothing. “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love” (Gal.5:6). According to Strong’s Greek, this means not just working through love, but by love, or for the sake of love. The love of God empowers true Christian faith and living.
It wasn’t love of recognition or power that motivated Paul, but the love of Christ compelled him to serve (2Cor.5:14). It was love, not duty, that compelled me to go to China.
At first, though, I had no intention of ever living outside of America! When the Lord began to drop hints that He wanted me to go to China, I got nervous. Then one day in prayer, the Holy Spirit came upon me in an extraordinary manner. The sense of His love was so strong that I melted under it! I cried out to Him, “If your love goes with me, I can do it!” And I did.
At one time in China, I became discouraged. I can’t remember what the exact troubles were, but I remember being frustrated with the world and having to deal with so many problems. Then in prayer, I had another powerful encounter with the Holy Spirit. He gave me a vision of Heaven and the sense of love was so strong that I forgot about everything else. After that, I counted it no time at all to endure all the work here before we enter in to our eternal reward.
Both instances were life changing. It was love that kept me going. It is love that keeps us faithful. But what happens when there are no special encounters? It is also a mistake to base everything on good feelings and goosebumps. These are great, but they come and go, and it is not enough to simply wait for them.
It is therefore necessary to be filled with the Holy Spirit; for God is love and He dwells in the believer through the presence of His Spirit. Christians need the power of the Holy Spirit working in their lives, and they need it in full (Eph.5:18). The Greek in the exhortation, “be filled with the Spirit,” means presently and continuously. In other words, we should not be bobbing up and down and running on fumes. We need a full tank, and then the needle will remain more steady.
Power from on high
The first matter in this is to commit your life to Jesus Christ. Have you committed yourself to HIM? This is as opposed to simply being committed to church or to Christianity, or to any moral code. Commit yourself to HIM, and He will do many wonders with your life.
But for you to do any wonders for Him, you must receive “power from on high” (Luke 24:49). The Holy Spirit comes with “good things” to those who ask for Him (compare Luke 11:13 with Matt. 7:11).
It is a mistake to take the Spirit for granted, and not seek the Lord for His mighty baptism (Mark 1:8; Acts 1:5). The disciples had already received a measure of the Spirit, as indicated when Jesus breathed on them and said “Receive the Holy Spirit” (John 20:22). Yet they needed a greater immersion into Him, which came at Pentecost (Acts 2). And there were yet other fillings after that (Acts 4:8,31; compare 9:17 and 13:9).
At first, they had to wait for that special day. But it is not so for us. The exhortation, “be filled with the Spirit” (Eph.5:18) suggests that we can be filled right now. Paul did not say wait. Nor did Peter say to wait (see Acts 2:38). The Spirit had already come and fallen upon the church. The promise is that the Father will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him (Luke 11:13). The promise implies that He is quite ready to give, even more than natural fathers are ready to give good gifts to their own children.
Expect change, whether it comes immediately or progressively, but believe it and receive it in an instant! Expect spiritual gifts to manifest in your life. Know that it is the Spirit that strengthens your inner being (Eph.3:16). He does a definite work and He comes to stay. We do not have to pray like David, “Do not take your Holy Spirit from me” (Ps.51:11), because of Christ, “in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise” (Eph.1:13).
He has promised never to leave us nor forsake us (Heb.13:5). Even if we grieve the Spirit, by whom we have been sealed (Eph.4:30), He’s not going away. This is because of the love of Christ and His forgiveness at the cross. It is a result of the new covenant.
Before the cross, grieving the Spirit would have caused Him to turn and become your enemy (see Isaiah 63:10). Not so now! Because of Jesus, God is for us, even when we grieve Him. His grieving is as a concerned parent, a loving Father.
“O God, please return to me!” is a mistaken prayer. He patiently remains and loves, waiting for us to turn back to Him. We may quench the Spirit, but He will not depart. We do not have to pray, “Do not take your Holy Spirit from me!” He won’t. God is patient!
This is one of the keys to staying full of the Spirit: it is faith in the fact that He is always here, and He is not angry in the Old Testament sense. Jesus appeased that anger. He does not become your enemy when you grieve Him. There are special manifestations of His presence at different times, but faith calmly holds Him as loving and present even when His nearness is not sensed.
At one point as the Israelites were traveling through the wilderness, God desired to refresh them with water. But the Israelites had to call it forth in song: “Spring up O well! All of you sing to it!” (Num.21:17). The water was already there, but they had to call it forth. Likewise, Jesus had promised that “whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life” (John 4:14).
Are you thirsty? Have you received the Holy Spirit? Then call forth the water that you already have! Many mistakenly wait on God to fill them again, when they could by faith sing, “Spring up O well!” It is faith that ushers in His special presence, but He has been there all along.
“But my faith is so weak!”
This is the common objection. The answer is to get a hold of His Word. Take time to think on these truths and believe them as TRUE. Preach to yourself and stir up the gift that is in you!
When Paul said “be filled with the Spirit,” he followed it with, “speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord” (Eph.5:19; KJV). This is often translated as “speaking to one another,” but I think that misses an instructive lesson here. We are to speak to ourselves. We are to speak the promises of the psalms to encourage our own hearts. We are to speak and sing the hymns and spiritual songs to remind us of the good news.
Is that silly? You talk to yourself all of the time! What are the things you are saying? By my own experience, I’d be willing to bet most of it is not spiritual. But we can be filled with the Spirit by speaking and believing truth.
In addition, Paul adds,“giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (vs.20). Be thankful. Find something to be thankful for and praise God! The devil wants us to mope and complain. He wants us to always see the glass as “half empty.” But grumbling quenches the Holy Spirit.
Finally in Paul’s list, be “submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God” (vs.21). Be kind, be a servant, bless someone because you know it blesses God. It is not because of a slavish fear, but out of a respectful reverence. In other words, it is because of God and not for self gain.
In the past I used to read these points of Scripture as describing what we would do when filled with the Spirit. But now I read them as instructions for being filled. I have found that when I step out in faith with these, He meets me.
Jesus said we need never hunger or thirst again. I thought I had fuel in my Jeep when I didn’t. Many Christians, however, think they are empty when they are not. The promises of the Bible are the correct gauges, not our feelings. Yet in a very real sense, Christians experience emptiness. If this is the case, it is time to draw from the well. But we do not want to be over simplistic about it. There is something more to this as well, and needs to be further discussed…