When I was ordained it was brought to my attention that most pastors who resign from the ministry do so on Monday mornings. The reason for this was not fully given but the strong suggestion was given that the discouragement that sets in from the previous day whether it be unmet expectations or the letdown from a high emotional day, has led many pastors to give up what God has called them to do. Emotions often run high in the pastorate and can lead to things later regretted. Whatever the reason, Monday mornings have proven to be a difficult challenge to many pastors, this pastor included, as well as to all in the Body of Christ.
As I ponder this, I am aware of the current study our church has been doing in the Book of Acts. The early Christian Church experienced many Monday mornings. They had high days when thousands were saved, which were followed by days of opposition and persecution. They had days of great evangelism in Jerusalem, Samaria and beyond. However, they most certainly had days of unmet expectation, as well as intense persecution. If anyone had the right to be discouraged it would be the leaders of the early church. Yet time and time again the book of Acts tells of great victories resulting in mighty acts of faith. The secret of these victories is easily discovered as we realize that these men (and women) were those that the Bible describes as being filled with the Spirit. From the Apostles to Stephen to Barnabas and Paul, Acts tells us that as men were filled with the Spirit God’s work prevailed. And so as I think on these things, I pray, “Lord I cannot do this work alone I need your filling as desperately as I need air, I need Your Spirit”.
In accordance with this, the key to evangelism is a Spirit filled church made up of individuals who are Spirit filled. Churches fail when this is not so. Pastors feel the failure and give up when this is not so. However, we are not given the luxury of looking at others and blaming them for the lack of progress in carrying out the Great Commission God has given to the local church. To each child of God is given the command in Ephesians 5, “Be ye filled with the Spirit”. It is not given as an option. We cannot rest on the coattails of those that are the more spiritual among us nor can we lift ourselves up by comparing our efforts to the failure of those we consider to be less spiritual than ourselves. There is no hidden secret here. We are each commanded to be filled with God’s Holy Spirit for we each need His Spirit if we are to experience the satisfaction that comes from accomplishing what He has for us to accomplish and avoid spiritual defeat.
The Bible clearly teaches that we Christians cannot do what God has called us to do without power from above. When we try to act in our own strength we are doomed to utter frustration and failure. That is why Jesus promised His Holy Spirit to be our Comforter and Guide. So few of us fully comprehend what this really means. We go off in divergent directions looking for some fantastical experience that will give us sudden, immediate power to accomplish the impossible instead of listening to the still small voice of the Spirit God has already placed inside us. Yet Scripture is ever reminding us that our thoughts are not God’s thoughts, neither are our expectations His. We need a clear understanding of what this filling of the Spirit is (and isn’t) if we are to receive the necessary power to overcome the spiritual battles in our lives.
Accordingly, the greatest obstacle to being filled is the misunderstanding of what it means to be filled.
The command in Scripture is simple. Given in Ephesians 5:18 it simply states, “And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit;”. While much has been said about this simple command, it probably needs to be repeated, because we don’t seem to get the point. Paul is telling us that the Spirit filled life ought to be the normal state of Christian living, not the exception. The statement in Ephesians 5:18 is not given as an option. The literal translation is that we are to "be, being filled" by the Holy Spirit. It is meant to be a continuous thing and not something we do ourselves. Also to be considered is the fact that this filling is contrasted with Pagan practice common in Paul’s day. Ritualistic drunkenness was practiced to produce false spirituality (The KJV says “excess”, but a good lexicon says “unsavedness”—something flowing from an unregenerated life). The act of being drunk opened one up (or so they thought) to the ability to make prophecy and perform other religious acts as referenced to in Luke’s account of the day of Pentecost when the apostles were accused of being drunk as they preached the Gospel. Considering this in a broader sense, we see Paul making the admonishment to stop any artificial self motivated attempts at spirituality and yield ourselves to the filling of the Holy Spirit.
The presence of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer is attested to in Romans 8:9 which says But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his, and again in 1 Corinthians 6:19 that states, What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? In Romans reversing the second statement it is clear that if you belong to Christ you have the Spirit. Lest we doubt who belongs to Christ we only have to look as far as John 1:12 that declares that those that receive Christ have the authority to become the sons of God. Do you believe? Have you received? Then you belong to Christ and have the Holy Spirit.
Notice the second passage quoted above in which Paul declares believers to be the temple of the Holy Spirit, declaring the presence of the Holy Spirit within all believers. What is significant about this passage is that it was written to Christians that were living worldly lives. In effect, this passage is showing us that the presence of the Holy Spirit is not dependent on what you do, but what you are, i.e., a believer in Christ. These Christians were not told to shape up, changing their ways by getting aside somewhere to pray for the Holy Spirit to come upon them. Quite to the contrary, Paul was telling these Christians that they could change their ways by drawing from the power of the Holy Spirit already indwelling them. The issue for the Christian is not whether or not he or she has the Spirit but whether he or she will yield to the influence of the Holy Spirit in his or her life.
If the solution to discouragement and defeat in the Christian life, especially the kind of discouragement felt by pastors on Monday mornings is to be filled with the Holy Spirit and if the Holy Spirit is already inside every believer, why then are so many of God’s people living in defeat? Why do I feel the need for His power in such a way I have not yet experienced? What are we missing?I think there may be those who read the questions above would try to stop me right there and would tell me exactly what they think I ought to do which in all likelihood result in some striking experience that would be seen as the filling of the Spirit. However, experiences such as these, rewarding as they seem, are not the filling of the Spirit at all. When Paul says “be filled”, he uses a word that means be saturated with or better yet be under the influence of the Holy Spirit. It is not a matter of receiving the Spirit Who is already present, but rather one of yielding to Him the control of my life. It is through this yielding to the Spirit that we receive the power to overcome the difficulties in our lives.
The problem with many of us is that this yielding is a moment by moment thing that continues on when we want an instantaneous result signified by some sign that we have been (notice the change in tenses) filled. While some believers have sought for a sign of the Holy Spirit’s presence, Scripture tells us in Galatians 5 that Holy Spirit’s presence in us produces love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. I do not doubt that that it is possible for Spirit filled Christians to question their filling because they ate looking for the wrong signs. That said, the filling of the Holy Spirit may not result in the miraculous exciting event we are looking for, but does result in the miraculous fruit described inn Galatians 5. When we have these things operating in our lives we cannot expect anything less than spiritual victory.
In light of the fact that believers already have the Holy Spirit in His entirety in our lives, the question then,
is not "What am I to do to receive the Spirit?", but rather, "How can I cooperate with His leading so that He dominates my feelings, emotions, desires, thoughts and actions and thus fulfill God’s command given by Paul for me to be filled with the Spirit?" While we must be careful not to emphasize “doing” over “being” there are specific actions that lead us to where we are continuously filled with the Spirit. Again I feel I must emphasize that I do nothing to be filled. However, there are things that I do that run interference with the filling that comes as a gift of God to all believers, hence the command given through Paul for us to be filled. Consequently, I need to focus on actions that keep me in cooperation with the Holy Spirit and thus to know His transforming power in my life.
One Bible teacher put the first step in knowing the Spirit’s power is confession of all known sin. Sin separates us from God. When we knowingly sin we grieve the Spirit (Ephesians 4:30). Confession of sin puts that matter behind us so we can live a renewed life. While one churchgoer pointed out, “We can’t be expected to be perfect. Everybody sins”, I cannot make excuses for continuing to do what God has clearly pointed out to me to be wrong. I am called to confess it and trust God to cleanse me of it by freeing me of bondage to it. Anything less grieves the Spirit, keeping me from experiencing His fullness in my life.
If the first step in knowing the Spirit’s power in my life is confession, the next could be labeled, "attention". If my thoughts, actions etc. are to be dominated by the Holy Spirit, I must listen to His voice, or in other words, I must pay attention to Him. In 1 Thessalonians we are warned to not quench the Spirit i.e., we are told not to put out the fire He lights in our lives. Consequently, I need to be aware of those things that I allow to enter and fill my life that drown out the Spirit’s voice, resulting in quenching His power within me. I experience the Spirit’s power as I follow His leading. This only happens when I refuse to let other things dominate my life.
A third matter to consider as to being continuously under the influence of the Spirit is given in Colossians 3. In this passage we are given virtually the same description of the results of being filled with the Spirit as given in Ephesians 6:18 ff, but instead of saying “be filled with the Spirit” Paul says, “Let the Word of Christ dwell in you.” One Christian teacher puts it this way, “Take in the Word of Christ and allow it to dominate your life. When the Word goes in the Spirit has the Truth with which to give you direction and guidance.” When I pursue God’s Word in this way there is no room for the other voices to fill my mind.
As I confess, attend and take in the Word of Christ allowing it to dominate my mind, I pray trusting God to do as He has promised. I thank God for putting His Spirit within Me. I pray that he will work in me to allow the Spirit to dominate my life, then trust Him to do as He has promised. Prayer is an expression of faith. Faith is void without action. So when I pray, I am to trust God to do as He has promised in giving me His Holy Spirit, enabling me to live by His power so I can experience the victory God has in store for me. Putting all misconceptions aside I can experience the Holy Spirit’s power in my life. It all begins with a desire and determination on my part to be filled and continues with the willingness to allow God to do His work within me.