“Be filled with the Spirit….” (Ephesians 5:18)
Today’s verse in a subtle way ties together the three different aspects of being filled with the Spirit. The verb be filled is unusual in that it is a command, something I must do – but it’s in the passive form, something the Spirit does to me. “Be being filled” would be an awkward translation but gets at the meaning. So how do I obey if the Spirit is the one who does it? I take the initiative and deliberately yield control. Then I keep on praying and expecting him to produce the fruit of godliness and power for ministry. If he chooses to surge through with a flood of some special emotion, how blessed! The command be filled is also a continuous action verb: “Keep on being filled with the Spirit.” Being filled is a constant in that sense, an abiding relationship. Steady – state filled, you might call it. If the Holy Spirit has control of my life, He’ll continuously fill me with power to live and serve. In Ephesians 5:18-20, Paul also identifies some of the inner feelings associated with being filled: singing, praise, and prayer. Paul says to let the Spirit fill you always as a way of life. Then, from time to time out of his grace, he’ll blow into your life with gale force and fan the embers into an all-consuming fire of his own making. When that happens simultaneously to a lot of people, we call the result revival.
Until now we’ve talked of being filled with the Spirit on a very personal level, but we do not live as individuals only. We are part of a larger community of believers. Can you imagine the power unleashed when a group of Christians simultaneously surrender to the Spirit? What would a worship service be like with such a group? How would their prayer meetings be? What kind of impact would they make on unbelievers? Do you ever long to be part of such a Holy Spirit outpouring? We call it revival. Since the Bible doesn’t use the term “revival,” why have Christian people always used the term? The Bible repeatedly describes great movings of the Spirit; and the church has experienced such movings periodically through its history. We’ve called those times revival – “re” means again and “vival” means life. So when I speak of revival I mean a renewal of life that once was, or ought to have been. Even with the examples from the Bible and church history coupled with the plain meaning of the term itself, however, revival doesn’t seem to mean the same thing to everyone. People use the term to describe a great variety of different events and experiences.
The Bible doesn’t use the term revival but does report movements of spiritual renewal of various kinds. Perhaps we are safest not to prescribe the details of what must happen to qualify as true revival. We can, however, discern some common features:
- Revival is the work of the Holy Spirit.
- He revitalizes or renews those he has already given life.
- Others see the renewed vitality, resulting in change in them also. Revival spreads among believers and unbelievers turn to Christ.
This last characteristic would seem to rule out the idea of a “personal revival,” which some use to describe a fresh encounter with God. Anyone can experience personal renewal at any time he or she is prepared to acknowledge a need, yield to God’s control, and trust Him to give renewed life. Personal renewal may best be referred to by terms like being filled with the Spirit. I can experience the fullness of God’s blessing whether or not others participate.
Do you easily identify spiritual needs in your church? Are evidences of spiritual vitality hard to find? Are you satisfied with the way things are, or do you hope for revival in your church? Vern Strom was a wheat farmer in Western Canada who tells of the “dirty thirties” when they planted 1,000 bushels of precious seed and reaped barely 1,000 bushels in return. On 1,000 acres, that’s a bushel an acre! Like many a church hard, hard work for a “survival” harvest. But in 1942 the rains came, and they averaged a crop of 55 bushels an acre on 1,500 acres! The silos, barns, and garages wouldn’t hold it all; so they stored it in piles outside, 12,000 bushels to a pile. That’s the kind of harvest when God sends rain. Wouldn’t such an abundant spiritual harvest be great for your church? If you are experiencing a drought, you can do two things:
- Be sure that you personally are experiencing the fullness of the Spirit as a continuing pattern of life; and
- Pray diligently for revival, recruiting others to join you in prayer .
- Campbell Morgan said, “We cannot legislate spiritual awakening, but we can set our sails to catch the wind.” My son Bob and I were trying to cross a large lake on the boundary between the United States and Canada, but the wind kept driving us toward the shore long before we reached the end of the lake. We paddled our canoe with all the energy we could muster, like the poor remnant in a church that stays faithful and tries to move things forward. Also, like that remnant, we wore out, went with the wind and beached our canoe. After a rest we started out again but made little progress. Then Bob, the veteran canoer, told me to tie his poncho between two paddles, sit in the prow and hoist my “sail” to the wind while he relaxed in the stern and navigated. Amazing! We began to skim across the lake under full sail, much to the astonishment of other canoeists struggling vainly to make progress. So it is when the mighty Wind of God blows through his people with renewing power. So let us set our sails, covenant to pray, and keep on praying till revival comes. In the meantime, until God chooses to unleash a widespread renewal, you can make very sure that you personally are eligible for revival and thus no barrier to what God would do. That’s the first meaning of being filled with the Spirit – unconditional yieldedness to His will, making sure each day that He is in charge. We’ve seen that by keeping a close connection with the Spirit we can be sure of a full harvest of godly characteristics and powerful service, and at least a periodic inner sense of God-intoxication. We can do what Paul says in Ephesians 5:15 and keep on being filled with the Spirit! As He “pours in,” we will be truly filled full, or we could say fulfilled. On top of that -as if that were not exciting enough – by daily obeying the command to keep on being filled, we open the door for the Holy Spirit to do His work. We do our part to set up the whole church for joining in that filling. We pray that the entire church will experience a “chain revival,” leaping on from one degree of glory to another.