“And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit.” (Ephesians 5:18)
Many years ago, when there were thousands of missionaries in India, a study was made of the “casualties” — those who left missionary service for what the mission leadership deemed less-than-satisfactory reasons. They discovered that none of those dropouts were having a daily time alone with the Lord. Alienated from God? Maybe. Spiritual malnutrition? Probably. Spiritually weak or disabled? Some, perhaps. Just too busy in God’s behalf, I suppose. This, in spite of the fact that survey after survey indicates the great felt need of missionaries is just such a vital time alone with God. Furthermore, in those surveys the common response was that prayer is the most important factor for success in the missionary enterprise.
I concur. We sense intuitively that God must do God’s work and that our link-up with him is prayer. What a mysterious plan for living a godly life and participating in achieving God’s purposes in the world! That God the omnipotent, the infinite One, should listen to such as us! Even more, that he should think of us as co-laborers and choose to accomplish his purposes through us.
To achieve His purposes, he tells us, “Be filled with the Spirit.” This 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 he is the one who does it? I take the initiative and deliberately yield control and then I keep on praying and expecting him to produce the fruit of godliness — ”Be very careful, then, how you live…understand what the Lord’s will is.” I expect him to empower for ministry — ”making the most of every opportunity.” He even indicates the inner state of those who are filled — ”Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything.”
Notice another thing about the command. It’s a continuous action verb: “Keep on being filled with the Spirit.” It’s a constant in that sense, an abiding relationship. Steady-state filled; you might call it. If I stay tight with him, he’ll continually fill me with power to live and serve and to have a singing heart. It won’t be like being filled with wine, the counterfeit filling. That’s only a temporary high and doesn’t change anything for the better. No, no, Paul says, let the Spirit fill you always as a way of life.
The permanent relationship God wants every believer to have can best be described as “full” — fully yielded to the Spirit’s control, giving evidence in a life and ministry energized by His own power, and an inner sense of joy in His presence. Then, from time to time, of His grace, he’ll blow into your life with gale force and fan the embers into an all-consuming fire of the Spirit’s own making. Filled full!
With all the analysis, however, let’s never forget that the basic idea of being filled is a relationship. We mustn’t focus on theological formulations, important as they are, nor do we focus on experience, exciting as that is. He intends a personal relationship.
Part of that mysterious plan is the connection with divine power he provides: prayer. Of course, prayer isn’t the only means God has provided. The Spirit has given us other weapons as well, weapons to join him in waging war, tools to participate with him in his remodeling project. “Means of grace” we call them, given to spiral us up toward ever greater likeness to Jesus, to ever more intimate companionship with him, and to empower our life. Among those means of grace, prayer is indispensable.
Into our reflection on our prayer life I’ll fold the element of soul food — God speaking to us through his Word. We’ll not be considering Bible study for ministry or professional growth, but the devotional use of the Bible. Bible research for ministry can be transmuted into warm personal communion with God, of course, but in those studies often we’re preoccupied with what the passage should mean to those to whom we minister. So today we focus on looking to Scripture for a personal encounter with God, hearing the whispers of the Spirit through the love letters he’s prepared for us, what he is saying to us as well as what we may say to him. Why not spend some time in the Word asking for an encounter with him, listening for his whisper?