With a work district bordered on two sides by interstates, I have become quite accustomed to assisting stranded motorists…most of whom are locals and have run out of gas. I finally bought a gas container, and frequently get stuck paying for the gas. I’ve found that most knew they were low on gas, only put a few dollars in at a time, and even assume someone else will simply get them on their way. Yes, I realize that gas is expensive and the economy is “bad,” but I am truly boggled by people who live so unprepared…life where “empty” is the norm.
As I was driving to work the other day, I started thinking about my life and the lives of many around me. I’m in one of those seasons where I feel overworked and “burnt out,” and find myself in a spiritually dry season. Maybe you’ve never experienced a time like this, but my guess – in thinking about the economy, the stressors and struggles of the profession, and the valleys of life in general – is that many are nearing empty and in need of being refilled, refreshed, and revitalized.
Moses and David experienced the back side of the desert. Abraham experienced Egypt. Elijah experienced the Juniper tree. Jesus experienced the wilderness and the garden. The sun shines on us all, and it rains on the just and unjust alike (Matthew 5:45).
In the classic Les Miserables, Fantine says, “I had a dream my life would be so different…now life has killed the dream I dreamed.” The fact of the matter is that life happens to us all. The question I ask myself is, “What will you do with this season?” There really are only two choices for me and for anyone else in this place. The first choice is to allow empty to become the norm and remain stranded on the road of life. The second choice is to be filled and refilled…to have a fresh touch from God through His Holy Spirit.
The ministry to the Ephesians is one of perpetual filling and refilling. God began moving in the lives of those in Ephesus in Acts 19. The scriptures tell us that during a missionary journey Paul traveled to Ephesus and found those who were called disciples. These twelve men were believers, and yet his question to them was, “Have you received the Holy Spirit since you believed?” When they responded in the negative, Paul laid his hands upon them and they were filled with the Holy Spirit after the manner of Pentecost in Acts 2 (19:6). These men trained under Paul for three months (19:8) and were undoubtedly foundational in the Ephesian church.
As Paul writes to the Ephesian church, he begins in the first chapter by commending them in the faith and speaking of Christ who fills all the Church (Ephesians 1:23). As he continues in the second chapter, he reminds them that believers and the Church are the dwelling place where God lives by His Spirit (2:22). In chapter 3, he offers a divine prayer whose thrust is that they are “filled with all the fulness of God” (3:19). Here, filled with the comprehension of Christ’s love and the power of God’s Spirit, God is able to accomplish infinitely more that we could ask or think (3:20). Then, in chapter 5, Paul exhorts them, “Don’t be drunk with wine, wherein is dissipation, but be filled with the Holy Spirit” (5:18).
The simple English rendering of Ephesians 5:18 is very lacking in meaning. Paul tells them not to be drunk with wine. The reason is that the altered state of drunkenness leads to debauchery and excess, and the effect dissipates (goes away after a time). He encourages them to seek after a “wine” whose effect does not diminish or fade, empowers, and enables true merriment of heart (“making melody in your heart” 5:19). But, even “being filled” is not a one-time occurrence. The verb tense of the word used is present/passive/imperative. It is a command with ongoing action, and is most accurately understood as “keep on being filled.”
Paul tells the Ephesian believers (and all believers everywhere) to receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 19; arguably a subsequent experience to salvation), and as the dwelling place of God’s Spirit, to keep on being filled.
The result of not adhering to Paul’s command is evidenced by the Ephesian church in Revelation 2. There, the church is again commended for their works, labor, patience, and disdain for evil. The fault found in them is that they left their first love (Revelation 2:4). They lost the passion, purity, and power of agape love that they once knew. Sure, they are still performing, but they are fallen (2:5). They are going through the motions, but they are dry. Their works are empty, and they must revisit that which first occupied them. My belief is that they are being commended to be occupied again with and by the Holy Spirit (the Spirit of Christ) who produces in them the love of Christ that otherwise is incomprehensible (reference again the prayer in Ephesians 3).
The Ephesians are filled, refilled, found empty, and commended to be refilled.
Without wood, a fire will burn out (Proverbs 26:20). Without gasoline, a car will no longer function. Without continual and perpetual “refilling” from the Holy Spirit, the believer will find him/herself operating on empty – going through the motions. A few days ago I bowed my knee at the rocking chair in my daughter’s room, “grabbed the horns of the altar,” and “prayed through” in desperation asking for a fresh touch and filling from God. In a season like this I will have to make intentional and frequent visits to draw from the wells of salvation.
My prayer is that you will experience a renewed passion, that God will birth in you new dreams, that you will experience divine refreshing, and that you will keep on being filled with all the fulness of God’s Spirit. Living life on empty is not an option.