We have been called to an incredible life of peace, happiness and abundance; a life that we can only fathom or find as we follow the Spirit of God. I call it Spirit-filled living. A realm where God, in us, teaches us, leads, empowers and expresses His love for humanity.
When I think of such a possibility I am at once overwhelmed with thankfulness for a God who has offered so much. But I am ignited with a hunger to know more of God. It is this very hope that causes me to understand why the Apostle Paul at the end of his life, after experiencing God in ways that were beyond expression was still saying, I want to know Him and the power of His resurrection (Phil 3:10)
With such a limitless promise, the hope, the hunger and the journey never ends. To follow such a call I’ve had to surrender my every preconceived idea about what it means to be filled with the Holy Spirit. I had to look to the word of God, the life of Jesus and to the voice of the Spirit within me to discover something that was beyond what I had seen or heard. It is impossible to totally avoid the memories of extremely emotional people, doing incredibly bizarre things and saying, “This is the Holy Spirit.” Like most people, they arrogantly proclaim, “If you have the Holy Spirit, you’ll do what I am doing.”
For years I asked the wrong questions about these extremely emotional, deeply religious, and sometimes offensive actions. Like most people I asked, “Were they really experiencing the Holy Spirit? And if so, why would He lead them to act so bizarre?” In time I asked a different question. “Is there a difference between what they are experiencing and how they express it?” That’s when I began to get to the truth and further away from judgment. I can only assume they were experiencing God. But how they chose to express their experience was their choice. The Holy Spirit never makes us act. We act as we believe we should.
No doubt, when a person experiences being filled with the Holy Spirit, it will lead to action of some kind. In fact, as I look through the New Testament, every time I see the term Filled with the Holy Spirit, I see believers moved to action: prophesying, preaching, praying for people, preaching with boldness or expressing a gift of the Holy Spirit! But not one time do I see extreme emotional and meaningless religious expressions. Instead, I see expressions of God’s love through ministry or worship. And never once, do I see it as an indication that one believer has gotten more of the Holy Spirit or become more spiritual than another believer!
We have a tendency to look to a single experience and hope that one experience will forever change our life. But that never really happens. God has called us to a relationship. That’s why we are called to become disciples, not just Christians. To walk in this abundant life we must walk with our God. We must follow Him with our whole heart. At every moment, in every situation, we must be ready to follow and yield to Him.
Ephesians 5:18 says, And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit (NKJV). In this scripture, being filled is compared to being drunk. Being drunk does not actually make you do things you do not want to do. Instead, it just removes the limitations, the boundaries that prevent you from doing what you want to do. Albeit, many times those boundaries are there for a good reason. Anyone who has ever given themselves to much drinking has awaken to the dreaded question, “Oh no! What did I do?” The answer is simple. You did something that you wanted to do, but something that inhibitions, personal beliefs and boundaries would “normally” have kept you from doing.
This is what happens when we are filled with the Holy Spirit, we do things that our personal beliefs and limitations would normally stop us from doing. It wasn’t natural for Peter, who loved the approval of man, to stand up to the very leaders who crucified Jesus. But being filled with the Spirit, he boldly preached the word to them in the book of Acts.
Stephen faced death without fear. When persecuted and threatened, the entire church proclaimed the word of God with boldness as a result of being filled with the Spirit. And so it is with us! When we are filled with the Spirit we do that which our fears, beliefs and boundaries would normally stop us from doing.
The Holy Spirit primarily leads us by “influence.” It’s not always words that God speaks to our heart. More often than not, it is influence and impressions. Any time we “feel the urge” to do something Godly like worship, witness, pray for someone, encourage or just turn right instead of going straight, we are having the opportunity to yield to the influence, or as the King James English would say, be filled with the Holy Spirit.
We tend to resist this influence because we don’t think we will be able to do the things He is influencing us to do. That is, however, the beauty of yielding to God and being led of the Spirit. The moment we say, “Yes,” those things that limit us begin to drop away. We experience the power to act!
When I was first called to preach, I would often feel a tug on my heart to go witness to the hippies who at one time prowled the street of Huntsville into the late hours of the night. There was a part of me that really felt, impressed to do it. But there was a part of me that wanted no part of it. When I would decide to go downtown, I would find a freedom. But my freedom was always in direct proportion to the extent of my cooperation, my willingness to follow.
When I would arrive at my destination, I would often sit in the car for half an hour struggling with fear. A part of me wanted to take the next step. A part of me wanted to stay inside where it was safe. Then I would commit to get out and just walk around the block. Many nights I would pray, “God, I will walk around the block and if I don’t see anyone, I’m going home.” Just yielding to that part of the influence, would give me the freedom to take the next step.
So many nights, I would yield one degree, one step, one decision at a time only to experience a growing freedom and power for each new step. With each decision to follow, I would experience a new level of freedom. So many nights started that way and ended with me winning dozens of people to Jesus and loving it!
The Holy Spirit is always seeking to influence us to do something godly, to follow God’s direction to make a good decision. Too often we trust out knowledge, we lean to our own understanding and resist the influence of the Holy Spirit. So often, it makes no sense. (I am not saying that it is bizarre, irrational or idiotic.)
The other morning, I received a text message from my daughter, Christy. She said, “I’m ready to come to work, but I just don’t feel right about leaving yet.” I encouraged her to follow her heart. (The heart is where God speaks and influences.) In a while she sent another text and said, “I’m on my way in. As I walked around my apartment, I found a candle that had been burning all night. It had burned down completely.”
Failure to yield to the influence could have burned her apartment and even taken lives. Many times we see the reason. Many times we do not. Regardless, we should always follow what we know to be the influence of the Holy Spirit. When the towers were attacked on 9-11 the original estimate of casualties was much higher than the final number. People who would have normally been in the towers working were not there. As the stories unfolded, there were thousands of people who just did not show up for work when they should have. Many said, they did not know why, they just didn’t go to work that day.
Dying or living was not a matter of one being more holy or qualified than the other. It was not about one being more spiritual than the other. But it meant that thousands of people noticed an influence in their heart. Many who did not even believe in God responded to the Holy Spirit and lived. Being led by the Spirit, yielding to the influence, begins with being aware. Some people just tend to listen to their heart more than others. For most of us it is cultivated. Every day we must do whatever we can to be aware of God.
If we are not listening we will not hear. Cultivate your awareness. Then we must trust God. This happens because we believe God is good and only good. We know that God will never hurt us, or lead us into a place of pain and suffering. Additionally, if we are fully convinced that He only leads us to good things, we will have no lack of trust, no hesitation to follow. If we are aware, we hear; if we trust, we take the next step, we yield, obey, follow! Obedience is all about believing. If we believe, we obey. If we trust, we follow.
God doesn’t want to control our lives. He offers the abundant life and says, “Follow me.” The choice is ours. He wants to lead us and He wants us to trust Him enough to follow! I encourage you to spend time everyday investing in your heart. Do whatever you do to make yourself aware of God. Start every day by renewing your commitment to follow Him with your whole heart!