By Rosie Moore.
(New Series: Spirit-filled)
It’s like clockwork.
Every evening around 6pm, I have the same blank when I look at the raw food I took out the freezer for dinner. It’s not just that my four kids hover around the kitchen, sniffing nervously at the empty pots. Nor is it a lack of ingredients or equipment. And it’s not that I want to starve my family! No, my problem is lack of inspiration. I don’t have a clue what to do with the pieces of raw chicken staring at me from the chopping board!
But I know that the solution to this daily vacuum is to put on my apron, turn on the oven and take out a colourful cookbook. Within minutes, my mind is ticking with a plan and chewing on delicious ideas. It doesn’t matter that I’ve been cooking every evening for the last 28 years! My mind must still be rebooted and reminded of how much I love good food. My senses must be re-calibrated to see, taste and smell the rich potential in that ordinary chicken carcass…if I just add a little onion, garlic, olive oil to the pan. It’s just as Nigella Lawson says, “I don’t believe you can ever really cook unless you love eating.”
I don’t believe you can really be filled with the Spirit unless you love Jesus!
That’s because, being Spirit-filled is never a mystical experience divorced from the person, work and word of the Lord Jesus Christ. It’s nothing like the self-absorbed, mind-body flow of ‘new age’ meditation. The Holy Spirit is an unpretentious member of the trinity who doesn’t seek centre stage. He is more like a spotlight that magnifies Christ as the star actor. Like a director who coaches Christ’s understudies. Or like an optician who sharpens our vision to see Jesus more clearly (John 15:26; 16:14). Sinclair Ferguson says we should think of the Holy spirit as the “closest companion of the Lord Jesus.”
And so, the more we meditate on what Jesus has done for us, the more his Spirit fills us. And the more we are filled with his Spirit, the more we treasure God and love our neighbour. The fruit results from the filling.
Not a once-off wonder
If the truth be told, who of us can naturally produce the Spirit’s harvest table of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control? Especially in the everyday kitchen of life, where people drive us crazy; where the media fills us with fear; where people die, lose their jobs and go hungry? Unless we are filled by the Holy Spirit, we cannot produce his fruit.
John Stott describes our ongoing need to be filled by the Spirit as an “invigorating, refreshing, thirst-quenching fullness.” Being Spirit-filled is a continuous, repeated, persistent filling up and flowing out.
To be clear, everyone who belongs to Jesus has been baptized in the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38-39; Rom 8:9). The Holy Spirit leads us to see our sin and to repent. He gives life, re-orders our desires, liberates, shepherds and transforms forgiven sinners into the image of Christ. He is a gift to all God’s children (Rom 8:15-16). But he is also not a once-off wonder.
The Corinthian Christians show us this. Even spine-tingling experiences and spectacular gifts are no evidence of being Spirit-filled. In fact, these gifted Christians, with a form of ‘spirituality’, were actually sin-tolerant, loveless and proud. Since they had no fruit, Paul calls them unspiritual babies in Christ (1 Cor 3:1-3). To borrow my husband’s description of some cyclists, it is possible for us to have all the gear, but no idea!
Jesus himself illustrates how the Holy Spirit fills believers.
The Living Water
In John 7, Jesus invites anyone who is thirsty to come to himself and trust in him as their Saviour and Lord. It is not a polite suggestion, nor an invitation to walk along the peaceful riverbank of religion. It is an urgent plea to sinners to recognise their dire need, to bend down and ‘drink’ his water of salvation. Then Christ describes how the Holy Spirit will fill believers, like ‘rivers of living water’:
Rivers of living water
“On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.”By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified” (John 7:37-39).
So, what’s the water metaphor about?
Jesus’s announcement happened on the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles (John 7:2; 37). Every morning, a priest carrying a golden jar would fetch water from the pool of Siloam and pour it out on the west side of the altar. The jar reminded the Jews that God had faithfully provided water for them in the wilderness. It also pointed to God’s promise that he would one day pour out his Spirit on his people, giving them new hearts and cleansing them of their sins, once and for all (Joel 2:28-29; Ezekiel 36:25-27). Water was a powerful symbol of this outpouring of forgiveness and the Spirit.
The promised outpouring
Now, we know that this was spectacularly fulfilled on the day of Pentecost. The long-awaited Holy Spirit was released like a flood on his disciples. Like a river, that broke its banks and spawned many tributaries, the gospel flowed to Israel, Asia, Europe, and the ends of the earth. Salvation was carried by the riptide of the Holy Spirit.
But, just as God did not provide once-off water to his people in the wilderness, Jesus doesn’t give Christians a once-off outpouring of His Spirit. A drink of water cannot quench our thirst for long. And so, we keep drinking because we keep thirsting.
‘Thirst’, ‘come’, ‘drink’ and ‘believe’ are all present tense verbs. So, being filled with the Spirit is a present continuous process that is never finished. We have never arrived! We can’t live off yesterday’s wonder. We will remain spiritually needy until we finally stand in Christ’s presence, and have no hunger or thirst again. Only then will the sun cease to beat down and scorch us (Rev 7:16).
Know our thirst!
For ordinary Christians, Christ’s picture is quite down-to-earth and practical:
First, we need to know that we are hot, thirsty travellers walking through a desert. We are dehydrated, in urgent need of water that only Christ can give. We need to get up each morning awake to the fact that we will be separated from Jesus, unless we sip continuously from his water supply.
Second, we need to see that our world, with all its internet, TV, pleasures and experts, is an arid desert with no irrigation system. No real solutions can sprout from its hard, hot sand. Our world is thirsty, barren and dead without Christ. If we spend hours under the world’s shower spouts, we needn’t wonder why we soon feel dry and despondent.
But in contrast, Jesus’s ongoing ministry in our lives fulfils God’s wonderful promise to “pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour my Spirit upon your descendants, and my blessing on your offspring” (Isa 44:3).
Only Christ can slake our soul’s thirst for communion with God! He is our hydration pack on the ultra marathon of life. And we need his water to fill every cell of our body, every day we spend on this earth.
The Holy Spirit is not a JoJo tank!
But, Christ’s Spirit is also not a JoJo tank that stores stagnant water! He is a vibrant river that keeps filling and spawning smaller rivers. When the Spirit fills us, we cannot only quench our own thirst, as it is impossible to store Christ’s living Spirit. He must spontaneously flow out of us to refresh others. That is how we respond to his filling.
An unremarkable Spirit-filled life
Jesus’s invitation is for the average Christian. What a relief that we don’t have to chase esoteric experiences, or find an anointed man to release the supernatural! Or cajole God into unleashing his Spirit. Indeed, God’s powerful Spirit has been unleashed and is currently moving in thirsty believers in quiet and mysterious ways. We just need to keep coming, drinking and trusting in Jesus.
Today, let’s remember the vital experience of the Holy Spirit we had from the beginning of our Christian life. It all began with an invisible, miraculous new birth of the Spirit, of which we were totally oblivious (John 3:3-8). That miracle should still amaze us.
Let’s also remember that “the Holy Spirit is God the Lord. He is the divine Spirit, the mighty Spirit, the free and sovereign Spirit” (Stott). We cannot limit or control him. And our experiences of him are as diverse as the people he fills. The Holy Spirit cannot be manufactured or contained.
And so, as you go about your day, the Spirit refreshes your sense of God as your ‘Abba’ Father. While listening to a sermon or reading a book, the words grip you so personally, that you look around for a hidden camera in your room! Quite unexpectedly, the Spirit digs up a buried sin that you’ve never owned, flooding you with such sorrow that you instantly get on your knees and turn to Christ for forgiveness.
Or, as you open your Bible, the Spirit spotlights Christ’s kindness in a way you’d never seen before. You find yourself sighing with relief that his love doesn’t hinge on your loveliness. Suddenly, a detail of creation or a song sparks praise for your Creator.
The Holy Spirit may give us words that aren’t our own to share the gospel. He may nudge us to urgently pray, give, or initiate a conversation. Silently, he may enfold us in peace in a terrible situation. Or give us a longing for a country where there is only good news. Or maybe, he is strengthening you right now to press on through another day of a great struggle.
These are not spectacular experiences that can be posted on YouTube or shared in a group chat. Nevertheless, God’s living Spirit is filling and flowing through thirsty, responsive Christians. Tomorrow, these Christians will not be quite the same as today.
In reality, most of us are not spiritual giants, just ordinary Christians living unremarkable lives. But, we can all come to Jesus by faith; open up our Bibles and respond to his Spirit. We can all allow the Holy Spirit to carry us in the currents of Christ’s grace and truth. Like living rivers welling up within us.
Now, please excuse me, it’s time to attend to that chicken!
Lord, most days I don’t even know how thirsty my soul is. I long for the day when the sun will stop beating down on us and our thirst will be permanently satisfied. Please forgive the many ways I quench your Spirit when I don’t respond and don’t trust you. Lord, cleanse me from all my sins and idols. Move in me, like a strong current, to follow your ways. Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me. Spirit of the living God, fall afresh of me. Melt me, mould me, fill me, use me. Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me.
John RW Stott, Baptism And Fullness: The Work of the Holy Spirit Today.