Have you ever thought about the Early Church in the book of Acts? One of the things that constantly amaze me about the 1st Century Church is the boldness, depth of character and power this early Christian community exemplified. They were willing to sell their possessions to help others in need, they prayed for more boldness to proclaim Jesus in the face of persecution, and they saw the demonstration of God’s power in their midst (healings, miracles, and even … judgment). In Acts 7 it’s hard not to marvel at the extraordinary boldness, confidence, peace and compassion Stephen had – even as he was being slammed with stones! It’s easy to wonder: why don’t we see this in the American church of the 21st Century? Let’s take it one step further and make it uncomfortably personal: “Why don’t I see this boldness, compassion and power in my life?”
I believe the key difference between the dynamic church of the 1st century and the relatively weak church of our time can be found in the simple phrase that we see many times in Acts: “full of the Holy Spirit.” The apostles, leaders and followers of Jesus in that early community of faith were “full of the Holy Spirit.”
While I believe, theologically, all followers of Christ have the Holy Spirit, I would speculate that not very many are actually full of the Holy Spirit. And that, I believe, is one of the main differences between them and us.
Another obstacle for us is a contemporary misconception of what it means to be “filled with the Holy Spirit.” For some, that phrase conjures up images of people swooning in a worship service or speaking in an unintelligible utterance or feeling that “mountain top experience.” And while I think these describe some of the manifestations of the Spirit in believers, I don’t think this defines what being full of the Holy Spirit is. I think it has more to do with “how we live” than “what we experience.”
“Being full of the Holy Spirit” means that God is given total control of our lives: where we go, what we do, and how we respond to Him. Most of the time, this could feel rather mundane, if not antagonistic – because it goes against the grain of our human nature. Although we can experience tremendous joy and peace as we do the will of God under His control, the focus of being Spirit filled is not on how high our emotional gauge is.
I think the reason we do not see 1st Century power and impact in our time is that, though we have the Holy Spirit in our lives, we are probably too full of ourselves. We want God’s will and our personal comfort, agenda, prosperity, safety, and selfish desires. One cannot be full of the Holy Spirit and full of ourselves at the same time. And yet, do we expect miracles, power and revival from lives that barely give God a couple hours a week, a few “bless me” prayers, and “what’s in it for me?” worship.
As one who is admittedly probably not 100% of the Spirit” Christian, I have a couple of Biblical concepts that might help us become more full of the Spirit and less full of ourselves:
1. We must die to ourselves. The only way to get more of the Spirit is to start emptying ourselves. Dying to ourselves means surrendering how we do things, letting go of pride and control, releasing our agenda, plans and hopes. Jesus said that unless a seed falls to the ground and dies, it will never bear the fruit it was meant to have.
2. Seek first God’s Kingdom. If you gave your life to Jesus, that means He is King (and you’re not). We don’t seek our way anymore; we seek to do the will of God. We don’t worry about the little things (provision, safety, fears) because our Jesus will take care of us.
What are some thoughts that you have to help us to become more full of the Spirit? I welcome your input!