Joy Killer: Control
One modern philosopher admitted, “I want atheism to be true … It isn't just that I don't believe in God, and, naturally, hope that I'm right about my belief. It's that I hope there is no God! I don't want there to be a God; I don't want the universe to be like that."”
Now I know you immediately recoil as a believer when you hear quotes like this. You certainly don’t agree and would probably rather not even hear such blasphemous language. But, I have to admit that I find a lot of that sentiment in my own heart.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not an atheist, but you don’t have to be an atheist to prefer your own control to God’s. While many refuse the title, “Atheist,” those very same people also refuse the term “surrender.” But the reality of an omnipotent, sovereign God demands nothing less.
I find this great need for control in my own life constantly. Recently we went on our staff retreat. We always handle some items of business on the way to wherever we’re staying. This year we took a personality test. Yep, that’s right! I suppose we were trying to see if any us actually had a personality. Anyway, one of my strongest personality markers is the melancholic temperament. The melancholic temperament, according to the little handout Brian gave us when we took the test, is perfectionistic and (you guessed it) always likes to be in control. You know, when I first read that, I was in denial a bit. I don’t need to be in control, and I am certainly not perfectionistic. I remain calm, cool and collected, no matter what is going on, at least, that’s what I told myself.
But then, the next morning, I went downstairs early to work out. Now my room was located on one end of the lodge at Ridgecrest and the fitness room was all the way down at the other end of the complex. I took the walk from my room (a workout in itself), and made it to the room. I worked out for about 30 minutes I took my room key with me. After a good hard 30 minutes I took the long walk back to the room, feeling good about myself . . . until I almost back to my room. It was then I realized that I had left my room key in the fitness center. Not only could I not get back into my room, I would not be able to get into the fitness center to retrieve the room key unless someone in the fitness room interrupted their work out to come and open the door for me. I felt really dumb! In fact I could feel myself getting mad over it. Isn’t it amazing how the gentle Holy Spirit can just point things out to you when you least expect it? Right in the middle of that experience I just heard the Lord saying in my spirit, “Do you really thing that everything in your life has to go perfectly? Really? Maybe you do have a problem with control. Maybe you are a perfectionist.” You know what I also noticed? When I am insisting on control or I am angry about something that’s going wrong, I am not very joyful. I am usually expressing frustration with my circumstances, not confidence in God.
Can any of you relate? Do you feel the need to forcibly control your life? Do you gnaw your fingernails at stoplights shortening your life with intersection stress when nothing you can possibly do will make the light turn green any faster? Do you And you may even say, “Well, Sure I do, Rusty, but is that a bad thing? I mean, how are you going to get anywhere if you don’t take control of your life. Are you telling me that I just need to passively sit around and wait for lightening to strike and everything to fall into my lap. That doesn’t seem like a very wise thing for me to do.”
Well, it’s interesting that you mention wisdom, because that’s where our text starts today, and just let me say that there is a great connection between being wise and knowing who is in control. In fact, it is the beginning of wisdom to know who is in control. The Bible says that the beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord. Simply put, being smart is being reverent! Being wise means recognizing God’s authority in your life.
That’s why, when Paul begins to discuss the control that the Holy Spirit wants to exercise in our lives, he begins by talking about wisdom. In v 18 he tells us, And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit. Now that verse has to do with control: The control of our lives by the Holy Spirit. That control, however, is related to wisdom. In fact it is related very concretely through the parallelism that exists between vv 17 and 18.
Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is. The first phrase of v. 17, “Do not be unwise” equates to the first phrased of v 18, “do not be drunk with wine;” and the second phrase of v 17, “but understand what the will of the Lord is,” equates to the second phrase of v 18, “but be filled with the Spirit.”
Simply put, the path to wisdom in life, that is, a path to knowing how to apply God’s Word to the specific situations in which you and I find ourselves comes as we are filled with and controlled by the Holy Spirit.
Which makes these two verses a kind of climax for what comes before in this book and for what follows. Understanding and doing the will of God is a pretty good summary for all the instructions Paul has just finished giving the church about how they should be living out their faith in this evil world and being filled with the Spirit is the only way to receive the power necessary to have the kind of church and family described in chapters five and six. In fact, being filled with the Spirit, we can argue, is the key to the Christian life. It really is our greatest source of joy. It provides the confidence we need to know that God is going to take care of us, no matter what.
If that’s the case, then we need to know how this “filling” happens. If we want the wisdom that comes from walking in the Spirit, we need to know how to walk in the Spirit. So, how do you do that. How can you and I be filled with the Holy Spirit.
Well, right here in these two verses we can get some answers. In the first place, if you want to be filled with the Spirit, I must
DIV 1: RECOGNIZE MY NEED OF HIM
The path to the filling by the Spirit begins with simply recognizing our need, and it is clear that we are in need when you understand just what’s being said in v 18. In fact, there are several things you need to understand about v. 18. In the first place it is a repetitive thing: In other words, you could more properly translate “be filled” as “keep on being filled.” In other words, it isn’t something that is a “once-for-all” sort of action, but an action which must be happening constantly.
In the second place, “be filled with the Spirit,” is an imperative thing. That is, it is a command, and since it is a command, it takes an act of our will to obey it. It is not automatic. It is something which we must do.
But how we do it is quite interesting because not only is “be filled” repetitive and imperative, it is also passive. In other words, being filled is not something I can do to myself, it is something which, with my will, I must allow to be done to me, and it begins as I realize that I am not able to empower myself. I am not able to make myself effective. I am not even able to arrive at the right decisions about life on my own. I am absolutely dependent on the Holy Spirit to fill me. I cannot do it alone.
Though it has not been scientifically proven, feats of what psychologists call “hysterical” strength do occur. In 2006 in Tucson, Ariz., Tim Boyle watched as a Chevrolet Camaro hit 18-year-old Kyle Holtrust. The car pinned Holtrust, still alive, underneath. Boyle ran to the scene of the accident and lifted the Camaro off the teenager, while the driver of the car pulled him to safety.
In 1982, in Lawrenceville, Ga., Angela Cavallo lifted a 1964 Chevrolet Impala from her son, Tony, after it fell off the jacks that had held it up while he worked underneath the car. Mrs. Cavallo lifted the car high enough and long enough for two neighbors to replace the jacks and pull Tony from beneath the car.
Marie "Bootsy" Payton was cutting her lawn in High Island, Texas, when her riding mower got away from her. Payton's young granddaughter, Evie, tried to stop the mower, but was knocked underneath the still-running machine. Payton reached the mower and easily tossed it off her granddaughter, limiting Evie's injuries to four severed toes. Curious, Payton later tried to lift the mower again and found she couldn't move it.
It’s the same way in our lives as Christians! We run right into the ambush of life: Sometimes it is Satanic attack; other times it is our flesh that attacks us; and then sometimes its just life. We need wisdom and we need power to win. Alone, we will surely be defeated. Here’s what we need to remember: Just as surely as these heroes needed to be under the influence of adrenaline in order to escape, you and I must be under the influence of the Holy Spirit if we are to win this war we’re in.
But so many Christians have no concept of what it is to really be filled with the Spirit and the sad part is that they may not even realize it. A. W. Tozer said:
If the Holy Spirit was withdrawn from the church today, 95 percent of what we do would go on and no one would know the difference.
If the Holy spirit had been withdrawn from the New Testament church, 95 percent of what they did would stop, and everybody would know the difference."
How I long to pastor a church that is full of the Spirit! I don’t want to mark time and do a job. If I was looking for a career, I’d sell something or teach something, but I don’t want a career. I want to be at the center of what God is doing through His Holy Spirit. I want to be so dependent on Him that when people get around me, they sense the difference. I want the Holy Spirit to be so real in our services that no one dreads coming here, they’re excited about it. I want the Holy Spirit to be so powerful that God bring conviction just when I show up. How about you?
May I ask you? If the Holy Spirit was withdrawn from your individual life today, would things go on just like usual, or would you know the difference? See this whole thing of Spirit-fullness begins with a recognition that without the Holy Spirit you’re nothing but an empty shirt! You have no power. And then that recognition must drive us to say, “O God, if I don’t have your Spirit, I can’t go on.”
And you may be here as someone who is kind of uncertain about this Christian thing. You’ve been invited by someone, or maybe you just had a child in our VBS and you thought you’d just visit and check us out. If that’s you, may I just ask you: Do you ever feel frustrated because things seem totally out of control in your life? Do you ever get lonely for a relationship that you can’t find? You may be married, but that doesn’t fully satisfy you. You may have children, but that didn’t do it either. You may have this awesome job and you may even make good money, but there is this emptiness inside of you. Whether you are able to fully grasp it or not, I tell you, I know what you need. You need to be filled with God’s Spirit. You need to simply come to Christ by faith and say, “Lord, I’ve been missing something and I believe you’re what I’m missing. Come into my life. Take control of my heart.”
Here’s what I know: God didn’t make us to function on our own. He didn’t make us to be apart from Him, but to be connected to Him through His Spirit. And the sad part of it is that so many of us waste our lives struggling to live alone when He would give us all the power and the wisdom we needed if we would just recognize our need of Him.
You see, real living that flows from a complete surrender to God comes when we are filled with the Spirit. How can I be filled? Well in the first place, I must recognize my need of Him, but then I must
DIV 2: SYNCHRONIZE MY WILL WITH HIS.
There may be no other topic around which there swirls so much confusion or controversy than being filled with the Holy Spirit, and while the Christian evangelical community may talk a lot about being filled with the Holy Spirit, when you ask someone how a person can be filled with the Spirit, you may hear a lot of answers.
Some will tell you that you must empty yourself before you can be filled. They would picture a jug filled with dirt which must be emptied out before it can be filled up with water. They would say that you and I are like that jug. We must get all the junk out of our lives so that the Holy Spirit can fill us up.
Well, there may be some truth to the fact that the Holy Spirit will not fill a dirty vessel, at least a dirty vessel that is unwilling to allow Him to clean them up, but I really think that there are a couple of pictures that are a little more helpful to understanding what it means to be filled.
In the first place, the Holy Spirit, who, by the way, inspired the writing of these verses, gives us a comparison, a picture, if you will of what it looks like to be filled. Right at the outset, I’ll have to admit the picture is an unlikely one. V 18 says, “And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit.”
The word “drunk” was a word that was also used for the process of soaking. Whenever people of that day wanted to make use of the hide of an animal and wanted to stretch it, they would soak it in water, so you could render the verse like this, “Don’t be soaked with wine, but be soaked, or filled, or saturated with the Holy Spirit.” You see, people usually don’t get drunk by accident. Most of the time, if you see someone staggering from the effects of alcohol, they made a bad decision to abandon themselves to drinking. And here’s the point: Just as the drunkard has willingly surrendered the control of His life to the bottle, the Christian willingly surrenders his life to the control of the Spirit. The Spirit-controlled believer has made a decision to surrender His life to the Spirit and place himself under the influence of the Spirit.
And this saturation; this soaking in the Spirit occurs in a very strategic way. In Romans 8:5, Paul wrote something very helpful about how the Holy Spirit fills us. The NIV renders it like this:
Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.
You see, while the filling of the Spirit is something which must be done to me, it is something which I must, on the other hand, invite; it is something which I must decide upon. I must decide that I want what the Spirit wants; I must decide that I am going to focus my mind on seeking what the Spirit wants. That happens at the beginning of the day as I seek God in His Word and as I spend time with Him in prayer. And then it continues throughout the day as I, minute by minute, decision by decision allow Him to lead me as He impresses upon my heart the principles of the Word of God and shows me how God’s truth applies to the situation in which I find myself.
Which brings me to the second picture of what it means to be filled with the Holy Spirit. MacArthur notes that the word “filled” was often used to speak of a wind filling the sail of a ship and carrying it along. Take a look at this
STORY ABOUT SAILING - HOW YOU CANNOT FIGHT THE WIND
I like that video for a couple of reasons. In the first place, to the captain of the ship doesn’t command the wind to blow, he merely surrenders to the wind that is already blowing. That’s me! If I am to be filled with the Spirit, I must surrender to His moving in my life
CATCH THE WIND
But the second reason I like that picture is that when I am sailing, I have to be willing to change direction to catch the wind. See, the wind may blow in this direction one minute and in another direction the next, and I have to be willing to adjust. That’s the picture of being filled with the Spirit! It’s a dynamic thing! God is constantly adjusting our direction and we must be willing to adjust to Him. Find me a Christian who has lost their joy and their power and I’ll find you a Christian who is, more than likely, trying to row the boat where God’s Spirit isn’t blowing.
That’s why I used the word “synchronize” in this point. If we want to be filled with the Spirit we must “synchronize” our wills. Its more than a surrender at the beginning of the day; it’s a constant response to God.
And it starts in your time alone with the Lord when you seek His face through prayer.
You see, if we are to be led by the Holy Spirit, we must have a prayer time which moves us from ignorance to awareness. The truth is, I start out the day not really knowing what the Holy Spirit may want me to do about all the things that face me. But, as I pray, and seek God’s will, the Holy Spirit impresses His Word upon my heart to show me what I should do.
And not only do we need a prayer time that moves us from ignorance to awareness, we need a prayer time that then moves us from awareness to conviction. See, when I finally begin to suspect what God’s might be in a given situation, it may very well be that I don’t’ want to do what I believe He is asking me to do. I may resist. I may think that what God is asking of me is too humiliating or that it doesn’t make sense, or that I don’t have the money, or any number of things. But if that happens to you, don’t worry! That’s what prayer is for! You see, in prayer I wrestle with God until He reaches out like he did when He wrestled with Jacob, and touches my heart until I am changed and I begin to want to do what He’s calling on me to do. Through prayer, the Holy Spirit brings me to a place where I am emotionally willing to do what God is calling me to do. My prayer time moves me from awareness to conviction.
And then that time with God moves me from conviction to obedience. There is this final capitulation where I surrender my will and determine to be obedient to God and when my heart gets lined up with His will, He releases the power of His Spirit into my life. My will gets synchronized with His.
If we want to be filled with God’s Spirit, we must recognize our need of Him and synchronize our wills with His. But last of all, we must
DIVISION 3: SENSITIZE OUR HEARTS TO HIM
There’s just one more little thing I would add to being filled with the Spirit. We kind of hinted at it in that last point, but I want to state it more clearly here. Simply put, those who are constantly being filled by the Spirit are those who are sensitive to the Spirit.
The NIV renders Galatians 5:25 like this: Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. In other words, like the captain of the ship we must keep a steady eye on the sail to determine which way God’s wind is blowing. How do you do that? The Bible gives us a couple of hints.
In the previous chapter of Ephesians Paul wrote, “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit . . .” We grieve the Holy Spirit when we allow sin into our lives. We grieve Him when we knowingly do what we know to be wrong. He is grieved; He is hurt by that. If we are to keep in step with the Spirit, we must be sensitive to our own sin.
Then in 1 Thess. 5:19, we are told that we should not “quench” the Spirit. We quench the Spirit when He leads us to do something specific and we refuse. We quench Him when we are unwilling to obey what He is calling us to do.
Martin Lloyd Jones writes:
Pay careful attention to all His promptings: If ever you feel a sudden desire to read the Word of God, that is the HOly spirit working in you. He is in you, He is prompting you. Obey HIm; go and do it. If you feel called to prayer, go and do it. Stop what you are doing; do not postpone obedience. He has asked you, so let everything be dropped; do what He asks of you.
You may say, “That sounds great, but how am I going to do it? I know that I should obey, but I find it really hard to do? After all, it sounds like I’m going to lose total control of my life.” Well . . . exactly! That’s the whole point. When I am filled with the Spirit, I am under th influence of the Spirit. He is in control. He is calling the shots. It may be scary at times, but can you even imagine what would happen if God’s people started keeping in step with the Spirit?
I must confess that God is still growing me in this area and I have a long long way to go. I have, however, met other pastors who seemed to really “be in step.” When I was a little kid living in Jacksonville, N.C., my dad pastored the “First Church” in that town. We would often go out in the country, however, to this other FWB church which I considered to be “off the chain.” These people shouted and carried on like they really believed their Christianity. These people would have eternal revival services . . . OK, not really eternal, but they just seemed that way to me. On a few occasions I made their pews my bedroom, especially when we’d have “Watchnight” services on New Year’s Services.
I remember the pastor there was named Johnny Floyd. He was pretty strange to my young mind. I remember distinctly one night being outside the front of that little church and Pastor Johnny laying his hands on me and praying for my healing because I had a cold. This guy didn’t care what you thought and he really believed in the power of God. And he seemed to listen to the Holy Spirit.
In the sovereignty of God, my first staff position was as a Music and Youth pastor with a relative of his named Winford Floyd. One day I was riding with Winford and he started talking about Johnny. He told me that one time he had a revival with Johnny. He said it was the most unusual thing, not because of their revival services. I don’t even remember him saying how they went. What I can’t forget is the stories he told me about Johnny being willing to do whatever the Holy Spirit told Him to do, whenever He told him to do it. He told me that one day they were just riding down the road and Johnny said, “Winford, pull in right here. The Lord wants me to talk to whoever is in that house.” Winford thought he was crazy. He didn’t have any idea who lived in the house and felt very awkward. Still, he screeched to a halt, turned around, and pulled in. Johnny went boldly up to the door, struck up a conversation, and led the lady to faith in Christ. Folks, that’s knee jerk obedience to the Holy Spirit. Most of us, me included, have never and may never do something like that, and I’m not saying that we necessarily should. What I am saying is that keeping in step with the Spirit means giving up moment-by-moment control to the Spirit.
When Bro Winford first told me that story, I was deeply convicted. To be honest, I knew that, if it had been me, I probably would not have even had that impression, much less turned the car around. But that really is the point. I’m not arguing here for some new outlandish approach to evangelism that has us randomly accosting people in their homes because of some impression we have. What I am saying is that all of us, me included need to allow the Holy Spirit to sensitize our hearts so that we are willing, in the moment to obey the Holy Spirit.
And what happens when we do?
WE HAVE JOY
A college-aged Christian named Angie wrote of her encounter with an international student just before Christmas, 2006:
I had a divine appointment on the flight from Chicago to Lincoln sitting next to a 19-year-old Saudi Arabian guy, Ali, who was on his way to begin at the University here in Lincoln…. As soon as I heard that he'd never been in the U.S. before and was from the Middle East, I felt Jesus tugging at my heart. (By the way, in case you’re wondering, that was the Holy Spirit!) After a little chit chat about his feelings about being so far from home and asking what he knew about American culture or life in Nebraska, I told him I was a follower of Jesus. I asked about his spiritual background. I told him that he'd probably meet a number of people in Nebraska who are Christians, and said it'd probably be helpful to understand a little of where they're coming from. I pulled out the 4 [Spiritual] Laws and read through each point with him….
We talked a little bit more, and then I went to read my book. He went back to the booklet and read it cover to cover! I could hardly concentrate, I was so excited. I prayed for him as he was reading it, thankful to have been reminded this morning in the Word that God is the one who works, convicting people of their need for him. After he finished reading, I asked him what he thought, and he said it was very interesting.
As we landed I told him I'd pray for him…then (the Holy Spirit moved again.) I was convicted that I should do it right there. Scary!!! What would this Muslim think? I asked if I could pray for him, and he immediately said yes. At the baggage claim I went over and met his cousin and invited them both to an American culture event: Christmas Eve service at our church! We'll see!
Listen to how she closed the letter: This is why I love being a Christian—it's heart-pounding-scary at times and exhilarating when I see someone that I know Jesus wants to come to him, and I have the choice to step out in faith or stay in security.
And the more you step out in obedience and see God, by His Spirit take control in many situations, you receive great confidence in God. You gain the current confidence that flows from the future hope and practical guidance that is made possible through the constant presence of God.
May I try to show you how this relates to joy? A few weeks ago, someone came to me and suggested a change in our staff which, at first, I was a little hurt by. Basically, it meant a shift of my duties. I would no longer be administering the staff. Instead, I would While it wasn’t given to me in a negative way at all, it was hard for me not to feel like I had failed. It also felt like I was losing control, but at the same time, I knew that what I had been told was really right. So, I decided that I needed to surrender to the way that the Holy Spirit seemed to be leading.TONY TALKING TO ME ABOUT THE NEED FOR EXEC PASTOR - HURT BY THE NEED FOR IT - FELT LIKE LOSING CONTROL - CONTROL VERY IMP TO ME - SURRENDERED, HAD PEACE, BUT NOT REAL CONFIDENCE - PRAYING, READING - CHURCH PLANTING THE ANSWER, ALL OF A SUDDEN HAD A FLOOD OF JOY . . . CONFIDENCE THAT THIS WAS WHAT GOD WANTED - WENT DOWNSTAIRS - WORK OUT - CHURCH PLANTER FROM ASIA BEGAN TALKING TO ME.
STRUGGLING - UNHPPY, DEPRESSED - WHAT YOU NEED IS NOT MORE CONTROL OF YOUR LIFE, BUT LESS - GIVE UP THE CONTROL TO THE HOLY SPIRIT - RECOGNIZE YOUR NEED, SYNCHRONIZE YOUR WILL, SENSITIZE YOUR HEART.