Posted by: Brad Stanford | April 13, 2010

Being Filled With The Spirit 101, Part 1

I’ve been asked to blog about the filling of the Spirit. This request came from another blog where I asked the author of a book on the culture of Ephesus at the time of the writing of the book of Ephesians to explain his opinion of Ephesians 5:18, and he could not. He wanted to take all sorts of liberty with Ephesians 5:19, without addressing verse 18.* That’s much like telling someone you know all about making a bowl of rice, except you can’t explain what a bowl is. I went ahead and listed what I understood the filling of the Spirit to be, and someone asked me to elaborate here. So here I go.

Background:

I was raised in a religious setting that taught me next to nothing about the Spirit of God. The first encounter I had with the Spirit was during a Sunday morning class at a very conservative church. I was 17 at the time, and was a really good Pharisee – meaning, I knew all the rules, the “right” answers, and could win scriptural arguments. Also by knowing all the rules, I could manipulate those rules to do as close to what I wanted as possible, without breaking the rules.

This of course, broke the rules. I just didn’t know it yet. At this time, my entire life was based on knowing every last detail about the Bible, so as to not break the rules, and to keep God happy with me.

Anyway, I’m in this class, and we’re reading along about Elijah and the fiery chariot. Here’s the passage from 2 Kings 2:

9When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me, what can I do for you before I am taken from you?”
“Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit,” Elisha replied.
10 “You have asked a difficult thing,” Elijah said, “yet if you see me when I am taken from you, it will be yours—otherwise not.”
11 As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind. 12 Elisha saw this and cried out, “My father! My father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel!” And Elisha saw him no more. Then he took hold of his own clothes and tore them apart.

Most people know this story. I thought I did. But on this day, something caught my eye. In verse 11, we see the arrival of the chariot and horses of fire. By the end of the verse, Elijah is riding to heaven. However there was a detail I hadn’t noticed before. I knew if I went to the teacher’s workroom, I could find the flanelgraph picture of Elijah actually in the chariot of fire, ascending to heaven. I knew because I had been to every service, every VBS (vacation bible school), every camp that I could go to since I was born. I knew all the materials, all the workbooks, even all the puppets from all those years!

What the Scripture actually said was, “…and Elijah went to heaven in a whirlwind.” Could it have been in the chariot? Sure. But at the time, my salvation depended on speaking where the Bible spoke, and being silent where the Bible was silent. (Well, not really, but it sure did sound good, and made for an easy way to talk all those liberal brothers off the progressive ledge.)

So, in that mentality back then, if the Bible spoke to the fact that Elijah went to heaven in a whirlwind, but was silent to whether or not he was in the chariot, AND we were teaching that he was in the chariot, then error was being taught, and error might condemn both the teacher and the listener!

I know. Sounds crazy to some of you. But this is the way of religion that is based on perfect adherence to the law – something Paul said Jesus had fulfilled, and we were no longer under. I didn’t know that yet, either.

So while I was pondering the possible implications of this error, I heard a voice. Now it is very important to remember that I had actually argued down people who tried to claim that God told them things. I was not in the mindset of looking for God at all. In fact, I had God in a tiny box, He was on my team, and I was invincible, according to me. Most often it came out as arrogance. Which it was. But understand that hearing the voice of God as far as I was concerned was no longer possible.

So the voice says to me, “What other errors are there in your beliefs?” This unsettled me greatly, and I immediately understood the implications. My next thought was, “But that means I’ll have to start all over and learn everything from scratch!” The voice replied, “Sounds good to me!”

Now, the first question people have is, “How do you know it wasn’t your own voice?” First, I had decided around age fifteen that being honest with yourself was super-important. Deceiving others was one thing. Deceiving yourself led to insanity, and I did not want to become insane. So I took great efforts to make sure I didn’t fool myself. I knew what it sounded like in my head when I was trying to justify my actions, or encourage myself to do something. This was not that voice.

Secondly, This voice responded faster than the speed of my own thoughts. With my own thoughts, there is a slight delay between the emotion of the thought, and the application of words to the thought. There was no such delay here.

Lastly, it was telling me things that messed up the entire underpinnings of my belief system. If I was trying to self-actualize, I would’ve continued on the religious path that was already working for me.

Even at the time, I didn’t think of it as the Spirit, or the Voice Of God, because that was outside my belief system. I simply thought I had uncovered error that needed to be corrected, and ignored the implications of the voice.

That was my introduction to the Spirit’s activity: revelation about Scripture, conviction, and direct teaching about it.

Notice, too, that the implications were personal. The methodology of Elijah’s ascension hardly gives me insight on what I need to do day to day. But the Spirit’s direct teaching about the passage informed me how the passage directly applied to me, and all of its implications, complete with a call to repentance.

That was the start of it all, twenty years ago.

Small steps:

Little things started happening. Early in my married life, I was going for a job interview at Circuit City. This was before Google Maps, and GPS, so I had to find the store the old fashioned way: drive to where the address should be and look around. I was at a stoplight, and I closed my eyes to pray, “God – needing some help here. Please show me where this place is.” I opened my eyes to see a giant Circuit City delivery truck pulling through the intersection. I promptly thanked God for His deliverance, even in my small situation.

Multiply that situation by 100, and that’s what I experienced as God drew me into the truth about how His Spirit was directly involved in the lives of His children.

But as I pursued these things, there was no one in the conservative religion I was in to mentor me. In fact, testimony about direct Spirit intervention was sometimes considered heresy! It finally came down to either pursuing God, or keeping friends and extended family happy. Thankfully, this had been decided in advance in Acts 4:19:

But Peter and John replied, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God.”

That’s the decision that faces every believer who is called out of religion by God, and into the life of the Spirit. When Satan sees you waking up, you become a threat, and he will send a detachment to put you back to sleep. The people most important to you will try to keep you from pursuing the truth. You will be told you are apostate and headed to hell, and you will have to go anyway. Conservative brothers will blame you for being arrogant, referring to yourself as awake as if everyone else is asleep. It is not easy, nor fun.

But you will find life and to the full!

What I will be covering:

All I can tell you is what I have studied and what I have experienced. There is no twelve-step program to getting filled with the Spirit. There is a relationship, and a calling, and because of those, God will fill you to accomplish what He has designed you to accomplish.

So how will you know when you’re being filled with the Spirit? This is one of those questions where asking ten people will yield twelve answers. I do think there are some common experiences, though, and I’d like to try and cover them in the next few posts. The list goes something like this:

  • Positioning yourself: hearing God’s voice outside of the noise
  • Obedience to the whisper: a prerequisite
  • Deep insight into Scripture: when passages leap into your heart
  • Powerful and bold witness: how the kingdom actually spreads
  • Overflowing joy: the thing that makes others go hmm
  • Conquering longtime or powerful sin: emptying yourself to be filled again
  • Extra sensitivity to good and evil in people or a situation: it’s like seeing for the first time
  • Favor from others, especially worldly people: leaving Egypt
  • Understanding details about others we don’t know: stuff at the edges of the kingdom
  • Visions and dreams: seeing the end of the story first

I consider this a good list for a 101 level introduction. These are things that are pretty universal, and most likely will not cause confusion to mustard-seed faith.

When I first mentioned about being able to hear God to some very loving Christian friends of mine at the time, they were very concerned. In fact, at one point, one person asked me, “What…is it some big booming voice or something?” This is a sentence from someone who has never been taught how to hear God. If you begin to hear God’s voice for the first time, and you are surrounded by people who have never heard Him, you are going to be a threat. You might even have to change churches to find a mature Christian who can walk this out with you, rather than being surrounded by stumbling blocks. Somewhere, someone is praying for God to bring them someone to raise up to the next level in their faith. You might be that person they’ve been praying for.

Understand, too, that there are extended wilderness episodes as you learn to wait on the Lord. But let me encourage you right now: don’t come before the Lord with disappointment about His timetable. Be ever ready to receive the blessing. Think of waiting as drawing a bowstring to fire an arrow straight up. If you want to know what it’s like in the heavenlies, you’re going to have to let Him draw the bow way back. If He releases the arrow too soon, there is no tension, and the arrow falls to the ground.

And that other concept: tension. Be prepared for all sorts of tension between you and the enemy, you and your family, you and your friends (especially religious ones), and you and God. Yep, even God. Here’s what that looks like:

You: God, please fill me with your Spirit.
God: OK. Here’s your mission
You: I didn’t ask for a mission
God: Yes you did. Now here’s your first problem.
You: What? I didn’t ask for that either!
God: Yes, you did. I distinctly heard you say, “Fill me with Your Spirit.”
You: Well, yeah, but…hey ow this hurts!
God: I know. Growing pains hurt.
You: Growing pains I’ve had, put you’re tearing me limb from limb!
God: Not yet. Just trust and believe.
You: I don’t know how! That’s why I need to be filled!
God: Please keep your arms and legs inside the adventure at all times.
You: Ahhhhhhaiyeeeeeeahhhhh!
God: [looks at you and smiles with His hands in the air]
You: [green-colored, attempting to hold your stomach down]
God: [whispering into your ear] I am God here, too.
You: [manage to get one eye open to see how calm God is. You get your first taste of His peace. You are hooked.]

The ride ends, and God looks at you shivering in fetal position. He says, “That was fun! Ask me again!”

Or something like that. :^)

Are you up for it? Because you can’t just try it. This is all or nothing. If you want to know why the Bible is boring, preachers are boring, Sunday classes are disappointing, and the joy of the Lord is just a song and not a lifestyle, then join me for a little thing God likes to call “Life to the fullest”.

*Update: The author in question mentioned at the top has since explained about why he refused to answer: he’s a very private person, and doesn’t like to reveal much about himself to others, except in small group settings. While I somewhat understand the privacy side, I do not understand the desire to keep ones beliefs about core doctrines private, especially when publishing a book that contains statements about those doctrines, with the conclusion that the rest of the church should pay attention to those statements. If you’re going to assume authority to interpret a set of passages for the entire Church, you should be ready at all times to not only clarify your thoughts, but to explain why you have the authority to tell the church what to do.

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Responses

  1. Brad,

    This is incredible stuff. This is the exact kind of thing I need to be reading and studying, because it is way out of my comfort zone. Thanks so much for this series…looking forward to the next post!

  2. I am really excited, when is the next post?

  3. Loved hearing your personal story. I love the way God says only a few words and it turns our whole world around. And loved the dialogue between you and God. The drama queen in me wants to put it on stage. Thanks for inviting us into your brain.

  4. Good stuff. Remember though, you knew the Bible well before the Spirit moved on you. Some of us need to dive back in to the word. The more of the Word that we read the clearer the “Still Small Voice” becomes. Remember when computers were the way of the future and the teachers all reminded us GIGO. I Love You Brother.

  5. So excited to see you on this journey. To add to your experiences in the spirit – there is always an overwhelming sense of WOW!! There have been times I could no longer stand yet many times I have no choice because his presence is so strong. I didn’t speak in tongues right away but knew it was to follow so when I had corbin pray for me is when that started and wow – so good to see scripture and then see it in my life.

    Keep going brother. You are so encouraging to the body. Never stop seeking.

  6. Chuck: I hope to post another installment this weekend.

    Arcy: I think “knowing” the Bible is a little too gracious. :^) I knew the words, but it took the Spirit to make sense of them.

    MD: Indeed, you know something is going on when the Spirit moves! That’s when you look back at scripture and say, “Oh! That’s what God meant!”

  7. Thanks Brad


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