Are you hungering for something? Do you feel an emptiness? Have you tried to satiate your hunger and fill that emptiness with things offered by this world? And how is that working for you?
In jail ministry, I meet women every week who were hungering for something and longing to fill an emptiness they felt. They tried to satisfy those needs with all kinds of things offered by this world, like alcohol, prescription drugs, illegal drugs, gambling, theft, sex -- the list goes on. The methods were different, but the results were the same. None of those filled that void. Instead of leading to wholeness and satisfaction, they led to destruction and despair. And in their cases, to the Hamilton County Jail.
But I don't have to go to the jail to find people who have, in a mis-guided attempt to fill that same emptiness, tried in vain to fill it with things offered by this world. Others try to fill that emptiness with work, education, relationships with others, shopping, volunteering, or any number of things -- some even with church. While not necessarily illegal and though they may not lead to prison, those methods are just as ineffective and likewise lead to despair.
In my own life, for years I tried to fill that emptiness with food. When I was sad, I ate. When I was lonely, I ate. When I had something to celebrate, I ate. When I was anxious, I ate. My hunger was physical, as the more I ate, the bigger my appetite and capacity grew. And my hunger was spiritual because after the cake, pie, cookies, pizza, or whatever was consumed, I was still empty in my soul. My attempt to fill that emptiness with food led to despair and destruction -- destruction of my health, my self-image, and relationships as I withdrew from others, ashamed of my own lack of self-control.
While I had professed my faith in Christ at the age of 14, I didn't fully understand or appreciate the opportunity afforded me until well into my 30's. At 30 years old, I had to admit that while I had asked Christ into my heart, I had not yet asked to be filled with the Holy Spirit. I had not yet fully died to my flesh or the desires that come with it. My eternity might have been secured, but my earthly existence hadn't yet been changed by my relationship with Christ.
In Acts 2:37-39, we are assured that upon our conversion, we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. I had it in me because God tells no lies. But there is a difference between the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and being filled with the Holy Spirit.
The difference is found in how much room we surrender to Him to work in our lives. I allowed the Holy Spirit into my life, but I confined Him to just small space. I didn't get rid of much in attempt to make more room. I held on to my fleshly desires (mainly for food and comfort) and my human tendencies to worry, gossip, hold grudges, and lose my temper.
In Ephesians 5:18, we are commanded to be filled with the Holy Spirit. FILLED. I looked up the word "filled," in the dictionary and found these, pertinent to the context of this Scripture.
- to make full; put as much as can be held into:
to fill a jar with water.
- to occupy to the full capacity:
Water filled the basin. The crowd filled the hall.
- to supply to an extreme degree or plentifully:
to fill a house with furniture; to fill the heart with joy.
- to satisfy fully the hunger of; satiate:
The roast beef filled the diners.
- to be plentiful throughout:
Fish filled the rivers.
- to extend throughout; pervade completely:
The aroma filled the room.
By these definitions, if I am filled with the Holy Spirit, then there isn't room for anything else! My emptiness will be filled and my hunger will be satiated!
What's in Your Tank?
It was only when I asked God to help me make room for the Holy Spirit in my life that I was able to appreciate the power available to me. Like a hoarder cleaning house, I asked God to help me let go of the things I held with clenched fists -- the anger, the anxiety, the lust, the bitterness, and every other remnant of my fleshly wickedness.
Eventually, I asked him to rid me of my idolatry. I finally realized (with God's help), that I didn't have a weight problem. I didn't have an eating disorder. I had an idol problem. I worshipped food and turned to food instead of God to fill the emptiness in my life. I turned to food to satisfy not only my physical hunger, but my spiritual hunger. And food came up short every single time.
As I asked God to fill the space recently vacated by all that junk with His Holy Spirit, it was then, and only then, that I experienced completeness in Christ. And it was -- and is -- a wonderful feeling.
When I am filled with Spirit, I enjoy the wonderful fruit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. When filled with the Spirit, I no longer respond to situations from a human perspective -- with anxiety, anger, or hate -- but as Jesus would, with peace, patience, and love. When times are hard, I can have joy. When I am physically tired, I can be spiritually faithful. When the word is harsh, I can be gentle.
And when I feel that temptation to try to revert to my old ways and medicate myself with food, I can exercise self-control by the power of the Holy Spirit.
It's a Process
I know that there are still corners of my life where my human clutter remains. God will only fill as much room as I allow Him to, but I keep trying. I keep consciously taking out the trash, de-cluttering my life, and making more room for Him.
But it isn't always easy and I sometimes move backward. Much like the gas tank of my car, one fill-up will only last so long. I use up fuel with every mile I drive, with every minute I idle, and even some through evaporation. I "use up" the Holy Spirit in my life every day as I struggle to live like Christ, as I serve in ministry, as I sit idle, or even some through evaporation -- time when I'm just not actively seeking to be filled up.
Another way I lose some of the volume of the Spirit in my life is when I displace Him with something else. When I bring clutter and junk back into my life, the Holy Spirit is displaced proportionately. Ultimately, I am going to be led by that which I allow the most space in my life.
Romans 8:5-6 warns us that those who live according to the flesh will have minds set on fleshly desires, but those are led by the Spirit will have minds set on what The Spirit desires. Fleshly desires lead to death and despair, but the Spirit leads us to life and to peace.
And Romans 8:8 further cautions: Those who are in the realm of flesh cannot please God.
I want to please God. I want to be led to life and to peace. I do not want to dwell in death and despair. Therefore, I want to be filled with the Holy Spirit. And I want to be filled with it every second of every minute of every day. I must be consciously focused on that, actively asking God for that measure, and I must be on the lookout for anything that might seek to take room in my life away from God.
In conclusion, I want to share a prayer than I have adopted as a routine in my life. This prayer is my way of asking God to help me get rid of the clutter and to fill me with the Holy Spirit.
- Empty me of me and fill me with your Holy Spirit.
- Empty me of my fleshly desires and fill me with your desires.
- Empty me of my anger and fill me with your love.
- Empty me of my reflex to judge and fill me with your compassion.
- Empty me of anger and fill me with love.
- Empty me of worry and anxiety and fill me with your peace.
- Empty me of selfishness and fill me with your Spirit of kindness.
- Empty me of bitterness and fill me with your joy.
- Empty me of me. Fill me with YOU.
What clutter do you need to take out? How much room have you made for the Holy Spirit in your life?