Almost all of life is about emptying and filling. Hundreds of times each day we fill our lungs with air, then exhale the oxygen depleted breath. We fill our gas tanks only to deplete them and refill them another day. The washing machine runs constantly. And who doesn’t have more month than income?
This principle of emptying and filling is also true of our spiritual walk. God is seeking to fill us with his Spirit, but until we are empty we cannot receive the Spirit as a gift. So one of our tasks as disciples is to create empty spaces in our lives for the Holy Spirit to fill up and live in. The more effective we are at creating these empty spaces, the greater the influence of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
I have noticed in scripture, as well as in life, that this emptying process happens in one of two ways – either gradually or suddenly. (We will talk about suddenly next week.) Emptying through “gradual outpouring” is the normal experience for many Christian people. It is a slow but steady process of spiritual maturity that over time produces remarkable results.
Two biblical examples will suffice. The first is Peter. Actually his name is Simon, but Jesus called him a “rock” (Peter means Rock in Greek). Can you hear the other disciples laughing in their minds when Jesus said this? They knew Peter well and he was certainly anything but a rock! And yet the spiritual interest that Jesus created in Peter continued to grow – ever so slowly, but at the end of his life Peter was exactly the rock that Jesus saw so many years earlier. His growth was measured in small doses with almost a “three steps forward, two steps back approach.” But he did manage to keep moving forward in faith and the Spirit found a good home in his life.
A second example is John. Although John was “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” he was not always very loving – or patient, for that matter. Remember the incident when Jesus and his disciples were traveling through Samaria and they wanted to stay the night in a town. The locals refused to let them stay for they knew they were headed for Jerusalem. When James and John returned they told Jesus of the refusal and suggested a plan of action. Do you remember it? “Lord, should we call down fire from heaven and destroy them?” (Luke 9:54) They were feeling a lot like Elijah, but not much like Jesus! And yet, years later John wrote some letters that earned him the nickname “the apostle of love.” Some of the most eloquent words in scripture about love come from the pen of John. His gradual outpouring produced amazing changes.
If your growth is “nothing remarkable” and you wonder if you are actually making any progress in discipleship, remember that gradual outpouring takes a long time, but it does produce startling results.