Ep.322: Full of the Spirit.

Hello, I’m Daniel Westfall on the channel “Pray With Me”.

In Ephesians 5, Paul says, “Don’t get drunk on wine. Instead, be filled with the Spirit” (Eph 5:18). I’ve never found a satisfactory explanation of what it means to “be filled with the Spirit”, but in this passage, Paul gives a couple hints. 

His first hint contrasts spirit-fullness with drunkenness.

In Shakespeare’s play MacBeth, McDuff wakes a sleeping porter late in the morning. The porter says he’s tired because he caroused and drank until the rooster crowed. Drink, he said, provokes nose-painting, urine, and lechery. “Lechery it provokes and unprovokes,” he says. “It provokes the desire but takes away the performance” (MacBeth, Act 2 Scene 1). 

I’m not competent to comment on the porter’s view of alcohol and sex, but parts of it line up with Paul’s view that drunkenness leads to debauchery. Clearly, Paul doesn’t condone carousing until the rooster crows. He suggests a lifestyle of being filled with the Spirit.  

Paul’s contrast between spirit-fullness and drunkenness, contains a second hint, because it’s not just a contrast, it’s also a comparison. To be drunk is to be “full of wine” in a way that influences attitudes and behavior. Being full of the Spirit also influences behavior. It prompts music in your heart, music in community, and constant thanksgiving to God. As Paul puts it, “Be filled with the Spirit and speak to each other in psalms and hymns and spirit-songs. Make music from your heart to God. Always give thanks to God” (Eph 5:19-20). 

But what about the vexing question of how to be filled with the Spirit? Some groups say it occurs when you are born again. Others say it happens when you first speak in tongues. Others suggest it occurs when you submit fully to Jesus as Lord of your life. 

As for me, I don’t see much of a connection between such experiences and the positive habits of heart-music and thanksgiving Paul proposes. I see spirit-fullness as a lifelong journey. As I empty myself of wine and greed and lechery, I make room for the Spirit, who fills me with himself. 

Let’s pray. 

Our father, I like music in my heart and music in the community and a settled attitude of thanksgiving. Empty my heart of anxiety and swearing and the songs of debauchery, and fill me with spirit-music and love for community. 

Amen. 

I’m Daniel, on the channel “Pray with Me”.  

YouTube channel: Pray with Me – YouTube

Ep.321: The True Light.

Hello, I’m Daniel Westfall on the channel “Pray With Me”.

In Ephesians 5, Paul says, “Live as children of the light. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness” (Eph 5:8-11). 

The James Webb Space Telescope, which started looking into deep space last year, has a heat and light reflecting structure the size of a tennis court. This prevents sunlight and heat from interfering with its view of the universe. 

Paul suggests the opposite for Christians. He recommends facing into the light of Jesus and living as children of the light. “Have nothing to do with deeds of darkness” he says. Do not focus on the deep space of depravity and sin. Orient yourself toward God!” 

John the gospel writer said of Jesus, “In him was life, and that life was the light of humankind. The light shone in the darkness, and the darkness did not understand it” (John 1:4-5). People who met Jesus didn’t understand him. Something like me trying to understand Einstein’s theory of relativity. I just don’t have the smarts to process it. The light of science shines brightly, but somehow it doesn’t illuminate my darkness. 

In one of my favorite verses, Paul says this about God’s work of creation: “God who said, Let light shine out of darkness made his light shine in our hearts” (2 Cor 4:6). God had to do a new work of creation to put the light of Christ in my heart. 

The New Testament has three statements that tell us who God is. It says, “God is spirit”, “God is love”, and “God is light”. Because of this, those who worship God must worship in spirit and truth. Those who follow God must love as he loved. And those who serve God must walk in his light. In my better moments, I heed those expectations. 

But the call is not so pressing when I wake up, lazy and warm in bed, reluctant to face the day. Shall I sleep in? Skip morning exercises? Bypass morning prayers? Sip a leisurely cup of coffee while doomscolling the internet? 

Paul delivers a stinging rebuke: “Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you” (Eph 5:14). An odd instruction—”rise from the dead!” Looks like I have a choice: wake up, rise from my dark deadness, and move into the light of Christ. I do wake up eventually, but I’m pretty sure the effort I exert rates low on the scale of “Rise from the dead.” 

Let’s pray. 

O father, when you said, “Let there be light”, you swept away the darkness. Not long ago you said to my heart, “Let there be light”, and Christ shone on me. But ever since I vascillate between my old darkness and Christ’s light. 

Teach me to reject the deeds of darkness. Teach me to come to the light. Let this be my experience: that darkness is passing and the true light is already shining (1 Jn 2:8). 

Amen. 

I’m Daniel, on the channel “Pray with Me”.  

YouTube channel: Pray with Me – YouTube

Ep.320: Fake It Till You Make It?

Hello, I’m Daniel Westfall on the channel “Pray With Me”.

In Ephesians 5, Paul says, “Imitate God, as dearly loved children” (Eph 5:1). Imitate God? Mimic him?  Maybe? 

Oscar Wilde said, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery that mediocrity can pay to greatness.” Sounds like me, using my mediocrity to imitate God’s love and forgiveness. I doubt my feeble imitations flatter God.

Less cynically, and closer to Paul’s point, George Bernard Shaw said, “Imitation is not just the sincerest form of flattery . . . it’s the sincerest form of learning.”

I like that. I learn about forgiveness when I try to forgive others. I learn about healing when I try to restore broken relationships. I learn about holiness when I try to step away from obscenity, foolish talk, greed, and immorality (Eph 5:3-5).

In the last 1,500 years, the most popular and widely used devotional book is The Imitation of Christ, by Thomas a Kempis. Listen to how he begins:

He that follows me shall not walk in darkness, says the Lord. These . . . words . . . teach us how far we must imitate His life and character, if we seek true illumination, and deliverance from . . . blindness of heart. Let it be our most earnest study, therefore, to dwell upon the life of Jesus Christ.    

Thomas a Kempis

Yes. To Thomas a Kempis, following Jesus is to imitate his life and character. 

And when CS Lewis was on his unintended journey toward Christianity, he discovered he needed to move beyond mere philosophy. He said there was “something to be neither more nor less nor other than done. An attempt at complete virtue must be made.” Though he had yet to believe in God or Christ, he began his imitation of God as an attempt at virtue.  

He continues, “For the first time I examined myself with a serious practical purpose. And there I found what appalled me; a zoo of lusts, a bedlam of ambitions, a nursery of fears, a hareem of fond hatreds. My name was legion.” (CS Lewis, Surprised by Joy, Chapter XIV: Checkmate”). 

Or, as Paul says in Ephesians 5, “Among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or impurity, or greed” (v. 3).  

It was a long road ahead for CS Lewis. It’s a long road ahead for us. 

Let’s pray.

Our father, we want to become holy and loving and forgiving like you. Give us grace to shun the evil that clings to us—resentment, envy, sexual obsessions. Give us grace to imitate you in holy thoughts, in loving speech, and in gracious living. 

Supervise and guide us so we may soon grow to be like you. May we not “fake it till we make it”, but may we grow in the new life you gave us. 

Amen. 

I’m Daniel, on the channel “Pray with Me”.  

YouTube channel: Pray with Me – YouTube

Ep.319: Religion or Relationship?

Hello, I’m Daniel Westfall on the channel “Pray With Me”.

Growing up as a conservative evangelical, I often heard that “Christianity is not a religion, it’s a relationship.”  

But Paul in Ephesians 4 doesn’t make that point. Listen to the list of dos and don’ts in the religion he teaches:
    Put off falsehood.
    Speak truthfully.
    Stop stealing.
    Get to work.
    Share your earnings
    Don’t blather on uselessly.
    Say something helpful.
          (Eph 4:25-29) 

Sounds to me like a religion—a list of rules to guide our speech and actions. 

Eventually, though, Paul does get relational when he says, Don’t grieve the Holy Spirit (Eph 4:30).  

Then he promptly resumes his list:
    Get rid of bitterness, rage, anger, brawling, slander, and malice.
        (Eph 4:31)

So what is Paul’s model for a Christian life? In this passage, the obvious way to not  grieve the Spirit is to keep all the rules. Is Paul saying our job as Christians is to make God happy by toeing the line, by obeying his laws? 

Is this what they mean when they say Christianity is a relationship, not a religion? 

A different way to approach this passage is to start at the center and work our way out. At the center is the statement, “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption” (Eph 4:30). 

A personal relationship differs from rules because a relationship wants me to be concerned about someone else’s feelings, not just their behavior. A relationship requires me to work with others, to know others, to share something of life with them.  

I can keep rules with the attitude, “I’ll do it because I want to, not because you tell me to.” I can build relationships with an attitude that says, “Yeah, it’s tough to share your values, but I’m willing to learn.” 

A relationship is more than the sum of its rules, more than a collection of acceptable behaviors. Many people keep the same rules I do about stealing, lying, adultery, and murder. But I neither have nor want a relationship with most of those people. Like Anne of Green Gables, I want kindred spirits, not just other humans.

Paul tells me that Christ lives in me. Have I developed a kindred spirit with him, a relationship that doesn’t grieve his Spirit? I want the Spirit to be at peace in me, not restless because I violate his goals and values. 

Let’s pray. 

Our father, do I need a relationship app to improve my interactions with you? Or are there already too many people surfing dating sites and lists of rules in hopes of finding a a relationship? 

O Spirit of God who lives in me, make my heart alive to your movements and your moods. I want to know when I grieve you. I want to know when you approve. I want to be a kindred spirit with you. 

Amen. 

I’m Daniel, on the channel “Pray with Me”.  

YouTube channel: Pray with Me – YouTube

Ep.318: A New Wardrobe.

Hello, I’m Daniel Westfall on the channel “Pray With Me”.

In Ephesians 4 Paul says we need a new wardrobe. Not furniture, as in “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe”, but clothes as in “chuck out your grubbies and give yourself a new look.” 

Or, to quote Paul,
    Take off your old self, which is being corrupted by deceitful desires;
        be made new in the spirit of your mind, and
    put on the new self, created to be like God in righteousness and holiness.”
              (Eph 4:22-24)

I’ve always been nervous about shopping for clothes. And Paul makes me even more nervous when he talks about clothes. He doesn’t suggest updating my wardrobe. He suggests updating me. He tells me to ditch my old self, the way I trash old running shoes and old jeans. He tells me to put on a new self.

Old self, new self? Does Paul think I have two personalities? Am I like “Malcolm in the Middle”–sometimes an unruly, snarky, ego-driven teenager, and at other times intelligent and mature? 

Paul says, Take off the old frayed self! But that person is not so easily discarded. I’ve found it’s way easier to discard bits of my frayed wardrobe than to discard the frayed bits of me.   

Paul is not finished.

He says, Be renewed in the spirit of your mind (Eph 4:23). My mind is the part of me that thinks and feels and believes, so the spirit of my mind must be my underlying disposition, the tenor of heart I bring to mind. 

And what spirit do I bring? Do I bring an open mind, ready to receive and meditate on God’s word, ready to hear and obey? Or do I bring a spirit of distracted busyness or dismissive rejection or outright unbelief? 

My new self sends my cynicism and unbelief to the laundry; and approaches life with hope and faith. It’s a new way of thinking and feeling, a new spirit of mind, a new self.

This new self is not simply a better behaved version of my old self. It’s not just new clothes on an old body. Rather, it’s a new way of approaching at life, a new attitude, a new person living in my old body. When my new self becomes fully and properly dressed, the pointing fingers will no longer say, “The emperor has no clothes!” 

Let’s pray. 

Our father, I wish the Christian life were as easy as a change of clothes. Then I could donate my worn garments to Value Village, and shop at Eddy Bauer. 

But when I buy new clothes, they always look like my old ones. Why do I choose practical, drab, conventional garments? I don’t know how to dress fashionably. I don’t know how to look like a new man. 

O father, renew the spirit of my mind, give me the gift of your spirit. Help me see my poor fashion choices–the conspiracy theories and cynicism and unbelief I wear. Help me receive a new wardrobe, in the fashion of your kingdom. The belt of truth, the shirt of righteousness, shoes of peace, hat of salvation, and shield of faith (Eph 6:14-16). Help me become a well-dressed man.

Amen. 

I’m Daniel, on the channel “Pray with Me”.  

YouTube channel: Pray with Me – YouTube