The Effectual Christian
These past five years, two of my three children have married. Today, we are blessed with an amazing daughter-in-law and son-in-law. It has been a joy to participate in these events and watch the new couples’ budding love for one another.
With all of this, I found myself reminiscing on the days leading up to my marriage. Like many couples, my husband Bob and I went to pre-marital counseling at our church. As one of our activities, the pastor had us select a verse that would guide our marriage. We selected Ephesians 5:15-17 “Be very careful then, how you live – not as unwise, but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is."
Well, not very romantic for sure. But it reflected my personality then and now. You see I’ve always been a very results-oriented person. And this verse suited me, since I saw “making the most of every opportunity” in verse 15. It wasn’t until years later that I noticed the end of the sentence in verse 17—"but understand what the Lord’s will is.”
Doing good works is a good thing, or so we think. I’ve led Bible Studies, taught Sunday School, prayed for people, studied the Bible, attended church and sought Christian fellowship. I’ve done all the works appropriate with Christian faith. Yet I cannot tell you how many times I’ve walked the walk, done the work, and yet had no impact on the lives of those around me. I’ve asked myself, what am I doing wrong? I want to be ‘salt’ and ‘light’, I want to be used by God, but found myself ineffective. Well, you can imagine for a results-oriented individual, this really bothered me.
A few years ago, I led a Sunday School class on the Holy Spirit. While I knew about the Holy Spirit from my studies over the years, I found I got as much out of the class (maybe more) than the folks who attended. There were 3 things that stuck with me in particular.
First, the Holy Spirit is my constant companion and counselor. He guides me into righteousness and makes it possible for me to please God through my life. This was an important reminder to me that God’s presence is with me 24x7 and that His input and direction was available whenever I needed it. It was never a question of whether God wanted me to be filled with the Holy Spirit. He does. But rather, how much of me does the Holy Spirit have?
Second, busy-ness is the enemy to godliness in today’s culture. It seems we all march from one task to another. It is difficult to slow down and listen to the prompting of the Spirit and even harder to respond and act on that prompting. It is not easy to spend time in God’s word. It is inconvenient to stop and pray. So slowing down, reading God’s word and prayer have to become intentional and essential disciplines of our lives. We can’t hear God’s leading, if we aren’t making time with God a priority.
And, third, God desires for his children to know his will and act on it. When we think about how Jesus described his followers, we see “salt” of the earth (Matthew 5:13), light of the world (Matthew 5:14), Jesus’ sheep (John 10:14), branches on the vine (John 15:5), and even Jesus’ friends (John 15:14-15). Why did Jesus pick these descriptions? Well, possibly by being salt and light, we are meant to make a difference in the world we live in. By being sheep and a branch on the vine, we are meant to live dependent on Christ. And as friends, we are meant to understand Gods will.
Think about that—as Christians we are commanded to keep on being filled with the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:18). This is the same Holy Spirit who knows the mind of God. In 1 Corinthians 2: 10-11, it says “The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man’s spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.” So, we have in us the very Spirit who knows the thoughts of God.
So, let’s look again at Ephesians 5:15-17, but this time in context of the verses around it. Leading up to these verses, we see in verses 1-2, “Be imitators of God . . . and live a life of love.” And then in verses 3-7, that to have an inheritance in God’s kingdom, we have to do away with immorality, impurity, and greed. In verses 8-13, we are reminded again that we are “children of light” and verse 9 says the fruit of the light consists of goodness, righteousness and truth and that we are to find out what pleases God. Next, we come to verses 15-17, “Be careful then how you live . . . as wise men, making the most of every opportunity . . . understanding what the Lord’s will is.” And finally in verses 18-20, we are reminded to be filled with the Spirit, always giving thanks to God.
Today, when I read Ephesians 5:15-17, I see a different meaning. “Living wisely and making the most of every opportunity” is not about living a results-oriented life in my power. It’s about being an imitator of God and about being light to the world through my character and the message of salvation.
Also, “understanding the Lord’s will” is about being filled with the Spirit and spending time in God’s Word and in His presence. Notice that it doesn’t say ‘know’ the Lord’s will. There is a difference. When your boss at work asks you to complete a task for him, you begin by knowing the basics of what he/she wants. But most of us will go a step further and ask for clarification. Why do you need this done? What do you hope to see as a result of this change? When do you need it by? This delving deeper helps us to understand more fully the task. In the same way, we are being asked not just to know God’s will, but to dig deep and understand the heart and mind of God’s will.
To summarize, we can do works in our will and strength or we can do things in God’s will in submission to His Holy Spirit. One of the things I’ve learned in the study of the Holy Spirit, is that the Christian walk is not one of might and self-determination, but one of submission. Zechariah 4:6 says “Not by might nor by power, but by My spirit.” This revelation has been truly freeing, as my results-oriented persona is slowly giving way to spiritual obedience.
Today as we set forth to consider what direction we are going to take in the future, we should begin by listening. As my pastor once shared—we need to find a comfortable chair where we commune with and listen to God. I would imagine as we make plans for our respective ministries, our hope is that lives will be impacted. That non-believers will find the truth and commit their lives to God. That believers will grow in their spiritual maturity and bear fruit. That our worship will be pleasing to God.
But we need to remember that when works are done in our own power and in our own will they are destined to be just that—the effort of man. It is only when we listen to the prompting of the Holy Spirit, that we really find out what God’s direction is. It is only then that we will be empowered to bear much fruit and impact lives around us.
Let us pray -
Lord God, forgive us for our willfulness and determination to follow man-made agendas. I pray that we will live with purpose and direction that finds its source in You and that our paths will be firmly planted in goodness, righteousness and truth. I pray that you will guide us as we search to understand Your will. Fill us, O Lord, with your Holy Spirit, that our lives may be pleasing to you. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.