How Can We Be Clothed with Power?
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with might through his Spirit in the inner man, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have power to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fulness of God. Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, for ever and ever. Amen.
God Gives Special Power for Witness
The point of last week's message was that God gives special power, extraordinary power, for the extraordinary challenges of an expanding witness to Christ.
Luke 24, "You are witnesses . . . but stay in the city, until you are clothed with power from on high." Power from on high will be essential for the expanding witness of world missions.
Acts 1:8, "And you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth." The power is essential for the challenges of an ever-expanding witness to Christ.
"Filled with the Holy Spirit"
This extraordinary power fell upon the Christians at Pentecost. It says in Acts 2:4 that they were "filled with the Holy Spirit." And this power, this unusual fullness came upon the church and its messengers again and again in the early church for the special challenges of witnessing to Christ.
- Acts 4:8, "Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit," spoke to the rulers of the people. And they saw the boldness with which he spoke (v. 13).
- Acts 4:31, "And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken and they were all filled with the Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness."
- Acts 6:5, 10, Stephen was full of the Holy Spirit and faith and the Jews could not withstand the wisdom with which he spoke.
- Acts 7:55, "Stephen filled with Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God."
- Acts 11:24, Barnabas was full of the Holy Spirit and faith; and a large company was added to the Lord.
- Acts 13:9, "Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at Elymas and said . . . "
"Filled with All the Fullness of God"
And not only the book of Acts, the letters of Paul talk of this same extraordinary power available to Christians. For example, here in Ephesians 3:16 Paul prays that "according to the riches of his glory he might grant you to be strengthened [empowered!] with might through his Spirit in the inner man . . . " And in verse 19 he prays that we would be "filled with all the fullness of God." And in verse 21 he says that God "by the power at work within us is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think."
In other words there is an extraordinary power available to believers, a power that can accomplish far more than we ordinarily think or imagine. It comes by the Spirit. It accords with the riches of God's glory. It is the very fullness of God, as unimaginable as that sounds.
Revival and Witness to Christ
And I tried to show in the STAR this week that when God sovereignly pours that kind of power out on a church, we call it revival. And God's purpose in such a revival is that our witness to Christ will have more conviction, more courage, more wisdom, and more effect, so that God is greatly glorified as more and more peoples are reached and more and more people are added to the Lord.
Now the question is: what should we do? Does the Bible teach us that there is a way to seek this power, or that there is a way to prepare ourselves to receive it? The answer is yes and in the few minutes we have I want to show you four ways to seek this power.
Four Ways to Seek the Power of the Holy Spirit
1. Immerse Yourself in the Word of God, the Bible
It is almost certain that you will not be filled with the power of the Holy Spirit if you are not filled with the Word of God.
Why do I think this?
1.1. Acts 1:8 and Luke 24:48f. teach that the power is given for effective witness. And we witness primarily with the Word of God. There is no reason to think that God will ignite the powder of his Spirit if you don't load your rifle with the bullet of the Word.
1.2. Luke 4:14 says that Jesus returned from the wilderness full of the Holy Spirit. And how had he fought the devil with power in the wilderness? Every time he was attacked he answered, "It is written." And he quoted Scripture. Jesus was full of the Spirit because he was full of the Word of God.
1.3. In John 6:63 Jesus said, "It is the Spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail; the words that I have spoken to you are Spirit and life." The words of Jesus are the voice and life-giving power of the Spirit. If we don't hear his words, we don't receive his power.
1.4. In Ephesians 6:17 Paul says that we should put on the whole armor of God including "the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God." If you want the Spirit to come mightily upon you so that you can defeat the principalities and powers, then you must take his sword, the Word of God. He will not fight without his sword.
1.5. In 1 John 2:14 John says, "I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have conquered the evil one." They are strong, powerful; they have conquered the most powerful enemy, Satan. How? The Word of God abides in them. If you don't lay up the Word of God within you, there will be no power, and no victory. (See also Hebrews 4:12 and Jeremiah 23:29.)
If you want the power of the Holy Spirit in your life, if you are tired of being a weak replica of ordinary non-Christians, then change your routine and immerse yourself in the Word of God. Read it, think about it, memorize it, use it.
I remember hearing a seminary teacher say how he was shamed when he saw Muslims memorizing page after page of the Koran while he tossed off his devotions with ten minutes of superficial reading.
The first way to seek the power of the Holy Spirit is to immerse yourself in the Word of God.
2. Believe the Word of God
Let me be more specific. Trust that God intends to do wonderful things for his glory through you because that is what the Bible teaches. Be expectant that the Holy Spirit within you will give you power according to God's Word.
Now why do I think that faith is the way to seek the power of the Holy Spirit?
2.1. In Galatians 3:5 Paul says, "Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith?" Answer: by the hearing with faith. Hearing what? The Word of God. The promises of God. The good guidance of God.
For example, you change your routine and set aside an hour to be with God in the Word before work. You get alone and immerse yourself in the book of Ephesians for an hour. The Lord impresses on your mind especially 1:12 that we who first hoped in Christ have been destined and appointed to live for the praise of his glory. And 3:20 that by the power at work in us he is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think.
Then you head off to work. During the day the natural occasion arises to speak a word of testimony to the praise of God's glory. But you feel weak. Two things can now happen.
One, the Word of God comes back to you—this is what you are alive for—the praise of his glory—and he is not weak; he can do far more than I can dream. It's his power at work in me.
The other thing that can happen is that in this critical moment you can believe the Word of God. Trust that God intends to do wonderful things for his glory through you. Be expectant that the Holy Spirit within you will give you power according to God's Word.
And when you believe, this belief becomes the channel of God's Spirit. God supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you by the hearing of faith . . . when you believe the Word of God with eager expectation.
2.2. In Romans 15:13 Paul says, "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope." Notice the phrase "IN BELIEVING." May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace IN BELIEVING. In other words by believing in God and his Word, we are filled with joy and peace. And then it says, "so that by the power of the Spirit you may abound in hope." In other words, the power of the Spirit is the result of the believing or the faith that begets joy and peace.
We could paraphrase it like this: Put your confidence and your trust in God's Word so fully that joy and peace abound and the Holy Spirit is released in your life with extraordinary power and hope.
2.3. In Acts 6:5 and 11:24 Stephen and Barnabas are described as full of the Holy Spirit and faith. Probably because the two have to go together. To be filled with faith is to be filled with the Holy Spirit and to be filled with the Holy Spirit is to be filled with faith.
Picture yourself drinking ice water with a straw. The water is the Holy Spirit. The air in the straw is doubt and unbelief. Faith is the vacuum you create when you suck on the straw. And what happens when the vacuum of faith is created? The water of the Spirit comes in immediately. And if the straw is full of the vacuum of faith the straw will also be full of the water of the Spirit. So Stephen and Barnabas were full of the Holy Spirit and faith.
So the first way to seek the power of the Spirit is to immerse yourself in God's Word, and the second way is to believe that Word. To be confident and expectant that God aims to do wonderful things through you for his glory. The Holy Spirit always fills the vacuum of faith.
3. Pray Earnestly for It and Fast
The third way to seek the power of the Holy Spirit is to pray for it earnestly and sometimes with fasting.
3.1. According to Acts 1:13 this is what the disciples devoted themselves to in Jerusalem during the ten days of waiting for Pentecost. "All these with one accord devoted themselves to prayer."
3.2. This is what the disciples were doing in Acts 4:24–31 when (verse 31 says) they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the Word with boldness. They were praying. And they were saturating their prayer with Old Testament Scripture, and they were confident in God's sovereign power.
3.3. In Luke 11:13 Jesus says to his disciples, "If you then, who are evil, know how to give good things to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!"
The Holy Spirit is given to those who ask the Father. Now, since these men already had a measure of the Holy Spirit in their ministry, I take Jesus to mean that we should ask for more of the Spirit—not that he comes in pieces, but that he reveals himself and stirs himself up in varying measures. And we should pray for the fullness of the Spirit.
3.4. In Ephesians 3:14–21 Paul is praying for the Ephesians and what he prays is that they might be strengthened with might through the Spirit and that they might be filled with all the fullness of God. He must believe, then, that Christians might receive this power and this fullness if he prays that they will.
We should ask God for the power of his Spirit. And sometimes we should do this with fasting. Luke 4:14 says that Jesus came from his 40 day fast full of the Holy Spirit. It may be that God reserves his extraordinary power for those who long for it in extraordinary ways—and show that longing by extended fasting and prayer.
So we seek the fullness of the Spirit's power by immersing ourselves in God's Word, and by believing its promises with expectant faith, and by praying earnestly, sometimes with fasting, that God would give us our heart's desire for his power in witness.
4. Obey the Holy Spirit
The fourth way to seek the power of the Holy Spirit is to obey him even before you feel his power.
I'm speaking very personally here now. On July 14 of this year I was alone at a cabin. I sent the family home so that I could pray and seek the Lord concerning this fall's messages. I stayed up late one night pleading with God for power in the ministry, and struggling with why it is that we see so few people converted in our ministry at Bethlehem. Why do I not have more power in soul-winning witnessing? Here is what came to me, and I read from my journal written the next day.
The question arose in my mind: Have I resisted the offer of the Spirit's power for witnessing so often that it is now being withheld from me? Has the voice of the Spirit in the past prompted me to write a letter or make a phone call or pay a visit or say a word, with the readiness to give me all the power I would need, only to find my heart resistant and unbelieving, so that now he will not (and probably dare not) give me the tokens of this power until I am on the brink of some special act of witnessing obedience?
I believe this is where many of us are. We have resisted the Holy Spirit so often when he was calling us to bear witness to Christ that we are unfit for the flow of his power. The channels have become so clogged with fear and self-consciousness and doubt and rationalization and worldly preoccupation that what we allow through is a barely discernible trickle of God's love.
And I believe that once we have begun to immerse ourselves in God's Word and battle the unbelief of our hearts and pray and fast for his power, we may have to simply step out with very little power felt in advance and do what we know what we ought to do. And I believe that in this doing, little by little the old clogged channels are cleared and we begin to feel the power flow again.