...Be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
-Ephesians 5:18-20 (NIV)
For many of us, our first experience of internet access at home was dial-up. Remember the shriek of the modem as dialed your access number? Remember waiting to connect? Remember disabling call waiting so it didn’t kick you off-line when someone called? Remember what happened when someone in the house picked up an extension while you were online? Remember, most of all, how sloooow dial-up internet access was?
Most of us, at some point in the last few years, probably ditched dial-up internet for DSL or cable. No more modem shriek, no more having to choose between making a phone call and using the internet, no more long waits while music downloaded. Uploading photos and even video became easier. And there’s that always-on connection; with wi-fi, information is at our fingertips whether we’re at our desk, or sitting on the couch, or running on a treadmill. (My wife and I are forever reaching for a laptop or tablet to figure out who that is in the TV show we happen to be watching...)
Broadband internet has moved the video industry from brick-and-mortar stores to rentals downloaded at the click of a button. (Wonder what percentage of kids younger than ten have ever even been inside a Blockbuster?) Someone recently mentioned to me video chatting with their daughter, who’s out of state at college; that application hadn’t even occurred to me, but it’s been on my mind since then as a parent who’ll be sending a kid off to college in 5 years or so. That wouldn’t have been practical ten years ago, maybe even five years ago for most people. But now we talk about it as if it’s nothing.
More than anything, broadband internet access has made information, communication, and entertainment immediate.
It’s all in the size of the pipes, of course. Well, not literal pipes, but the term “broadband” refers to bandwidth, the “room” in a cable that the bits and bytes of a data stream have to flow from source to receiver. The more room - the higher the bandwidth - the more data can get through. It’s analogous to water in a pipe; the wider the pipe, the higher the water pressure.
When Paul tells that church in the city of Ephesus to “be filled with the Spirit,” I think he’s talking about something similar to a broadband connection. It’s kind of a strange mandate, to be sure: “be filled.” Might as well tell an empty glass to be filled with water; unless someone, somewhere, is doing some pouring, it doesn’t matter what you say to that glass. It goes without saying, for Paul, that God is doing the pouring. That’s what the gospel is about, after all - God pouring out his Spirit through Jesus.
The problem is that sometimes Christians, who ought to be spiritual (of the Spirit) people, allow ourselves to get too content with a relationship with the Holy Spirit that’s something like dial-up internet: there when we want it or feel the need for it, but not so much that it can become a real part of our lives. The Spirit is held at arm’s length, his influence limited to the times we set aside for him. There’s little transformation. Little power. No immediacy.
Sometimes, truth be told, that’s the arrangement we prefer.
Because the Spirit is disruptive if we allow him to “fill” us. If we open wide channels and expect him to pour into our lives, he does. He changes us: changes the way we do things, the way we think, the way we communicate, the way we live. There’s no arranging him to fit our lives; we’re forced to arrange our lives to fit him.
That’s the way it’s supposed to be, of course. Paul tells the church in Rome that being in Christ means that they’re also living “in the realm of the Spirit.” He reminds the believers in Corinth that the Spirit is the presence of Jesus in their lives, transforming them into his image. Peter interprets the events of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, in terms of Old Testament expectations that God would at the end of the ages pour out his Spirit on all of his people. And all of that is to explain and interpret the promise of Jesus that he would not leave his people as “orphans,” but would send an Advocate who would teach them and would share Jesus’ glory with them.
So it’s always been one of the promises of the gospel that through Jesus the Father would pour out the immediate, immanent, life-transforming power of the Holy Spirit. He will do the filling.
It’s our job to “be filled.”
That’s why prayer matters. That’s why hearing the word proclaimed or reading for ourselves makes a difference. That’s why the church needs to worship together, and why we need to serve those who don’t have the blessings we have, and why we need to give generously. That’s why we keep our hearts soft through repentance. Otherwise, our connection to the immediate, life-changing Spirit of God narrows down to a trickle instead of the rushing flood that God would have it be.
Here’s a troubling tendency: whenever in history the church has gotten more complex, more hierarchical, more preoccupied with political power, affluence, and worldly success, we have lost our connection to the Holy Spirit. He becomes an absentee God to be invoked in the sacraments or debated in the academy, instead of the immediate, powerful, deluge that changes lives. But may we instead open our connections to the Holy Spirit wide and receive all that the Father would pour into our thirsty hearts and minds through Jesus. May we be always connected, and may his presence disrupt our lives in ways that make us shine with the glory of the Lord.
May our connections be broadband, our pipes wide, our lives filled with the Spirit.