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The war room of the soul

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Topical Scripture: Ephesians 5:15-20

In 1940, with German bombs raining down on London, Winston Churchill and his Cabinet and staff practically lived in their Cabinet War Rooms. This fortified basement provided the prime minister a bedroom, and his cabinet a room for meeting and a map room for strategy planning. The White House Situation Room provides the same security to our president and his staff today. In such “war rooms,” battles and wars are won or lost.

My friends, America is facing a spiritual war, a battle for which we need spiritual power. We have learned that the Spirit is the power of God in our lives, and that he lives in every one of us who has made Jesus our Lord. Now we come to the crucial and practical question: where do we find this power every day? Where is our War Room? For the sake of our souls, our families, and our country, how do we use it well?

Why meet daily with God?

Someone once said of their church: “They have all of Jesus they want. Not all they need, but all they want.” We live in a ruggedly self-sufficient, independent culture. Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps. Look out for number one. Pull your own strings. Don’t depend on people, because they’ll let you down. And they will.

“God helps those who help themselves” is our credo. More than 70% of all Americans are sure it’s in the Bible. Actually, this statement first appeared in print in the book of an Englishman named Algernon Sidney in 1698; Benjamin Franklin made it famous.

But it doesn’t work.

In all of recorded human history there have been only four years without war somewhere on our planet.

And now war has come to America. This week, Attorney General John Ashcroft announced that there is a “clear and present danger to America” in the threat of further terrorism on our soil. Reports were made this week of a plot to target the Sears Tower in Chicago; the Pentagon says its “primary mission” is now homeland defense.

We need God’s strength and power.

And we can have it—the first church is proof. In Acts 1:6 they are a small, unprepared, ignorant band of frightened men and women, 120 up against a hostile world of 25 million. But by Acts 17:6 they have “turned the world upside down” and launched the greatest, most powerful movement in human history. More people follow Jesus Christ than any other religion on our planet, and history itself is divided by his coming.

All through Acts it’s the same story—the work of the Holy Spirit gives God’s people his power.

In Acts 2:4 the disciples are filled with the Spirit and begin to share the gospel in languages they have never learned. In 4:8, Peter, the former coward, is “filled with the Holy Spirit” and boldly proclaims the gospel to the Supreme Court of Israel. In 4:31, “they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.” In Acts 9 Ananias prayed for Paul to be “filled with the Holy Spirit” (v. 17); he was healed and immediately began preaching Jesus (v. 20). In Acts 13:9 Paul was “filled with the Spirit” and defeated the Satanic sorcerer on Cyprus. And on the story goes.

What the Spirit did through them, he is waiting and yearning to do through us. If we will go where they went, and do what they did, the Spirit will continue his miraculous, powerful work through our lives. The choice is ours.

I have in my study a rock, normal and ordinary to anyone else but very special to me. I took it from the valley of Elah, where David slayed Goliath. It reminds me daily of the power of God, of what God can do with a single soul fully yielded to his Spirit. There is no Goliath you and I cannot conquer in his power. So, where do we get our rocks for today?

How to meet daily with God

These first Christians “all joined together constantly in prayer” (Acts 1:14), the Upper Room of a home in Jerusalem. They spent their days together with God. They made that Upper Room their War Room. And soon they were filled with the power of Almighty God.

Get an Upper Room with God. Go there before the war of the day begins. Start every morning there with God. But how? Our text tells us.

First, examine your life in the light of his Spirit. “Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise” (v. 15).”Be very careful” is an imperative, a command. There is nothing negotiable or optional here with God. This is a present-tense command: “inspect carefully the way that you are living this day.” This makes you “wise” with God, as you apply what God shows you.

So we are to go to our Upper Room, get on our knees before God, and ask his Spirit to show us anything which might keep us from our Father. We confess it to God, and claim his forgiveness. We stay clean daily with God, before the malignancy of sin can spread. Examine your life in the light of his Spirit.

Next, seek God’s will for the coming day (vs. 16-17): “making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is” (vs. 16-17).

“Making the most of every opportunity” translates a phrase which means to “buy back the time,” to get the most we can possibly get out of the day which is before us, to redeem it for significance and eternity.

Do this by knowing and doing the will of God. Study the Scriptures daily. Ask God to guide you through his revealed word. Examine your priorities and work for the day before you in the light of Scripture. Seek God’s will for that day, and you will find it.

Now, yield your life to the Spirit’s power. “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit” (v. 18).

Ancients got drunk in their worship of Dionysius, the pagan god of wine and pleasure. By putting themselves “under the influence,” they thought they were yielding themselves to this god. In exactly the opposite way, you and I are to put ourselves “under the influence” of God’s Holy Spirit.

To be “filled” means to be controlled by the Spirit, to be under his influence, his leadership, his will.This is a command, an imperative from Almighty God, as surely as the Ten Commandments are his imperatives for our lives. This is God’s basic expectation for every believer, not some extra-credit status for a select few. Every one of us is expected to be filled by God’s Spirit. He holds us accountable every day by this standard.

So, how are we “filled with the Spirit”? Five steps are involved; we have taken three already.

First, the text assumes that we have already received Christ as Lord, and thus his Spirit in our lives. As we learned last week, when we make Jesus our Savior, his Spirit takes up permanent residence in our lives.

Second, as we have already seen, we ask God to forgive anything which is wrong in our lives. This is the Holy Spirit, and he can only control that which is clean and holy.

Third, as we saw a moment ago, we seek God’s will. We turn our minds, words, attitudes and actions over to him.

Now we consciously ask the Spirit to take control of us. Unconditionally, without reservation, holding nothing back. We give him a blank check for this day.

And last, we believe by faith that he has. Nowhere does the Bible tell us how it feels to be filled with the Spirit. No particular gift is promised, no special proof is offered. It takes as much faith to believe you are controlled by the Spirit as it did to trust in Christ as your Savior and Lord. We step out in faith, believing that God has done what we have asked him to do.

And he will.

Conclusion

Never before have American Christians needed this War Room with the Holy Spirit more than today. I’ve spoken with many of you who survived Pearl Harbor and World War II. To a person you tell me that this is different. In those days you knew who the enemy was and where he was. You were not afraid that he might strike your home, your office, your airplane. But things are different today. The good news is this: there is an Upper Room, a War Room, available to every one of us who will go there. Today.

And the results for our lives can be astounding.

Avery Willis is a career missionary, and an acquaintance of mine. In his classic book, The Biblical Basis of Missions, he describes his own experience with the filling of the Holy Spirit:

“While I was a freshman in college, the Holy Spirit created in my heart an overwhelming desire to bear witness to Christ. In the months that followed, his presence overcame my natural shyness and thrust me out several times each week onto the streets and into bars to witness. However, I was not successful in leading people to Christ. I memorized Scriptures, studied soul-winning books, and prayed. But something was missing.

“One day I received in the mail a booklet that told of the experiences of D. L. Moody, R.A. Torrey, Billy Sunday, Billy Graham, and others whose ministries had been transformed when they experienced the filling of the Holy Spirit.

“I had a burning desire to be used of God, but I could not find anyone who could tell me how to be filled. Finally, a friend loaned me the book The Holy Spirit: Who He Is and What He Does by R.A. Torrey.

“For the first time, I realized that the Holy Spirit is a person who possesses us, instead of a power or an influence that we possess. Torrey showed that the Holy Spirit, who lives within us, wants to fill us for service.

“By the next evening I had finished the book and was ready to follow its instructions on being filled with the Spirit. I confessed all my sins, presented myself fully to God, and asked in faith for the Holy Spirit to fill me. As I confessed my sins, I realized how much the Holy Spirit had loved me and had been grieved by my ignoring him. Then I presented my body, will, emotions, intellect, and spirit to be used by God in any way.

“The most difficult part was accepting by faith the filling of the Holy Spirit without any outward sign or manifestation. I told God, ‘I will accept the fact that I am filled with the Spirit on the basis of faith in the Word, no matter what happens when I witness.’ There was no great emotional experience, but I had a deep awareness of the love of the Spirit.

“The next morning when I went to class, the grass looked greener and the birds sang more sweetly. I was so aware of the Spirit’s presence that I wanted to move over on the sidewalk to let him walk beside me. That evening I witnessed to a boy on the street, and he accepted Christ as his Savior. Two nights later two black teenagers accepted Christ; the night after that another man.

“I remarked to a friend: ‘I don’t see how this can continue. Every night I go out to witness, someone accepts Christ.’ That night no one did. I had to come back and ask forgiveness and be filled afresh because I had dared to think that I had won those people to Christ myself. God willingly refilled me with his Spirit when I was willing to confess my sins, present myself, and ask in faith. Once again people began to come to Christ.

“In the twenty-five years since that experience, the Holy Spirit has taught me the secret of being filled for each task of service. Thousands of times I have had to ask him to refill me when I have sinned, and he has done so. The filling of the Spirit energizes and empowers different gifts in different persons, but in every case the result brings glory to Christ and attracts others to him” (pp.63-64).

What could God do with your life if you were filled with his Spirit? Let’s begin to answer that question, right now.