By Wesley L. Duewel (1916 – 2016)
When the Holy Spirit fills us He imparts purity and power. The person who dedicates his all as a living sacrifice in absolute surrender (the term Andrew Murray loved to use) and asks for and trusts for the Spirit’s infilling is given a new dimension of spiritual life. The Holy Spirit cleanses and makes one pure in the inner person to a degree he never knew before, and in the same moment fills with a divinely greater power.
After one is filled with the Spirit, as one walks in the light of the Word as guided by the Spirit, he seeks constantly to please the Lord. Moment by moment he depends on the Spirit who indwells, and the Spirit enables him to be victorious over temptation. Through the Spirit’s help purity can be preserved. In some sense we can keep ourselves pure (1 Tim. 5:22) by careful obedience to the Spirit (1 John 3:3), by testing everything, holding to the good and avoiding the evil (1 Thes. 5:21-22). We thus help to keep ourselves from being soiled and spotted by sin (2 Pet. 3:14).
But spiritual power is different. Spiritual power cannot be preserved indefinitely. The power of the Spirit is His energy flowing into and through our spirits. Energy gets used up. Power must be renewed. This spiritual secret is beautifully symbolized in Zechariah 4.
God gave an important vision to Zechariah to strengthen and encourage the two God-anointed leaders who were rebuilding the temple after the captivity – Joshua, the high priest, and Zerubbabel, the governor. Great opposition had delayed the work for twenty years.
God used symbolism to illustrate and confirm His powerful statement: “This is the word of the Lord…‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty” (Zech. 4:6). God showed Zechariah a vision of a gold lampstand furnishing light through a bowl that channeled olive oil to seven lamps (symbolizing fullness of light). The oil supply to the bowl came from two golden pipes that received oil from a living olive tree. The lamps burned and gave light as long as oil flowed.
The Spirit’s power is the great essential for doing God’s work, but it is expended by use. We cannot minister today in yesterday’s power. We cannot accomplish God’s full purpose on memories of past blessing and empowering. God does not want us to live in the past, but in a moment-by-moment present appropriation of His power.
There may be rare occasions when God uses us in spite of ourselves. That was probably the way He used Samson, Balaam, and King Saul at times. But the rule of God is that we can give only what we receive. God wants us to be daily empowered so that we are daily usable for His glory. God forgive us if the only time He uses us mightily is when He is compelled to work in spite of our spiritual condition.
How Spiritual Power Is Depleted or Lost
Jesus Christ did not begin His ministry until He received a special bestowal of Holy Spirit power. Hear His words: “The Spirit of the Lord is on Me, because He has anointed Me to preach…” (Luke 4:18). Peter summarized Christ’s ministry by saying, “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power” (Acts 10:38). Jesus used the same power in His earthly ministry that we must use today – the power of the Spirit. He chose primarily not to minister through His inherent deity, but through the anointing of the Spirit.
Luke 6:19 explains, “The people all tried to touch Him, because power was coming from Him and healing them all.” This was the power of the Spirit. When the woman who had been suffering for twelve years touched the edge of Jesus’ cloak, He said, “Someone touched Me; I know that power has gone out from Me” (Luke 8:46).
What was true of Jesus is true of you. As you minister to people, you expend spiritual power. If you want to be used of God, if you want to heal the wounds of humankind, God’s power must be upon you continually and flow through you.
1. Spiritual power is expended naturally by your ministry. The more you minister, the more you need your power renewed. The busier you become, the more you need your power renewed, the more you need spiritual refreshment and replenishing. It is not just mental weariness or physical exhaustion that you experience. Without spiritual renewal you will become a spiritual has-been.
Once when Luther was asked about his plans for the next day he replied, “Work, work, from early until late. In fact, I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.” Busy ministry without adequate prayer and spiritual renewal leads to loss of spiritual power. The input is not keeping up with the outflow. Have you been giving to others so constantly that you yourself are spiritually depleted? Have you once known more of the power of God upon you and more of His anointing than you know these days?
2. Spiritual power is expended by involvement in non-spiritual affairs. We are living in a basically secular world. We are not an island, but live with all kinds of human associations. God does not want us to be recluses, to isolate ourselves from the contaminating influences of life. We are to be light and salt in our world. But the source of light is expended by burning, and salt is expended by use.
There is no conflict between work and spirituality. Hard workers make the best Christian workers and the best prayer warriors. Many people are too lazy to be blessed greatly. They do not know how to pay the price of self-discipline to find time for God’s Word and prayer. They let almost anything take priority over spiritual replenishment. They have not learned the lesson of Zechariah 4. They try to succeed by their own power rather than by God’s Spirit.
In many forms of work there are wonderful opportunities for moments of brief prayer, praise, spiritual communion, and expressions of love for the Lord. But too often we live as if the Lord were not by our side. We ignore Him. We fill our minds with fantasies, self-pity, and self-made plans. We can invest moments with God while washing, grooming, walking, driving, or a thousand other activities, if we only will.
But there are activities or environments where this is more difficult. The atmosphere in some places is not conducive to spiritual activity and may even be anti-spiritual. You cannot breathe the atmosphere of noise, levity, suggestiveness, sinful jokes, materialism, or blaspheming of God’s name without its effect upon you – unless you resort constantly to the Lord. You will begin to sense gradual loss of spiritual power. Like Lot (2 Pet. 2:7), you will feel constantly distressed and almost tormented.
You need quiet of soul for spiritual communion and renewal. Some people are so accustomed to being entertained by radio or television that they hardly know how to use quiet time for spiritual refreshment and renewal of soul. In Bible times the priest washed before ministry in the tent or temple. We too need to take spiritual baths, or at least to freshen the face, as it were, with frequent moments with the Lord.
3. Lack of unity with other Christians depletes our spiritual power. David says that unity, like the dew from heaven, brings spiritual refreshment and blessing (Psa. 133:3). Disunity does the opposite. It dries the soul, withers spiritual life, and evaporates spiritual refreshment and keenness. Power is dissipated by critical attitudes, thoughts of resentment, or any unforgiveness or bitterness of heart.
Nothing will drain away God’s blessing, power, and anointing from your life more rapidly than unkind thoughts of others. Unloving words, gossip, laughter at the expense of others, and negative talking cuts your power and the sweetness of God’s presence. Anything contrary to the tender love of the Holy Spirit is devastating to spiritual power.
Are you sensitive enough to recognize quickly what grieves the Holy Spirit? Whoever touches God’s people touches the apple of God’s eye (Zech. 2:8). With one critical remark, you can destroy the blessing you received from hours of prayer. The Holy Spirit is the gentle Spirit of perfect love. One of His roles is to pour in abundance the love of God into our hearts and out through our lives (Rom. 5:5). We cannot afford to grieve His loving nature.
Paul speaks sharply and abruptly to this subject. “You, then, why do you judge your brother? Or why do you look down on your brother?” (Rom. 14:10). “Who are you to judge someone else’s servant?” (14:4). Judgmental thoughts always grieve the Spirit.
“…Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God…Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander…Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us…” (Eph. 4:30 – 5:2).
4. Lack of obedience depletes spiritual power. Failure to continue to walk in God’s light, or failure to accept and use God-given opportunities can bring loss of the power of the Spirit. God constantly gives us opportunities to do little extra things for Jesus. They are not demanded of us; it depends upon how intensely we love Jesus, how eager we are to please Him with little gestures of love.
Just as active expression of your love to Him increases His nearness and blessing upon your life, so neglect of these gestures of love can lead to loss of the sweet awareness of His presence.
Failure to be alert to express your love in thought, word, or deed can lead to spiritual carelessness and to a gradual decrease in the Spirit’s presence and power upon you. Are you as sensitive to what pleases the Lord as you are to what pleases your dearest companion?
Delayed obedience, ignoring the Spirit’s suggestions, any controversy between your heart and the Lord, resisting His highest will for you – these can short circuit the flow of God’s power into your life. Spiritual power is governed by God’s spiritual laws just as certainly as electrical power or nuclear power is governed by God’s laws of nature.
5. Self-indulgence, a self-centered, luxurious lifestyle can deplete your spiritual power. R. A. Torrey, the Bible teacher and co-worker of D. L. Moody, was deeply convinced of this. He wrote,
“Power is lost through self-indulgence. The one who would have God’s power must lead a life of self-denial…. I do not believe that any man can lead a luxurious life, over-indulge his natural appetites, indulge extensively in dainties, and enjoy the fullness of God’s power. The gratification of the flesh and the fullness of the Spirit do not go hand in hand.
“…If we would know the continuance of the Spirit’s power we need to be on guard to lead lives of simplicity, free from indulgence and surfeiting, be ready to ‘endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ’ (2 Tim. 2:3). I frankly confess I am afraid of luxury; not as afraid of it as I am of sin, but it comes next as an object of dread. It is a very subtle, but a very potent enemy of power. There are devils today that ‘go not out but by prayer and fasting’ (Matt. 17:21).”
The Holy Spirit always reaches out to others, is always sensitive to the welfare of the entire church and of the world. Self-centeredness is the opposite of Christ-centeredness and kingdom-centeredness. In numerous ways Christians may spend their time or indulge themselves, ways that are contrary to the sacrificial spirit of holiness, the recognition of the needs of a hurting world, and the extension of Christ’s kingdom. His “inasmuch as you did not” will be said to evangelical Christians of our generation as truly as it was said to some of His generation. How can the Spirit bless us with outpourings of His power when we are so little concerned about what concerns Him?
6. Self-sufficiency and pride will deplete spiritual power. Power can be almost instantly lost through pride. God will not share His glory with any other. God condescends to work through Spirit-filled people, but if anyone reaches out his proud hand and takes to himself the glory of which only God is worthy, He will withdraw His power, often instantly. That is one reason Satan tempts you so constantly to pride.
Billy Graham has repeatedly made such statements as, “If God should take His hand from my life, these lips will turn to lips of clay.” We are only earthen vessels, “jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us” (2 Cor. 4:7).
God could reveal Himself so fully to Moses in a more face-to-face relationship than with any other human being and could work more mighty miracles through Moses than through any other person (Deut. 34:10, 12) because Moses was the most humble person on the face of God’s earth (Num. 12:3).
Uzziah was greatly helped by God until he became strong and grew proud (2 Chr. 26:15-16). Many a Christian leader’s history could be written in the same words. God worked mightily on behalf of Hezekiah until almost unbelievably his heart became proud over the answer to his prayer (32:25). Nebuchadnezzar was honored and used by God until he became proud (Dan. 5:20).
Satan’s own downfall was through his pride (perhaps Ezekiel 28:2, 5, 17; First Timothy 3:6). Pride makes us more like Satan than like Christ. Pride will cause God to turn His face away from us. God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble (Jas. 4:6; 1 Pet. 5:5).
Any step of self-sufficiency is the first step to pride. Any acceptance of praise for oneself is probably denying God the praise due Him. Self-confidence can be humble if based on God’s usual help and if we remain in complete dependence on Him. But self-confidence can be carnal, can become a carnal form of self-reliance, and can rob us of God’s sweet presence and His mighty power.
Any power manifested in the ministry of one who is not marked by deep humility is counterfeit power. It is not God’s power. It may be psychological power. It could even be the power of Satan who delights to pose as an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14).
7. Excessive levity can deplete spiritual power. Humor is a gift of God to us, but it must be used only in appropriate ways and to a modest extent. God is obviously a God who Himself enjoys wholesome humor. That is why He created us to enjoy humor and to be able to laugh. But there is a time, a place, and a limit on the humor God will bless. Even too much wholesome humor can dissipate God’s power. I have noticed that just before a special spiritual responsibility, even when I was not aware that it was just ahead, Satan has at times tried to get me and others so amused that we lost the spiritual preparation we had made. Satan delights to rob us of God’s anointing and power just before a spiritual crisis or time when we will greatly need His power. The presence and power of the Spirit available to a person through several hours of prayer can be lost by five minutes of improper humor, or humor at the improper time.
8. Sin always depletes and destroys the power of the Spirit. Conscious disobedience, sin against light, sin against another, and all forms of failure to walk in God’s light will stop the awareness of the presence and smile of God’s favor. Sin stops the Spirit’s power from filling you and using you. Sin robs prayer of its effectiveness. “If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened” (Psa. 66:18). This refers, of course, to sin according to the Bible definition of First John 3:4, a willful breaking of God’s law in spite of clear light.
When Israel disobeyed God and broke the covenant with God, God paid no attention to their tears and prayer (Deut. 1:45). Just as Samson was shorn both of his locks of hair and of God’s power upon him because he trifled with disobedience and sin, so there have been Christian workers who have just as completely lost the power of God upon their lives.
Sometimes we may be unaware that we have disobeyed the Lord, but feel in our hearts that we have grieved the Spirit in some way. This may be merely the accusation of Satan as he tries to depress and discourage. On the other hand, this may be the restraint of the Spirit. He is so loving and faithful that if we grieve Him without fully realizing it, He speaks to us or touches us. If we have developed a listening ear for God’s guidance, God will find it easy to get our attention and will be faithful to speak to us.
Thank God, there is forgiveness and cleansing available. There is always a way back to God’s favor, presence, and power (1 John 2:1-2). Contrition, humbling ourselves before the Lord, repentance where necessary, and forgiveness can open the gate to God’s full favor and the flood tide of His power upon us again