Inspiring stories spill off the pages of the book of Acts. We see the lives of ordinary people transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit, causing the message of the gospel to spread like a swollen river flooding the flatlands. Fishermen from sleepy villages spoke to educated men with wisdom, courage and authority. Believers gathered to pray fervently in the face of persecution and saw God move and work in mighty ways.
One of these stories happened in Acts 4 after Peter and John spoke confidently before the Jewish authorities about Jesus being the Savior of all people. When the Jewish leaders “saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.” (Acts 4:13)
Peter and John returned to the other believers and gathered with them to pray about those opposing them. They spoke with conviction, inviting God to do a mighty work in them:
“Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.
After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.” (Acts 4:29-31)
The story is inspiring, but may feel like something that no longer happens in the modern world. Beth Moore begs us to reconsider: “Is He not the same God? Has He not said that He’d pour out His Spirit on His sons and daughters (Joel 2:28)? Must we hunker down in the cramped limits of the status quo? Or will we welcome Him to do the exceptional when He pleases, to wreck our small notions and loosen our tongues with ‘Who then is this who does such things?’” (Children of the Day p. 25)
Maybe these ideas intrigue you, but you wonder how something like this could happen in your life. Perhaps they sound intimidating, scary even. If you were trying to find this kind of courage or power on your own strength, you wouldn’t get very far. Let’s not miss two key phrases from these stories: “these men had been with Jesus” and “they were all filled with the Holy Spirit.” Courage, boldness and authority flow through us when we are abiding with Jesus and letting the Holy Spirit fill us to capacity. We’re just empty vessels, all the power comes from Him.
Everyone who accepts Christ receives the Spirit. After all, Ephesians 1:13 states it plainly: And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit.
Being filled with the Spirit is not just a single event, however. It is an ongoing process. In the Acts 4 story above, the believers already had the Spirit, yet after they prayed they were “filled and spoke the word of God boldly.”
But how does that work? Can we continue to be filled more and more by the Spirit even after we’re saved?
Imagine a thimble filled with water. It’s at capacity, not another drop could fit inside. Now imagine a drinking glass. It’s bigger, so more water fits inside, but it’s still filled to capacity. Finally, imagine a swimming pool brimming over with water. Each of these containers has a limit and once it is exceeded, it will overflow. The bigger the container, the more the surroundings will get wet when it does.
In the same way, the Spirit impacts those around us as He fills us so full that we begin to overflow. But unlike a solid container, our ability to receive Him increases each time He fills us and we pour Him out. I think that’s what Joel 2:28 describes when the Lord says: I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions.
Maybe the believers in Acts 4 had a swimming pool-sized capacity for the Holy Spirit because they invited His filling so often. They prayed bold prayers and asked God to move, and He did. They spoke with authority and acted courageously because the Spirit was flowing through them.
Whether our capacities for the Spirit are more in line with a thimble, a glass or something bigger, there is always room for expansion. May I humbly suggest that if you’re interested in seeing more of the Holy Spirit’s power in your life, you pray a simple prayer each day? Try something like this: “Lord, pour out your Spirit on me. Increase my capacity to receive you and to be used by you.”
The Holy Spirit does the work of enlarging our capacities incrementally over time as we seek God and grow in faith. Sometimes we may not realize it’s happening until we see Him do something in us that He hasn’t done before. Growth happens through consistently pursuing the Lord one step of obedience at a time.
The Thessalonian church saw the Spirit work. Beth Moore points out that both the writers of 1 & 2 Thessalonians and the readers “got wet with the work of the Spirit when the wave of the gospel flooded Thessalonica.” She says “I want to get wet in that wave too. Don’t you? I long to be keenly conscious of God’s power and presence when He makes Himself known…Authentic anointing: there is no substitute.” (Children of the Day p. 26.)
Let’s pray for “authentic anointing” as we study these sacred books together. I can’t wait to see the way the Spirit overflows in our midst.
Phil Wickham’s song “Heaven Fall Down” captures the idea of increasing our capacity for the Spirit. Let the words of the song become you prayer as you listen.