Running on Empty

For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name.  I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

–          Ephesians 3:14-21


“Am I as filled to overflowing with love for Jesus Christ as I was in the beginning, when I went out of my way to prove my devotion to Him?  Does He ever find me pondering the time when I cared only for Him?  Is that where I am now, or have I chosen man’s wisdom over true love for Him?  Am I so in love with Him that I take no thought for where He might lead me?  Or am I watching to see how much respect I get as I measure how much service I give to Him?”

–          Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest


Okay, Oswald Chambers crossed that imaginary line with the last question.  Each previous question gave clear options that challenged us.  The last question went from preaching to meddling.  How many people fail to give when they don’t like the preacher’s sermon, as if they are giving to the preacher instead of giving to God?  How many give less than their pledge until their end-of-year bonus comes in?  Most churches expect this practice and plan accordingly, but what if the bonus is less than they expected?  Will they give at all?  Could this be the reason they wait until the end of the year, to make sure they get their cut first?


But Chambers was speaking of service, not giving.  Many do not do service work unless their name is printed in the bulletin.  I’ve known many who got their name in the bulletin and then forgot to show up for their service work.  Note: I am pretty sure that there isn’t an angel counting the times your name is in the church bulletin and then if you accomplish the magic number, they transfer your name to the Book of Life.  Don’t quote me on that, but I’m pretty sure.


No, I am guilty of the last question, in a way.  I did a lot of service, for one particular wrong reason.  My entire life had subconsciously revolved around wanting my mother to say, “Job well done” once in my life.  I would have settled for a neutral comment if she avoided the multitude of things that I could have done better.  I just mention this to explain my church service, but it is odd that recent studies show that you have to give ten praises to every suggestion of improvement or you destroy the young person’s self-esteem.  Why?  I may be a broken pot, but aren’t we all?  I digress.  (Maybe this concept could be another post?)


My Dad had become an elder around thirty years old.  He said that he wasn’t the youngest in that church.  My friend’s father, who was the blind dairy farmer singing bass in the choir (a couple of older posts), had become an elder at 29.  I was nominated at about that age, and I have the distinction of being the only person in that church’s history to be nominated via the initial ballot and not getting elected.  Someone didn’t count and there was one too many nominations.  The paper ballot showed six people whose names started with “Dr.” and me.  People voted for the doctors, thinking as an elder, they might give more money to the church.  I wouldn’t be nominated again for fifteen years.  There was a lot of self-examination.  Reading the Timothy and Titus qualifications, I felt I had to do more, as if anyone to live up to the requirements.  (I now know that if you think that you live up to them, your arrogance disqualifies you.)  I served on more committees, sang in the choir, participated in property improvement projects, taught Sunday school, etc.  When a church finds a workhorse, they run him until he collapses.  But, hey!  Being on a list of losers under the classification of “the only one ever” is a strong motivator.  I could make it sound worse and use the Kevin Blackistone’s phrase, “The only time in the history of histories…”


But the Timothy and Titus ‘man of character’ is more like the one that Father Flanagan (of Boys’ Town fame) described.  He said, “Character is formed by doing the thing we are supposed to do, when it should be done, whether we feel like doing it or not.”


I did all the right things so that others would see the ‘good Christian’ instead of the loser of the elder run-off election.  Why?  Because my mother was asking what was wrong with me?  “After all, when your father was 30…”  It took moving multiple times as I changed jobs before someone saw the true Christian buried beneath the workhorse.  I was ordained at age 45.


Maybe I am too hard on myself.


Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians had nothing to do with church building improvements, singing, teaching, or attending committee meetings.


Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians had everything to do with a healthy relationship with Jesus Christ, so healthy that you are filled with the Holy Spirit to the full measure.  Each one of us as individuals so that the entire church will be filled.


The other day, I drove my wife to the doctor’s office.  On our return trip, while driving in the country, not near a gas station, I looked down at the dash.  Where the ‘miles left in the tank’ number was located, it said 25.4.  I’d never seen a decimal point before.  To confirm, the gas pump light was lit and flashing, and the gas gage showed that we had roughly one gallon of gas.  I panicked, but then I remembered that if I took an alternate route home, there was a country store on the way.  After I put $10 worth in the tank, I checked the dash gages.  The gas gage was at four gallons, but the number still said 25.4.  Was it broken?  Then, while still parked, I saw units of mpg in small print.  (I am still having a little eye trouble.)  I realized that either my wife or I had bumped the “Trip” button on the steering wheel and changed the meaning of the number.  I toggled it back to “miles left in the tank.”


This is a story of bad eyesight and stupidity on my part, but I have one question for you?


Do you panic when you think you have 25 miles left in the tank and it’s at least 20 miles to the nearest gas station, at least the ones that don’t charge an extra dollar per gallon because they are in a remote location?  Do you panic when you drive 12 of those miles and the number hasn’t changed?  Maybe the gage is broken, and you are already on fumes?  Has panic set in now?!?  I really had less than a gallon left, so less than 25 miles left.


Okay, now that you’ve admitted that you at least got nervous when that happens (those who aren’t delusional or are at least being honest), here is a different question.  Have you ever gotten the least bit concerned when you drop down to a half tank on the Holy Spirit meter?  Did you even notice?


The question is rhetorical.  If you are even a quart low, you are low because you put yourself and your interests before those of God, or you adopted the world’s interests that are thrust upon you.  I know.  I’ve been there.  So, the answer to the rhetorical question is a resounding “NO.”  You are too busy making “me” noises to hear the dash alarm saying that you have a slow leak of Holy Spirit.


Really, there is no such thing as a slow leak.  When God sees that you don’t love Him with the excitement that you had when you first came to know Him, the Holy Spirit leaves you with a condition that others can see, “Running on Empty.”


If you have run on empty before, you have to recommit yourself to Jesus and repent.  Then, it takes a while to trust the inner voice and know that God was talking the whole time that you were running on empty.  You just had the radio turned up too loud to hear.  When you start back listening again, you must discern whether the voice is the Lord, the Devil, or your personal radio again, just tuned to a different channel.  At least in my ‘running on empty’ times in the past, I continued to read the Bible daily.  Knowing what God says about putting Him and His kingdom first in your life helps to decipher the voice.


But beware.  God may say some awfully strange things.  He might even tell you to start a blog.


I praise You, Father.  You are truly faithful to us even when we wander and are content to ‘run on empty.’  Thank you for choosing me, your humble servant.  Fill me.  I am Yours.  Amen.


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