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09-08-2013 message by Pastor Rich Doebler

(Eph 5:15-20) 15 Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. 18 Do not get drunk on wine,which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

I wonder. Did this ever happen to you? A week ago, I noticed that one of my car tires was just a tad bit low, so I stopped at the Little Store, pulled out the air hose, and added some air to it.
With the problem fixed, I drove home. I got out of the car and looked at the tire again. It looked perfectly fine. It had lots of air in it. I thought I had taken care of the problem.
But when I woke up on Sunday morning, the tire was completely flat! Overnight, the air had slowly leaked out of a tiny, unseen hole. I had picked up a nail somewhere, so even though the tire looked perfectly fine to the eye, it wasn’t. It couldn’t hold the air in, and it went flat.

Do you know, the same thing can happen to people—to us! It’s often the little things, the unnoticed things that over time can catch us off guard and get us down. Big problems, we notice. We can’t help but notice.

Once years ago I was driving down I35 on my way to Texas when I heard a funny, slapping noise in the back of my car. I slowed down and tapped the brakes—and my rear wheel fell off! Completely off! The axle hit the ground and the wheel rolled into the ditch, bounced over a barbed-wire fence, and landed in a Missouri pasture. There was no slow leak…it was just bam—the wheel is gone. I knew right away there was a big problem. I went from 65 mph on four wheels to zero and three wheels in a matter of seconds.

We can’t help but see the big stuff. When the big crisis occurs—when a major illness or death or tragedy strikes, everybody sees that. We know we’re in for a battle. Big troubles get our attention! We know we have to pull ourselves together, trust God, stand firm in our faith. Even others see our big problems. It’s in those major crises that friends and family come alongside to help and encourage us.

But when little things catch us unaware—tiny, imperceptible things, like a slow tire leak—our lives can go flat before we even realize what has happened. The air goes out; our spirits deflate. And we didn’t see it coming.

It’s an amazing thing how a tiny nail can stop a huge car! Here is a car weighing thousands of pounds, held up and supported on flexible rubber. (Really, it’s not the rubber that holds up the car; it’s the air inside the tire. Four tires with 40 pounds of air pressure can hold up a car that weighs 3,000 pounds!) And even a small nail can rob the tire of the power it needs to support the car.

  1. 1.   It’s like that in our spiritual lives. Like air inside a tire, it’s the inner strength of the Holy Spirit that holds us up and sustains us.

Did you know that the NT Bible word for spirit is the exact same word used to describe breath or wind? It’s pneuma in the Greek—and it’s where we get words like pneumatic lift or pneumatic drill or pneumatic hammer—tools powered by compressed air. There is power in air that fills something up. But if the air leaks out, the strength leaks out with it—like pneumonia.

D.L. Moody, the famous American evangelist of the 19th century, once was asked why he often spoke of the need to be continually filled and refilled with the Holy Spirit. Why not just be filled with the Spirit once and be done with it? Moody looked at his questioner. “Because,” he replied thoughtfully, “I leak.”

We all leak! We all have to deal with the tiny, unseen nails of life—the unseen issues beneath the surface that can cause us to go flat. Slowly. We may never really notice any problem, but one day we wake up, and—it’s not a tire, but—it’s our life that has lost the pneuma. The Spirit has leaked away. The inner spiritual strength and stamina has gone flat.

You remember the story of Samson? Right from his birth he was dedicated to the Lord—to be a Nazirite (Judges 13:5), no wine, no grapes, no razor. Often the Bible says “the Spirit of the Lord came upon him,” and as a result, Samson was able to do amazing things. His strength and prowess became legendary.

But slowly, over time, he relaxed his dedication. He grew careless. Delilah wore him down until finally he told her about his Naziretic vow. Then, as he slept, she had someone cut his hair. Then she woke him with a shout: “Samson, the Philistines are upon you!”

And that’s when we read these tragic words (Judges 16:20): He awoke from his sleep and thought, “I’ll go out as before and shake myself free.” But he did not know that the LORD had left him.

He didn’t know! The pneuma was gone! The Spirit left him as he slept, and Samson didn’t even know it! It was a slow leak. Too late he discovered that his strength was gone. Too late he discovered that the Spirit had departed. So Samson was defeated—his eyes were gouged out and they shackled him in chains.

  1. 2.   Spiritual defeat often occurs gradually, over time. It can begin with just a small thing, a momentary lapse, a minor compromise. You relax your commitment. You put off what you know you should do. You make a promise, but delay in your obedience. You have good intentions, but you procrastinate.

You live the advice of Mark Twain: “Never put off until tomorrow what you can do the day after tomorrow.”

You’ve heard of spiritual disciplines? When you develop regular, consistent habits that build and strengthen our spirits, then you will be more prepared when challenges come.

Otherwise, spiritual defeat can sneak up on you. Things may look good enough on the surface, but you don’t even realize that over time the air has been leaking out. You don’t even realize that the Spirit has left. And you’re on your own.

And then…“the Philistines” are upon you!

The Philistines were no problem for Samson as long as the Spirit of the Lord was with him. But when he no longer had the Spirit within, the Philistines became a big problem for Samson.

So was Samson defeated in one, single attack? Or was he defeated over time as he gradually relaxed his commitment, grew careless, and compromised his stand?

So, I’m not talking about major events or big problems—like the Philistines overpowering Samson.

  1. 3.   I’m not talking about being defeated by big battles of spiritual warfare. I’m talking the dangers of small things that can poke a tiny, imperceptible hole in our spirits.

We must guard against those small “spiritual leaks,” which can happen in any number of ways. We can pick up nails in our spiritual tires almost anywhere.

  • Maybe we become lax in our spiritual disciplines—we skip a day, then two, in our personal Bible reading. We put off serving for “some day” or “some time.” We plan to catch up later.
  • Or maybe we have a particularly hard week and we just feel anti-social; we don’t really feel like talking to a lot of people. So we take Sunday off from church—we stay home and watch Andy Stanley on TV instead. (He’s a much better communicator than your pastor anyway.) We’ll get back to worship and fellowship next week.
  • Or maybe we fudge just a teeny bit on some small ethical matter (no big deal)—the clerk at Walmart makes a $15 mistake in our favor…and we let it slide. (It’s not my fault! I didn’t do it.)
  • Or perhaps we get careless about something we watch—a movie, a TV show, maybe even a commercial. It stirs desires or passions, and we do nothing to resist it or avoid it.
  • And in that moment (or a dozen others), a small nail punctures our spirit. The leak begins.

There are a lot of ways we can slowly let the air out of our spiritual lives. And all the while we are gradually going flat, we still look okay on the outside. The pneuma is leaking away, but it doesn’t seem to matter. Nothing seems to really be affected.

At least, not yet. Not right away.

But it will! And over time, if we do nothing about it, we will go completely flat spiritually. Even the smallest changes gradually will add up to enormous consequences with disastrous results.

The Bible uses many different pictures to describe this kind of small, gradual spiritual danger…

  • Be careful you don’t drift away from what you’ve heard… (Heb 2:1)
  • Don’t let worries, riches and pleasures of life choke your spiritual life (Luke 8:14)
    One version says: “…as time passes, the daily anxieties, the pursuit of wealth, and life’s addicting delights outpace the growth of the message…” (VOICE)
  • Don’t let your minds be dulled by partying or by worrying about life… (Luke 21:34-35)
  • “…be careful what you think because your thoughts control your life.” (Prov 4:23, ERV)
  • See to it…that no root of bitterness grows up to cause trouble… (Heb 12:15)
  • Watch the words you sayyour tongue can be a spark that sets a forest on fire… (Jas 3:5)
  • Guard against even a hint of bad or destructive behaviors… (Eph 5:3-4, NIV)

It doesn’t take much to reverse the trend and guard against these small, but insidious dangers. It took only 15 minutes and $7 to fix the leak in my tire last Sunday.

So little dangers can be met with simple solutions. So after talking about the “hint” of destructive behavior, Paul goes on in the same chapter to say…

(Eph 5:15-20) 15 Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. 18 Do not get drunk on wine,which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

“Be filled with the Spirit…” Keep filled with the pneuma inside! It’s interesting…this verse…

One commentator (John MacArthur) writes: “A literal translation of the verb [be filled] would read something like ‘be being kept filled.’ The idea is one of keeping yourself constantly filled, as you yield moment by moment to the leading of the Spirit.”

Another writes: “The present tense of the verb implies the need to be regularly filled and re-filled with the Spirit.”

The Amplified version says, “…ever be filled and stimulated with the [Holy] Spirit.”

Another version puts it, “…keep on being filled with the Spirit.” (CJB)

In other words, keep refilled with the pneuma, the Spirit of God, and watch out for slow leaks. It’s often the small things—the tiny things—that catch us off guard and, because we don’t even notice, give us trouble in the end.

They say that if you put a frog into a pot of boiling water, it will immediately leap out to escape the danger. But if you put a frog in a kettle filled with cool, pleasant water, the frog won’t complain. [Picture.] Then if you gradually heat the kettle a few degrees at a time, the frog will not notice the rising temperature. He’ll sit there until the water begins to bubble and boil, but by then it’s too late. He’s already cooking.

Today my wife and I celebrate our anniversary—40 years of marriage… We’ve been together 40 years—and we’ve lived them one day at a time. It’s been one small moment after another, but added together they create a lifetime together. Over 14,610 days I’ve learned that little things do matter. We’ve been learning to manage small problems before they become big problems…

  • So we don’t argue over how to squeeze the tube of toothpaste…we just have two tubes.
  • We don’t stress about toilet lids—she leaves it up, and I put it down.
  • I’ve learned the secret to a long marriage is just two words: “Yes, Dear.”
  • When we got married we agreed that she would handle all the small decisions; I would handle all the important ones. Would you believe it? In 40 years not one important decision!
Sweat the Small Stuff