Embracing Mystery: Drunk or Filled?

Reflections from Dr. Howell

“Look carefully how you walk, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time” (Ephesians 5:15). Sometimes when Lisa and I are hiking, we have to be careful where we walk. A rock here, a root there, a slippery place, a muddy patch. You can’t just saunter along. You have to slow down, and be deliberate. Paul would say our journey as Christians is like that. Take your time, don’t take stuff for granted, beware all that would trip you up.

It’s about wisdom. We all know smart people, clever people, athletic people, handsome people. Who are the wise people? Wisdom is calm. Wisdom sees beneath the surface of things. Wisdom takes time, and is patient with time. Wisdom treasures what is old and tested, and open to what is new and fresh. Wisdom doesn’t buy the half-baked half-truths you see on billboards or on TV, but is invested in God’s perspective on things.

“Do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is” (Ephesians 5:17). Nobody wants to be foolish, but it’s not hard to be foolish. How then do our understand the will of the Lord? You don’t baptize your biases, and it isn’t in the vicinity of your political ideology. It’s not a quick dial-up Q&A. It takes time, a long immersion in Scripture, worship, prayer, meditation. It’s like learning a foreign language. You can’t get the hang of it in a day or a week or two. It’s won through discipline. You make loads of mistakes. Then one day you’re not just translating but actually thinking naturally in Spanish. In God-ish.

Paul’s other intriguing counsel in this passage? “Do not get drunk with wine, but be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18). He could have just said “Don’t get drunk. But his antidote to drinking is “Be filled with the Spirit.” It’s fascinating how we look to alcohol (or to other stuff we consume, like comfort food or buying stuff or binging TV) to do what the Spirit wants to do for and in us. You drink to cope with a bad day. You drink to celebrate a good day. You drink to make time with others more fun. You drink to stave off the troubles of your life or the darkness in your soul. Of course, while the Bible isn’t a teetotaling book, it is wary of fake substitutes for the Spirit, and of the way we try to mend challenges with things that only worsen the challenge to be mended. Access to the Spirit is right now, but like learning that foreign language, it might take some time and practice to get the hang of being filled with the Spirit instead of consuming something else that can’t fill you but only makes the hollowness in you more hollow.

Ponder these thoughts today, tonight, tomorrow, and next week.