“Occupied” – a key to joy filled living

“When an evil spirit leaves a person, it goes into the desert, seeking rest but finding none. Then it says, ‘I will return to the person I came from.’ So it returns and finds its former home empty, swept, and clean.  Then the spirit finds seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they all enter the person and live there. And so that person is worse off than before. That will be the experience of this evil generation.” Matthew 12:43-45

If we’re going to live our lives well, we’re going to need to take out the garbage.  The pain we’re carrying, the lies we believe, the shame and hidden addictions that we’re carrying around, the bitterness and rage that’s seething just under the surface – all of it needs to be brought up to surface and tossed out.  This is called, “bringing things into the light” in Ephesians 5.   It’s great to identify pain, loss, failure, shame, and anger; name them, deal with them, and move on.  Simple, right?

There are thousands of people walking around who have brought there stuff up to the surface, named it, and dealt with it, only to find that the same stuff returns over and over again, sometimes with a vengeance.  That’s the point of the demon story up there at the top, in Matthew 12.  Jesus is tell us that if we “take out the garbage” but don’t fill the new empty space with Christ, the empty space will invite more toxic garbage than was there in the first place.  Just naming your addiction, rage, greed, fear, shame, or whatever – isn’t going to bring real liberation.  You’ve got to fill that void.

What should put in the void?   The things that make for intimacy with Jesus, because when I’m enjoying intimacy with Christ, there’s just no space left for the garbage.  What kind of things make for intimacy?

Revelation from God – try “verse of the day” for starters

Prayers - which can include praise (because you’re mindful of God’s kindness, blessings, and beauty you’ve seen in the world), pouring out your heart in complaint, asking God for things, and asking God to act in the lives of others we care about.

Out of my prayers and reflection, I find my priorities for the day taking shape as, in these quieter moments, I see clearly and remember the things that are important for me.  Lo and behold, as I begin to live out of God’s priorities, I find that I’ve less time for garbage to settle in the recesses of my mind and heart.  When my life is filled with celebration, caring for and encouraging others, doing my job, being creative, enjoying creation, good food and conversations, keeping in touch with people, and doing some good reading – The garbage collector has much less to pick up at the end of the week.

On the other hand, the days I live less purposefully usually have some voids in them, and the coppery breaths of doubt, shame, lust, greed, and fear all find their way in and take up residence.  It’s not pretty.

All of this is why having a rule of life is important – why you need to make sure you’re inhaling the life of God on a regular basis, filling your life with His, so that your time, thoughts, and priorities become His too.  The result of all this filling is, ironically, a spacious and freedom unimagined, when we’re living on our own.

About Richard Dahlstrom

As Pastor of Bethany Community Church in Seattle, Richard teaches with vision of "making the invisible God visible" by calling people to acts of service and blessing. It's working, as a wilderness ministry, homeless shelter, and community meals that serve those living on the margins are all pieces of Bethany's life. "We're being the presence of Christ" he says, "and inviting everyone to join the adventure." Many have, making Bethany one of the fastest growing churches in America in 2009 according to Outreach Magazine.

  • Margaret Dybash

    Thank you Richard for this important reminder. It couldn’t have been more timely for me.


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