Getting Out of the Doldrums

A hotel on the Niagara Peninsula parked a full scale antique trading ship next to it. It sits there silently in the waters of Lake Ontario. The vessel can no longer sail; it’s just a landmark. When I noticed the ship, I imagined the majestic sailing vessels that have traversed the world’s oceans for centuries. I wondered what it was like for sailors to cross vast oceans without on-board engines. The ship had to depend upon the wind to fill its sails and send it on to its destination.

Many a ship depended on Trade Winds. According to an encyclopedia, these trade winds are close to the surface over most of the tropical oceans. They result from the balance among three forces in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans: 1) the pressure difference between the subtropical high-pressure centers and the equatorial trough (a band of low pressure extending around the Earth near the equator), 2) the opposing force from the rotation of the Earth, and 3) the frictional drag of the air over the sea. These winds blow from the northeast and from the southeast (over the areas 30 degrees north and 30 degrees south of the equator). Because these winds have consistent direction and velocity, they became known in the days of sailing ships as the northeast and southeast trades.[1]

If a ship strayed out of these Trade Winds into the region of light, variable winds and slow ocean currents over the equator, they missed out on the power to make more rapid, forward progress. This area became known as the “doldrums” (which is easier to remember than “the intertropical convergence zone”!). The wind is calm there about one-third of the time, so ships’ sails– and the sailors’ spirits–sagged.[2]

Christians are not exempt from a case of the doldrums!

For some, the “lack of winds” isn’t noticeable because they have positively oriented “flesh.” They appear successful in their situation in life due to their strength, talents, and effective coping mechanisms.

More common is the plight of believers who have negatively programmed “flesh.”[3] Their self-life has caused internal, external, and inter-personal conflicts. Circumstances have seemed to conspire against them to cause their coping strategies to fail. Their sails have gone limp–a case of the doldrums. How can our power be restored?

Ironically, those who admit that their flesh cannot succeed are more prepared for God’s answer! The first beatitude affirms, “Blessed are the poor in spirit” (Matt. 5:3). Yet, God has always planned to empower His people through His Holy Spirit. The prophet Zechariah encouraged the leader who was rebuilding the temple in Jerusalem: “This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ Says the LORD of hosts” (Zech. 4:6). Similarly, following Christ’s resurrection–and prior to Pentecost–the Lord instructed His timid disciples: “Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you; but tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high” (Luke 24:49).

The Great Commission can only be carried out by the supernatural enablement of the Spirit of God: “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8: see Matt 28:18-20).

The doldrums in the Christian life are intended as a wakeup call. Our independent resources can never succeed in accomplishing God’s will, which alone is good, acceptable, and perfect (Rom.12:2).

So how can we experience the power of the Holy Spirit?

Be assured that if Christ is your Lord and Savior, the Holy Spirit already indwells you. He is the One who convicted you of your sins and persuaded you that Jesus is Lord! (John 16;8-11; 1 Cor. 12:3). When you repented and believed the gospel, the Holy Spirit sealed you for the day of redemption: “In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise” (Eph. 1:13; see Eph. 4:30; 2 Cor. 1:22). The presence of the Holy Spirit in your heart has given you spiritual rebirth, baptized you into the body of Christ [the church], and made you a temple of the living God! (Titus 3:5-6; 1 Cor. 12:13; 3:16).

You say, “Wonderful! I have the Holy Spirit, so why am I in the doldrums?”

This leads us to the admonition of Ephesians 5:18:

“And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation [reckless living];
but be filled with the Spirit.”

Granted, as a believer, you have the Holy Spirit, but does He have all of you? Let’s take a closer look at Ephesians 5:18.

* “Be filled,” in the Greek is “pleroo,” meaning: “to fill to the top so that nothing shall be wanting to full measure; fill to the brim.” It is a symbolic picture of the Holy Spirit being in full control of the believer’s life.

* There is a comparison and contrast in the verse. Instead of being “under the influence” of alcohol, we are to be “under the influence” of God’s Spirit. This especially involves yielding to His blessed, wise, and loving control.

* “Be filled” is a command. Having the fullness of the Spirit is non-optional for the obedient Christian. If you like grammar, you’ll be glad to note that “be filled” is not in the indicative mood (stating a fact), but in the imperative mood (a command). This points to the need for us to meet God’s prescribed conditions for this fullness.

* “Be filled” is in the present tense, indicating continuous action. It is not enough to have had an experience of the Spirit’s power in the past; being filled is a “now” issue–a daily decision.

* It is also significant that “be filled” is in the passive voice. We are not to fill ourselves. Filling is God’s business. What is our part? We confess our emptiness, repent of all known sin, and trust His promise. Since it is God’s will to control and empower us, we can be confident that He will do so! (1 John 5:14-15). Like salvation, being filled with the Holy Spirit is by grace through faith. He fills us by grace; we cannot and do not deserve Him. He fills us through faith. His presence and power is based on taking God at His Word, not necessarily by feelings or spine-tingling sensations. “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1).

In light of God’s admonition, “Be filled with the Spirit,” are you willing right now to say yes to His infilling? As you remain in yielded dependence upon Him, He will empower you: “I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16).

As The Holy Spirit fills you, He reveals that the Lord Jesus Christ is all that you ultimately need. David Tryon described this rich provision:

“When God gave you the Holy Ghost at your conversion, He gave you all you need for your Christian life and service. God requires nothing of you which the Holy Spirit cannot work in you … What is your need?

“Is it holiness? You will not find even the beginnings of it in yourself. He is the Holy Spirit. Where He is allowed to work, increasing holiness must be the result.

“Is it love to God and to others? You can never work it up. He is the Spirit of love, and where He is allowed to work in a human heart (however cold before) He sheds abroad the live of God in that heart (Rom. 5:5).

“Is it assurance? It will never come by reasoning or argument. He is the Spirit of adoption (Rom. 8:15), and His work is to witness with your spirit that you are indeed a child of God, enabling you to call God “Father” with full assurance.

“Is it power over sin and for service? He is the spirit of power (2 Tim. 1:7). He is ‘the Spirit of Him that raised up Jesus from the dead’ (Rom. 8:11). If He is allowed to work in you, all the power of His resurrection will be put forth in you to conquer sin and to perform God’s will through you.

“Is it an understanding of God’s Word? Alone you cannot understand it. You may fill your head with its teachings, but a heart knowledge of its truths, and the assimilation of them into your life, are beyond your reach. He is the Spirit of truth; His work is to lead you into all truth (John 16:13)…

“Is it that you want Christ to become real to you? It is the Holy Spirit’s work to make Him real. He alone can take of the things of Christ and reveal them to you (John 16:14).”[4]

Friend, you are not destined to stay in the doldrums. The power of God’s Spirit is available to you now as you yield and trust in Him. He will fill your life like the Trade Winds, equipping you daily to be about your Father’s business.


[1] “Trade Winds” in Year 2000 Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia (Grolier Interactive, 1999).

[2] “Doldrums”, Ibid.

[3] For further study, see GNs “Maladjusted Flesh,” and “Well-Adjusted Flesh.”

[4] David Tryon, But How?, (Moody Press). Available at

Notice Christ’s comparison of the Holy Spirit to the wind (John 3:8). See also Roy Hession, Be Filled Now, (CLC).

Copyright 2000, (3rd edition) by John Woodward. Permission is granted to reproduce Grace Notes for non-profit purposes.

Scripture quotations from The Holy Bible, New King James Version (c) 1982 Thomas Nelson (unless indicated otherwise).

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