A huge fire in the south side of our city last weekend put hundreds of people out on the street, many in their pyjamas. The fire started around 5:15 a.m. in a three-building, four-storey, 149-unit complex under construction and quickly spread, totally destroying nearby duplexes and damaging at least 76 more homes. Hundreds were left without a place to live, and some with only what they were wearing.
We drove by the site the next day. It looked like a bomb had been dropped on a large city block leaving blackened earth and very little else. Any homes left standing were either charred shells, or at the very least had their vinyl siding buckled and melted in the heat.
I thought about this horrid mess this morning when I read 1 Thessalonians 5:19. It says, “Do not quench the Spirit.” I don’t know gallons, but the fire department needed a huge amount of water to quench that fire. In the homes less damaged, water would have ruined anything that was left untouched by the flames. I wondered: how much water, or whatever, does it take to quench the Holy Spirit?
The Holy Spirit is said to be like a fire, not to utterly destroy like real fire does, but to detect sin and make us aware of it, often with a burning heat in our conscience. As we pay attention to that heat and confess our sin, the Holy Spirit purifies us from that sin, if we let Him. That is the negative, unpleasant side of His fire, but we are not supposed to put it out.
A more positive metaphor is the fire or zeal for righteousness, justice and goodness that the Holy Spirit produces. Like a flame in our heart, He moves us to be champions for all that God is and wants done in this world, either through prayer or action. We are not supposed to quench that fire either.
Fire scares me. It also moves me to action. I recall one fire someone started with a cigarette along a country road. We found it moments later, a small blackened arch rimed with flame, but spreading rapidly. This was before cell phones, and I vividly remember my scramble to find help, to get people to the scene. This fire moved so fast, and I can still see in my mind its flames leaping from tree top to tree top before it was quenched.
A few weeks ago we had another experience with fire and my stomach still tightens at the memory. I posted those memories on another blog and can still see the flames in my mind.
I wonder why fire puts such impressions in my heart. Maybe this is a good thing, at least when it comes to the fire of the Holy Spirit. I’ve realized with Him, if I quench that first fire, His purifying heat, then I will never experience the second one, His zeal that sets me in motion.
However, that first fire isn’t difficult to quench. To put it out, all it takes is noise, any noise. Plug in the CD, put on a tape, turn on the radio, or the television, call someone. To hear His convicting voice generally requires silence, willingness to listen.
Even if I won’t listen, He is persistent. Just as a small flame can burst into a powerful fire, so can the Spirit become more powerful, more insistent. To use a different metaphor, if I won’t listen to His gentle tapping, He is quite able to get out a bigger hammer or a two-by-four. Better to have a quiet time with Him and pay attention.
It bothers me to see so many people plugged into noise; I-pods, headsets, cell phones. Silence bothers some people so much that they cannot stand being in it and like a blank wall, must spray it with the graffiti of sound.
For Christians, this is not what God wants. We need that fire because it can burn into us the likeness of Jesus Christ. Another verse, Romans 12:2 says, “Do not be conformed to this world (take that ear phone out of your ear), but be transformed by the renewing of your mind (listen up and let Him change how you think), that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”
Silence is a spiritual discipline. Paying attention to God is hard work. Quenching the Spirit is the easier choice of saying no to His voice, of pouring in so much noise that He quietly goes away and leaves me alone. I don’t like fire, but that alternative is much worse.