March 8, 2012

God lights the fire and keeps it burning

Many years ago I was driving a country road near the home of my parents. I saw smoke and came to a place where someone had obviously thrown a burning item into the dry grassy ditch. A half circle had already burned and the flames were rapidly moving toward nearby trees. This wooded area was dry as tinder. Several nearby homes were in danger. I found a phone and called the local fire department.
The controlled use of fire was an early human discovery. Fire adds light and heat, cooks plants and animals, clears forests for planting, and was used to treat stone in making tools and clay for pottery. Technically, fire is the rapid oxidation of a material in a chemical process of called combustion. The visible flame is glowing hot gases and can vary in color and intensity depending on what is burning. Most fires can be extinguished. 

In the Bible, the Holy Spirit is sometimes compared to or illustrated by fire. Fire is a powerful purifier as well as giving light and heat. The Holy Spirit is also a purifier, giving spiritual light and a burning motivation to obey God. The Bible commands me to be filled with the Spirit and follow His direction in obedience. The following passage tells me not to put out this holy fire.
We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil. (1 Thessalonians 5:12–22)
Christians are supposed to respect their leaders in love because of the work they do. We are not to fight with one another, but positively urge those who are idle, timid or weak. This is to be done with patience. If someone treats us wrongly, we are not to strike back but do good to all. 

These can be tall orders at times, but some spiritual disciplines can that help us. In this passage, we are told to practice joy, pray continually, and be thankful. This runs contrary to the way the world responds, but it can be done — IF we test and hold to sound teaching, say no to every form of sin and are careful to not put out the fire of the Holy Spirit. This is one flame that must be allowed to keep burning as it purifies and energizes our lives, making obedience possible, even when it seems impossible.

Some days I don’t feel like giving the Spirit that much attention or freedom in my life. While quenching Him can be a sudden thing, like throwing water on a bonfire, it can also happen slowly. Each time I say no to God’s  commands, the Spirit’s fire is less intense. If I say no enough times, He is barely there, nearly extinguished. Such folly makes me my own worst enemy as far as living a Spirit-filled life goes. This is why I need a Savior, and this is why I love the next two verses from the above passage . . .
Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it. (1 Thessalonians 5:23–24)
I fail often, throwing water on the fire God lights in me. But God set me apart and is working in my life so that He can say “not guilty” when Jesus comes for me. As my Savior, what I cannot do on my own, He will do it. What I keep doing on my own that is counter-productive, He will stop it. He was faithful to call me to this life and He is faithful to be all that I need to live it.

Lord, I need Your fire so that I can obey Your Word. Some days I feel like a big wet blanket, not wanting to do anything other than my own thing. Yet I know that without You, my efforts are like wet ashes, disgustingly useless to produce obedience and godliness. Thank You for the Holy Spirit. Thank You for guarding my foolish efforts to quench Him — and for re-igniting His fire whenever I’ve done so.

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