Our God, Our Fire
"like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones"
Fire is a symbol of the Holy Spirit, not just one of his characteristics. The Spirit is not merely exuberance. There are many other facets '“ the Holy Spirit is like a dove, like water from heaven, the guide, the one who was sent to us in the place of Jesus, to walk beside us. He is the wind of heaven and the oil of anointing. The many different forms of his working can be seen. This variety is in turn expressed by what we do when we are filled with the Holy Spirit and guided by him. Without question, everything that takes place in the Christian life depends on the Spirit. And behind everything that the Spirit does is fire.
If you want to save souls in a neat and proper style, without emotion, it is going to be difficult for the Holy Spirit to work with you. Some want Pentecost to be dignified but Pentecost can mean that people think you are drunk. The power of the Holy Spirit can be too great for our frail human bodies. When the fire fell long ago in the Temple, all those who were there fell on their faces.
What I am trying to say is that you cannot maintain your composure when the fire of God falls on you. You will never be the same again. After King Saul had been touched by the Spirit, he was a changed man. If you do not want to be changed, do not hope to receive the fire. If you have it when you are in church, you will also have it when you are not in church. You will be different, a colourful bird among grey-coloured sparrows. Yet that is exactly what the world needs more than anything else '“ people who are different, created by God, people who shine like the lights of heaven 'in a crooked and depraved generation' (Philippians 2:15). Moses saw the burning bush and said, 'I will go over and see this strange sight' (Exodus 3:3). It was an amazing sight! Every bit as amazing as God himself. However are we going to make an impression on people if we are just like them? We have to be people whose hearts are on fire '“ and that does not necessarily make for cosy living.
Paul once shaved his head to make it clear that he had taken a vow (Acts 18:18). People noticed '“ a bald-headed apostle. Yet he was not ashamed of what he had done and it was plain for all to see that he was a man of profound faith who had taken a vow for God. The Sikhs in the British Empire fought for the right to wear their turbans everywhere as a sign of their religion, even on the battlefield, on their motorcycles and indeed everywhere they went. They were proud to show off their faith, to place it on show. Why shouldn't Christian believers who have been baptised in fire do the same?
The disciples emerged from the Upper Rome as changed men and Peter caught everyone's attention when he said, 'we are all witnesses of the fact [that Jesus had been raised to life]' (Acts 2:32). In other words, 'We are proof that Jesus is alive '“ look at us!' What do people look like as they come out of our modern Sunday morning services? Just image the fire falling in Cologne Cathedral and everyone coming out as if they were drunk. Being filled with the Holy Spirit is not something that you can keep to yourself; it is a public affair. Nor is it there for our own satisfaction or convenience. The fact of the matter is that it will cause you a lot of discomfort. The Holy Spirit is not given you to make life easy but to get you out of your cosy, little corner and into this world's winds and storms. Your life's purpose is to go fishing for men in rough waters.
We are not talking about feelings or power but about the person of the Holy Spirit. He can no more be distributed by a preacher or evangelist along the lines of 'Here, have a bit of Holy Spirit!' than you can share out your wife, your son or your daughter. The Holy Spirit is a person. He has not been given so as to produce impressive stage effects as conjurers do. His sphere of operation is where Jesus is being preached. If you remove Jesus, the Holy Spirit will go, too.
Fire for a world that has been set alight
The apostles lived in an age when the world was a violent place. Most of them died a violent death but that was also true of the Roman emperors. Christians suffered inconceivably merciless persecution for more than 200 years. At the end of the 19th century, leading humanists said that the world was about to enter the golden age. Evolution, or so they said, had taken humankind to the pinnacle of its achievements; we had knowledge, enlightenment, technology and peace. In fact, the past century was the most destructive since men and women first walked this planet. Two world wars, numerous smaller wars, terror and famine in Africa, China and India, violence and barbaric perversion '“ right on our doorstep. We apply our greatest academic powers to developing weapons with ever greater powers of destruction and with an increasingly extensive potential impact.
Jesus knew that this violent world needed a powerful antidote '“ his cross and fire from heaven. Fire has to be fought with fire. These days, evil parades openly, boldly and provocatively. Millions boast of their wicked deeds and shame. How are we as Christians to respond to this age? With a glass of milk and water? With a monologue from the pulpit?
We want a church that has been baptised in fire! It is time for us to rise up, raise our voices and be silent no longer. Let our tongues be set alight by the fire of the Holy Spirit. The early Christians were burned like torches in the gardens of Nero, the Roman Emperor. We, too, need to burn like torches for our Lord in the pitch darkness of this world that acts as if God does not exist. A man of fire is not afraid of what people can do to him. We know him who is the truth; let's tell people about him.
We need to set our countries on fire spiritually. Yes, we will be controversial people but we will make sure that godlessness is also controversial. We will show it for what it is, worthless and wretched. Unbelief and the rejection of Christ engender every kind of sin and evil. The world is mad. It is insane to doubt the existence of God, the resurrection and the word of the Lord.
We need people who are on fire spiritually and church fellowships that are ablaze with enthusiasm and can start a nationwide forest fire. Revival means fire, people with true fire '“ that burns for all to see. Revival does not come if you remain comfortably within your four walls and ask God to do something.
The prophet Jeremiah was the kind of person we need '“ millions of them. Although he was discouraged, he could not keep silent. He said that the word of God was 'like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones' (Jeremiah 20:9).
Let's go back to where we started. Our God is a 'consuming fire'. Can you cope with that, with the 'eternal blaze'? Think about it.