When I was ten, my family lived on Parkside Avenue in Brooklyn near Prospect Park. We live in a small railroad apartment, so called because it had three narrow rooms in a straight line, like boxcars. My older brother, younger sister, and I shared the only real bedroom. My parents slept on a pullout sofa in the living room, no more than twenty feet away from us. We were obviously a very close family.
One night I got up in the middle of the night and went downstairs to the unfinished basement for some reason. It was cluttered with boxes, crates, and my dad’s woodworking tools and supplies. I was too small to reach the light, so I walked through the basement in the dark. I wasn’t worried because I knew every inch of that area. Or at least I thought I did until I rammed my bare foot into a heavy box.
“Owwww!” I screamed in excruciating pain. I sank down to the floor, crying and grabbing my foot in agony. I thought I would pass out from the pain. I sat in the dark until the pain subsided enough for me to hobble back upstairs.
Two days later, I was still sore. But I learned a lesson that we all learn one way or another: walking in the dark can be dangerous. If the light had been on, I would have avoided all the pain. I would have seen the box and stepped around it.
For most of the world’s history, fire, not electric light bulbs, has illuminated dark nights. Fire helped people see where they were going so they could avoid unseen dangers. It helped them to avoid running into things that blocked their paths or that were coming toward them in the dark.
Thank God that the Holy Spirit’s fire also produces light — something we desperately need in a world full of difficult decisions and hidden dangers. The Spirit illuminates our lives and our choices so that we can see the path ahead and know what to avoid. Yet too often we don’t seek the Holy Spirit’s direction when it comes time to making vital decisions. Even religious organizations often rely only on human intelligence rather than the Holy Spirit’s light for critical decision making. A preacher recently told me that he had attended a board meeting for a Christian ministry. He noticed that no one prayed before it started. There was also no prayer during the meeting, and when it came time to make a difficult decision, not one person suggested trying to find the mind of Christ. No one thought to pray, “Jesus, we don’t know what to do. Send us your Spirit.”
The Holy Spirit is God’s only agent on earth. He was sent here to guide us. If you read the book of Acts, you’ll see that a computer mapping program didn’t govern Paul’s trips. The illumination of the Holy Spirit guided his path. In fact, the spirit forbade Paul from going to some places — not because they didn’t need to hear the gospel, but because God had another plan. And the apostle waited until the Spirit’s direction could guide him into it.
To the believers in Thessalonica, Paul wrote, “Do not put out the Spirit’s fire” (1 Thess. 5:19). Amazingly, although the Holy Spirit is fully God, it is entirely possible for believers like you and me to hinder his work and quench his sacred fire. Some people falsely believe that whatever God wants to do he will do. Consider Jesus’ invitation to his own church in Laodicea: “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me” (Rev. 3:20). If he’s Christ, and he wants in, why doesn’t he just come in? Why does he bother knocking and asking? That’s the mystery of God’s sovereignty and our free will. We must respond to him, or we will miss out on his planned blessing.
Paul told Timothy to stir up the embers, to keep the fire going. We need to do the same thing. For some of us, the embers are faintly glowing, and we need to tend them, stir them up so they will burst into open flame.
Thank God for financial resources, equipment, talent, education, and new translations of the Bible. But for most of us, the greatest need is still more fire. We need the fire of the Holy Spirit changing our lives and our local assemblies. We need it spreading throughout our towns and cities, spreading so Christ can be glorified. May that be our prayer today. Send the fire, God. Burn, penetrate, change, renovate, illuminate. Do as you promised, as we wait in Christ’s name.
Excerpted from Spirit Rising: Tapping into the Power of the Holy Spirit by Jim Cymbala (Zondervan). Used with permission.