This Week's Teaching: "Revival and the Four Stages of Fire"
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In Romans 12 we read, "Keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord."
When there's a revival, it's tempting to measure "spiritual fervor" by what we might call ecstatic experience. Ecstasy in the Spirit is beautiful — that overwhelming joy that we experience when we meet God in a profound way, or are renewed in a time of dryness. We burn bright, we feel the heat deep within. It interrupts life, as it should. But then there is also such a thing as quiet intimacy in the Spirit that we experience in the dailies of life. As Keith from one of our churches said to me last week, "An intimate walk with God is unsurpassed by anything in this life." Amen.
I've long thought about this as four stages of a fire. It's helpful to think of "revival" as a bonfire. It serves a wonderful purpose of burning off things that don't belong. But we don't live in the bonfire. We don't do work with the bonfire. In fact, there's a stage that precedes the bonfire, and one that should follow it, and another that too often follows that.
In this week's teaching I explain all four stages of fire. This is important, not only to our own personal spiritual lives, but to the work of the church. May it be for your encouragement as you posture yourself humbly before the Lord, ready to repent quickly of anything that needs to be burned off, while content to burn more slowly, glowing evenly throughout the daily responsibilities of life.
(Watch above while reading below.)
There's a story of a fourth century Christian man who went to an older, well, venerated Christian, and said, "How can I get closer to God? I say, my daily prayers. I'm in scripture. I go to church." However, he would've said it then. And he said, "What can I do?" And the old man stood up and lifted his hands to heaven, and all ten fingers became like flames, like lamps of fire. And the old man said, "If you want, you could become all flame."
I don't know if that literally happened, but I do believe crazier things have happened. I believe that in Luke 3:16, John said that Jesus would come and baptize us with the Holy Spirit and with fire. I believe that in Acts 2 that happened, that the Holy Spirit was poured out on the believers as they were meeting in that upper room. And there was a sound of like a blowing wind. And then there was these flames of fire, tongues of fire that came down and rested on each head. And they began to speak in different languages. It was this evidence that the Holy Spirit had been given in a new way. I believe that.
In my life there was a time that I called out "Jesus" — in my brokenness I called out "Jesus" and I fell to the floor and the Holy Spirit washed over me and transformed me. And I was like he lit my heart on fire. And my heart became all flame that day and it transformed me. No one would've said, my fingers were glowing, but I think the people around me would've said my heart was on fire. It transformed me. I believe things like that happen.
Right now. We have Asbury Revival, and I think it's like a bonfire. It's like the people are watching these students calling out "Jesus." They're falling on the floor, and the Holy Spirit is just filling them and renewing them, and it's like a bonfire. It's an incredible — and I mean this with respect — it's a spectacle, an incredible demonstration of what God does when we call out to him. But it's a bonfire moment. The bonfire moment is not where we live. Sorry, I got a dog right here. I'll try it this way.
The bonfire moments are impressive, but it's not where we live. And so I've thought of it this way. It's an analogy of a fire. We have the dry wood that's stacked up in a way that can catch fire. And that dry wood is the conviction of sin. It's all the sins and the silliness that we live with (and the terrible sins too, not just making light of it.) But it's these things that we live with. It's the convictions of sin, of worthless things. They get stacked up like dry wood, dead, ready to burn, and it gets stacked up in our life, and that might come through hearing the gospel preached.
In the Great Awakening of the 1700s, they articulated what they had seen. They observed that there was conviction, followed by conversion, followed by consolation. And the conviction was where, through prayer and the scripture and preaching, they became aware of their sins. The conversion was when they turned their life over to the Lord. And they poured themselves out to God. The consolation was when the Holy Spirit gave them assurance of their salvation through an experience of God. And also just this sense of love and joy and peace: the consolation of the Holy Spirit. So conviction, conversion, consolation which I believe we're seeing now.
In the dry wood moment, it's that conviction, that sense that I have things in my life that aren't right. And that might be through hearing preaching. It might be through broken relationships. It might be through opening up scripture. It might be through prayer. It might just be that God's doing something in your life and you're saying this can't continue.
Then there's this bonfire moment when the Holy Spirit for some reason just sparks it. It's like you hear the gospel that one time or you become aware of your need in a special way, and it just sparks the dry wood and it just becomes a bonfire. It's an impressive spectacle. People come running. It is so hot, so bright. It's a bonfire. It's cool, and I think we're seeing that in this revival.
But you don't live in the bonfire. You don't do work with a bonfire. The only thing a bonfire does is it burns up the dry stuff and makes a spectacle a cool spectacle. But that's all it does.
Where you really start to get to work is with the glowing embers. When it dies down and becomes a campfire and then dies down a little bit more, and you can stick a burger over it. You can cook on it. And I believe that's where God wants us to live.
Not in the bonfire moments. They're great, but we live with the glowing embers where we can actually cook over it. The glowing embers is the life in Christ. It's the life of the Holy Spirit that wakes up in the morning and devotes ourselves. It's the glowing embers that continues what we could call the spiritual disciplines â€” deciding that I'm going to devote myself to certain things. The dedications where there's no bonfire that anyone would pay special attention. We just do the things in the privacy of our own home. And this is my prayer is that as the bonfire becomes the glowing embers, that we don't lament the loss of a bonfire, but that we celebrate the glowing embers and seriously get to work.
There's a fourth stage, which is the dying coals. And sometimes we can see this in believers who've been around for a long time or who have disconnected from fellowship with other believers. A coal by itself just dies.
My prayer is that some of us who have started to die — like we're just the dying coals, our faith has grown cold, we're not in fellowship with others — that we would come back and, if there's sin in our lives, come back to the bonfire. Let the bonfire ignite. That's my prayer over you. Let the bonfire ignite and burn up all that junk, the worthless stuff. So you become glowing embers again. The glowing embers happen in fellowship. If you've pulled away from fellowship, you've got to move toward it. Move toward God, move toward other believers. Lay your sins out before him. Let him burn them up. Let him burn them up.