Deuteronomy 4:24 says that “the Lord your God is a consuming fire” Hebrews 12:28-29 tells us to “serve God with reverence and awe because our God is a consuming fire.”
We’ve all seen the power of a consuming fire – a powerful image describing our powerful God.
When John the Baptist announced Jesus’ ministry in Matthew 3:11, he said that One was coming who would “baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”
In Acts 2:3, on the day of Pentecost, when the Spirit of God fell on the original disciples, the Scripture says that the Spirit rested on each one “like flames of fire that were divided.”
This same God is present within our church today in the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. I think it is helpful to imagine our church as the kindling for the fire – we are putting the pieces of wood together in such a way that is most conducive for the fire to burn. But we are not the fire. Only the Holy Spirit can bring the fire and set us ablaze for the glory of God. And He is doing that. He is with us. He is igniting us. He is burning within us and among us.
With that image in mind, I want to turn your attention to a key verse for NT spirituality: 1 Thessalonians 5:19. It is a short one – only four words – don’t stifle the Spirit.
The verb translated ‘stifle’ means to “extinguish a fire” to “stop something from burning.” So here’s the picture – the mental image that the Scripture is putting before us:
The Spirit is a fire, and He is setting His church on fire to burn brightly for Him. But if we are not careful, we can take a bucket of water and douse the Spirit. We can stifle the Spirit, quench His work in our midst. And when we do that, we just go back to being a pile of wood without any heat or power.
So, we don’t want to stifle the Spirit. What does that look like?
What are the things that we do that pour water on the fire of the Spirit in our midst?
We might not even realize what we are doing – we are just doing what comes natural to us.
But we are so desperate for God. We need Him more than we need air and water. Without His empowering presence, we are simply going through the motions. But with Him, all things are possible.
To understand how we are stifling the Spirit, we must first know what He is doing in our midst. Only then will we see clearly how we are opposing Him and quenching His fire.
As I have studied the Scriptures, I see four areas where the Spirit seems to be powerfully working:
1- He is leading us toward dependence on God (prayer)
Scripture: Romans 8:26-27
“In the same way the Spirit also joins to help in our weakness, because we do not know what to pray for as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with unspoken groanings. And He who searches the hearts knows the Spirit’s mind-set, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”
The moments in the Scriptures where the Spirit moves most powerfully in the church is through prayer – Acts 2 (Pentecost), Acts 4 (place was shaken, they were filled, spoke boldly), Acts 6 (devote ourselves to prayer), Acts 10 (Peter’s vision as he was praying), Acts 13 (praying when the Spirit set aside Paul and Barnabas for missions), Acts 16 (Paul and Silas in prison praying)…
The Spirit’s fire burns where there is faithful prayer.
2- He is convicting us of sin and turning our hearts toward Jesus
In the gospel of John, Jesus talks about the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
Listen to Jesus’ words in John 14:25-26
“I have spoken these things to you while I remain with you. But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit —the Father will send Him in My name—will teach you all things and remind you of everything I have told you.”
Listen also to His words in John 16:7-8
“Nevertheless, I am telling you the truth. It is for your benefit that I go away, because if I don’t go away the Counselor will not come to you. If I go, I will send Him to you. When He comes, He will convict the world about sin, righteousness, and judgment.”
A couple of thoughts on these passages:
- The Holy Spirit is working among us to point our hearts back to Jesus.
- He is leading us to study and read the Word of God.
- And the Spirit is convicting our hearts where our lives are out of line with the Scriptures.
- His conviction is not one of shaming us, but one of changing us.
- He desires us to trust in Jesus, to follow Jesus, to live like Jesus.
- And He is speaking to our hearts toward that end.
3- He is gifting us for making disciples (living for others)
Scripture: 1 Corinthians 12-14
We just recently preached a five-week series at our church through these chapters, and we learned some important truths:
ONE, that the Holy Spirit has gifted every Christian for the work of ministry, and
TWO, that the gifts are given for two reasons:
- First, that the name of Jesus would be lifted high among all peoples (mission)
- Second, that the church would grow in maturity
The fire of the Spirit comes to the church not just for the good of the church. It comes also to equip the church for the work of the ministry. The Spirit wants us to live for others. The Spirit gifts us to make disciples – both inside and outside the church. The Spirit is not just at work inside your congregation. He is Lord of the whole earth and calling the church to go into the whole world. The NT is clear: the Spirit gifts believers to accomplish the mission He has given us – to serve one another (to build up the church) and to reach the world with the gospel
4- He is bringing unity among brothers and sisters in the church
Jesus prayed in John 17:20-21 for us. Here’s what He prayed:
“I pray not only for these, but also for those who believe in Me through their message. May they all be one, as You, Father, are in Me and I am in You. May they also be one in Us, so the world may believe You sent Me.”
I think we are safe to assume that the Holy Spirit is working to accomplish the prayer of Jesus in the world today. He moves as the people of God are unified and love one another.
Listen to Paul’s encouragement to the Christians in Ephesus in Ephesians 4:30-32:
“30 And don’t grieve God’s Holy Spirit. You were sealed by Him for the day of redemption. 31 All bitterness, anger and wrath, shouting and slander must be removed from you, along with all malice. 32 And be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another, just as God also forgave you in Christ.”
A couple of thoughts:
- We grieve the Spirit when we don’t get along with each other.
- Jesus wants us to be unified as His church – under One Master, One Savior, One Spirit.
- The Holy Spirit is working to build one church with one mind and one heart.
- The church is powerful when we work together as one people with one heart.
- We honor the Spirit and stoke the fire of His work when we love one another.
- But we grieve Him when we don’t – when we can’t get along and are divided.
All of that being said, here’s the real question I want us to wrestle with: how does Satan work in our midst to tempt us to stifle the work of the Spirit? Remember, Satan is a liar. He works to deceive God’s people so that they do not believe the truth. And if we are not careful, we will fall right into his traps. Here’s what Satan is doing to lead us to stifle the fire of the Holy Spirit:
1- Satan is feeding our self-reliance and causing us to doubt God’s goodness.
If we are not on guard, this leads us to a lack of prayer. Now God is sovereign and He will do as He pleases, but He has set up this world with a key spiritual principle in place – if we do not pray, He will not move.
It is time to check our hearts and minds when it comes to prayer. Are you praying at all? Is it sincere? Is it consistent? Are you and I declaring our dependence on God for all of life and ministry?
Or do we simply go through our daily routine without God? And then when the bottom falls out, we run back to the Lord in prayer. If that is our routine, we are stifling the Spirit in our midst. We need to return to prayer as the church. We need to cry out to God and lean on His strength.
Not as an afterthought, but as our heartbeat.
2- Satan wants us to justify our sinfulness and ignore the voice of the Spirit.
I wrote earlier that the Spirit is convicting us of sin and leading us back to Jesus. But Satan doesn’t want us to respond to the Spirit’s conviction and repent and find healing. And so we are tempted to excuse our sin and give up on the pursuit of holiness.
This is one of our biggest struggles. The church doesn’t look any different from the world in our value and practices. This grieves the heart of God and stifles the work of the Spirit. We need to return to a place of holy sorrow for our sin.
We need to not just acknowledge our sin, but see it for what it is and turn from it. The temptations don’t change – to run to sex and money and power and substances for our pleasure, to treat our spouses and kids with hateful words, to lie and steal and betray.
But our attitudes toward them need to change. God’s grace is sufficient to cover all our sin, but that doesn’t mean we should keep on doing it!
3- Satan seeks to convince us to pull away from ministry and mission
In most churches, a small percentage of the people do most of the work. That is terrible and dishonors the gifting of the Holy Spirit.
At its core, it takes the gifts of the whole church to build up the church. And it takes the witness of the whole church to reach the whole world.
I don’t think a church that is full of people who are sitting on the sidelines will ever see God honor that and bless it with His powerful presence.
When we live selfishly (it’s all about me) and fail to live for others (both inside and outside the church), we quench the fire of the Holy Spirit.
4- Finally, Satan plants seeds of distrust and division inside the church (lack of unity)
This is the one that the Lord has been speaking to me the most about recently. I think this is the area where Satan does his greatest damage and hurts the church.
Relationships are hard. They are challenging for so many reasons. In the church, you will experience some of the greatest friendships and community anywhere.
Talk about the challenges of relationships here…
- Lack of love
- Unkind words
- Lack of communication and follow through
Satan uses all of this to plants seeds of distrust and division in our midst. And instead of reconciling as we should when we are hurt, we hold on to our pain and gossip about one another.
And we dump bucket after bucket of cold water on the fire of the Holy Spirit. We need to work on this as the people of Jesus.
We need to move toward each other in love and forgiveness. We need to stop blaming others for our relational difficulties and take responsibility. We need to be unified and be the one body that God has called us to be.
Jesus died for us all – every one of us. Not so that we could create factions and divisions, but so that we could love one another.
So that we could be ONE body – unified under the banner of Christ..
With all of that being said, what do we need to do to stoke the fire of the Spirit rather than stifle His work?
1- We need to welcome Him and express our dependence on Him for our life and ministry.
2- We need to confess our sin (both of omission and commission) and turn back to God.
3- We need to use our Spirit-given gifts to serve others and reach the world.
4- We need to repair relationships in the church that are strained.
My prayer is that every church would repent of stifling the Spirit and get in step with the Lord again.