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The Fire of the Holy Spirit

The Fire of the Holy Spirit

Back in the 1970s I pastored an Assemblies of God Church in the valleys of South Wales. On Sunday Mornings we had a Breaking of Bread Service which, as well as preaching and Communion, featured a time of open prayer and worship in which any member of the congregation could participate. Always the first to pray was Mrs Pullen – an elderly widow who faithfully cared for her middle-aged daughter who had learning difficulties. Mrs Pullen was a very devout Christian who had been converted in the 1904 Welsh Revival. She was not enamoured by what she saw as a somewhat lower level of commitment to Christ in the rest of us, compared to those who came through those red hot fiery days of Revival! I recall her getting to her feet one day (she always sat in the front row of the church) and praying, ‘Lord, I thank you that I was born in the fire’ – and then after a dramatic pause in which she turned round and looked at the rest of us, continuing her prayer – ‘and not in the smoke!’

Pentecost Sunday is that day in the Church Calendar when we Christians celebrate that first great outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the gathered church community in the Upper Room in Jerusalem, 2,000 years ago. Luke tells us that ‘When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them’ (Acts 2:1-4). ‘Suddenly’, Luke tells us, the Spirit of God came upon the gathered church – and his coming was accompanied by three supernatural signs – a sound, a sight, and strange speech! Firstly, there came from heaven ‘a sound like the blowing of a violent wind’ and the noise ‘filled the whole house where they were sitting’(Acts 2:2). Secondly, there appeared visibly to them ‘what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them’ (Acts 2:3) as an individual possession. And thirdly, ‘all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues (that is, languages of some kind) as the Spirit enabled them’ (Acts 2:4).

These three experiences seemed like natural phenomena – wind, fire, and speech – yet, in reality, they were supernatural phenomena both in origin and character. The noise was not wind, but sounded like it! The sight was not fire, but resembled it! And the speech was in languages which were not ordinary but in some way ‘other’! Their higher senses were affected in that they heard the wind-like sound, saw the fire-like flames, and spoke the ‘other’ languages! And yet what they experienced was far more than merely sensory – it was significant! These three signs represented a new era of the Spirit of God that had begun and the new work he had come to do. The noise like wind symbolised the power that Jesus had promised every believer for victorious Christian living and effective  witness (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:8). The sight like fire symbolised the purity – like the live coal cleansed Isaiah (Isaiah 6:6,7) – that marks the believer out as being different to those who live according to the ways of the world. And the speech in other languages symbolises the universality of the Christian Church – the fact that the Gospel is for everyone and anyone – effective for the salvation of all who dare to believe (Romans 1:16)!

How we need to recover these wonderful truths today – not just academically but more  importantly, experientially! It has become popular, in recent years, for local Christian churches to ‘get together’ ecumenically on Pentecost Sunday to demonstrate their unity and celebrate the ‘birthday of the Church’. Thus, as Pentecost approaches, you will see countless adverts inviting all and sundry to ‘Pentecost Praise’, or the ‘Church Birthday Party’ or a ‘Party in the Park’, and so on. I am not against this. I am all in favour of local churches demonstrating the fact the we are ‘one in Christ’, and taking the Gospel out on to the streets! At the same time, however, I cannot but feel that we are ‘missing a trick or two’ here!  For me Pentecost is all about the ‘empowering’ of the Church so that we might be an effective force for God in this needy world. Reducing Pentecost to a ‘birthday party’ is to miss the point completely, in my view. Personally speaking, I am not at all sure that we are correct theologically in even speaking of the Day of Pentecost as the ‘birthday of the Church’ – the coming into being of the Church as the people of God is a far more complicated a matter, and certainly many of the Early Church Fathers believed that the Church came into being before the creation of the world.

My own conviction is that we are being side-tracked by all this ‘birthday of the Church’ stuff, and that we need to get back to all that it means for us, as Christians, to be truly ‘baptised (or filled) with the Holy Spirit’ (Acts 1:4,5; 2:4). Rather than getting together to ‘party in the park’ and ‘sing our jolly songs’ it would be more profitable for churches to get down and spend serious time in prayer, waiting on God, for him to pour out his Spirit upon us afresh!  The blunt truth of the matter is that the Charismatic Renewal of the 1960s and 1970s ceased a long time ago. Rather than live  pretending that Charismatic Renewal is still with us, we need to be seeking God for a new anointing of his Spirit for today. We desperately need the fire to fall again upon us if we are going to make a difference and impact this broken and hurting and needy world we live in!

A Pastor was roused from his sleep one night by the police with the news that his church had caught fire. Hurrying to the scene he found the fire brigade quickly bringing the fire under control. Apparently more serious damage had been averted by the prompt and zealous action of a man who lived just across from the church. He had spotted the fire, phoned the police and fire brigade, and also managed to put out a good proportion of the fire by the time the fire brigade arrived. Visiting the  man a few days later, to thank him for his invaluable help and assistance, the Pastor enquired as to why he had not seen the man in church before since he lived so close. ‘Well’, replied the man, ‘the church has never been on fire before!’

‘O God of burning, cleansing flame,
Send the fire!
Your blood-bought gift today we claim,
Send the fire today!
Look down and see this waiting host,
And send the promised Holy Ghost,
We need another Pentecost,
Send the fire today!
Send the fire today!

God of Elijah, hear our cry,
Send the fire
And make us fit to live or die,
Send the fire today!
To burn up every trace of sin,
To bring the light and glory in
The revolution now begin,
Send the fire today!
Send the fire today!

It’s fire we want, for fire we plead,
Send the fire!
The fire will meet our every need,
Send the fire today!
For strength to always do what’s right,
For grace to conquer in the fight
For power to walk the world in white,
Send the fire today!
Send the fire today!

To make our weak hearts strong and brave,
Send the fire!
To live a dying world to save,
Send the fire!
Oh, see us on your altar lay,
We give our lives to you today,
So crown the offering now we pray,
Send the fire today!
Send the fire today!
Send the fire today!

~ William Booth (1829-1912)

Jim Binney

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