A FLAME, NOT A FLICKER
It has been repeatedly suggested that fire is the constant symbol in Scripture of the divine presence, a flame of fire. If that is true, then let it be said of us that we are a continuous flame, not an occasional flicker! If a burning fire is the Biblical symbol of purity and power, of illumination and radiation, then it has a message for all of us today. It relates to the quality of our lives and the impact made in the world.
How did the fire start? Well, in the Christian faith it started with the Holy Spirit descending as on Pentecost. But it continues to blaze in our life with a devotional life focused on yielding to Jesus. The flame is to be fanned, and Paul told Timothy to do that very thing, “stir into flame” (II Timothy 1:6, Living Bible).
What do you see in Acts, it is this: the Good News about Jesus became like fire within them, and with hearts ablaze with love and grace, they went out with gladness and singleness of heart, praising and preaching Him to the world, and it was a revolutionary flame of a totally new life; “… the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off …” (Acts 2:39, KJV) Let it be reported, and in us, repeated!
As I sat down to write, I had a heart-cry—it was that these very brief words would be so aflame with Spirit that those who read would want to fall and cry out, “I want that for my life!” Catch the vision of what God wants to do with each of us. He has chosen you to be like John the Baptist; Jesus said of him, “John was a lamp that burned and gave light” (John 5:35). Yes, a fire that burns, not a flame that flickers.
The evangelist of China that made a great and lasting impact was a man named John Sung. He was called “a living flame of gospel zeal.” Freddie Gage was called “a bouncing ball of fire” because of his passion in preaching calling for souls to come to Christ.
This holy flame is for all believers—it makes anyone have a godly personality, a radiant spirit, and a life of effectiveness. And we all know this is the New Testament standard for all believers; let it be true of you personally! There is no reason why, burning within, there should not be a flame of God’s Spirit—a fervency and a consistency that was so typical of the church for the first three hundred years of its life.
Wesley Duewel wrote a book Ablaze for God, and it started with the question which I now quote, “Have you felt that God must have more of the anointing of the Spirit available for you than you have normally experienced?” That’s a terrific and timely question, let’s try to give an answer that speaks to all of us of all ages.
When Paul wrote to a young church, he provided them with an illustration about people drunk with wine (read Ephesians 5:18), and he was saying, instead of being controlled by wine which intoxicates and makes a person drunk, we are to be controlled by the Spirit of God. So, “be filled with the Spirit.” This is then, divine intoxication, and on Pentecost Peter said to the crowd gathered, “Some of you are saying these men are drunk! It isn’t true! It’s much too early for that! People don’t get drunk by 9:00 a.m.! No! What you see this morning was predicted centuries ago by the prophet Joel … God said, ‘I will pour out my Holy Spirit upon all … Yes, the Holy Spirit shall come upon all …” (Acts 2:15-18, Living Bible)
All this started with the believers obediently praying together, and “what looked like flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on their heads.” (Acts 2:3, Living Bible) This caused D. L. Moody to say, “I believe now that if we looked on Pentecost as a specimen day and began to pray, we should have the old Pentecostal fire …” And our desire should be that God will arise in each of us like a holy flame within. Paul used a verb that is the present passive imperative, “filled,” and it implies a constant, continual yielding to the control of the Spirit of God. We could call it a burning heart, spontaneous combustion!
Believe me when I insist God wants to give us burning hearts that are filled with a longing for the glory of God, the sharing of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and for a spiritual harvest of souls, a glorious ingathering. D. L. Moody was called “a burning bush.” John Wesley told the early Methodist evangelists, “If preachers will burn, others will come to see the fire.” Oh, that we all could confess as did an early Methodist evangelist—the words are inscribed on his tombstone—“In living for others, I am burned away.” Candles burn until they are burned away!
But do not get the wrong impression; by saying this, I am not describing some extroverted Christians “jumping out of their skin.” The Bible speaks of a blaze within that gives convictions, compassion, and consistency that causes a person to be a faithful worker in the church and a witness in the world. An example of what I mean could be seen in Vance Havner. He was a twentieth century prophet and was used for many years to stir people’s hearts. Yet, he was not loud or boisterous. He preached using his sermon notes, was almost totally bald and wore glasses, not in any way some character to be seen in a Hollywood action film! Yet, he was ablaze for God. Billy Graham regularly honored him, he constantly read his writing and went to hear him preach, and was asked to speak at his memorial service.
So, by fire from God I am pleading for: God’s fire of holy living, stirring practical acts of love and gracious giving, fire that stirs mental activity and even expands one’s intellectual powers to give wisdom and knowledge and logic that is beyond human skill. I am speaking of deep convictions and a glowing personality that speaks of first-hand knowledge of the things of God. We can call it “an anointing” of the Spirit. It may be seen in a flaming tongue or a thrilling presence of God in a life. It is the very opposite of a passionless Christianity that is aligned with a rehearsed ritualism. Bonar of Scotland said, “Christ and ritualism are opposed to each other, as light is to darkness.” We are speaking then of a refreshing presence of Jesus controlling one’s personality and their character. Peter said that this is for the young as well as the old, for your sons and your daughters. (read Acts 2:17)
Therefore, everyone’s life should be, for every one of us, a flame, not a flicker. In protest and with solid, fiery convictions a Christ-like woman said, sitting in a group of women at a country club, “Until someone can convincingly demonstrate to me and others that I do not need what Jesus Christ can do for my life, I will continue to keep the fire of His love burning in my heart!” Let somebody say, “Amen!”
Always, Christ-like affection is the answer to religious apathy. So that, the real test of the authenticity of the inward affection in a person’s heart is not so much the sudden eruption of feelings as it is the constant passion and path of a life. It is the course of action, the direction one continually travels. Zig Ziglar was correct in saying, “Outstanding people have one thing in common: an absolute sense of mission.” That mission leads directly to Calvary’s cross! Let’s say it this way: likeness comes from loving. We grow to be like that which we love; the greater the fire in one’s love, the greater the likeness blazes!
And that’s it—courage, consistency, and confidence that consumes a life as the fire burns on, not as a Sunday morning faint flicker but a blaze for God’s glory.
“Let the fire burn on and
never burn out!”