You don’t play with fire

I saw the plumes of thick grey smoke through the window, and went out to find my neighbour sadly watching her home being consumed by the kitchen fire that had taken hold. Grey smoke turned black as more of her possessions were engulfed, and all I could do was stand by her side and quietly pray. Fire is devastating stuff.

I’d always thought it sounded so spiritually exciting when John the baptist said, “I baptise you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I…He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” (Matthew 3:11-12) Who wouldn’t want some of that??? But as I read it this time, I realised this was no cosy pep talk. More of a threat than a promise. He was talking about sorting out the rubbish and hygienically disposing of it. Sorting out the hypocrites from the true, humble believers, and making sure they did not remain to defile the good.

We’ve been through ‘fire tunnels’ when we’ve been prayed for, for more of God, deeper infilling of his Holy Spirit. We’ve prayed for God’s fire, and sung songs such as ‘Send the fire today…” And of course, harnessed fire is very useful stuff, for cooking, heating, metal work etc. But God’s fire is not able to be harnessed. You cannot in any way control it.

Most certainly God wants to sort out the rubbish within each one of us, and purify us, and that is rarely a painless process. If we give him permission to baptise – fully immerse – us in his holy fire, he can burn away the dross, to leave more room for the Holy Spirit to take up residence within us, then he will surely come and do that. But let us not be glib about it. You don’t play with fire.

The fire service came quickly to my neighbour’s home and extinguished the blaze, but not before it was pretty much gutted. Frustrating months of toil and struggle with insurance companies, builders, renting rooms and scraping belongings together followed, but their home emerged beautifully renovated, better than ever before.

That’s the sort of work God wants to do in our lives. But be careful what you pray for, and be prepared for having the work done. Are you up for it?

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