Robert D. Pace
HOLY SMOKE! WHERE’S THE FIRE?
1 Chronicles 22:1
The 21st Century stands upon the shoulders of all centuries regarding its ability to propagate the Gospel. The Church has the technology of television, Internet, radio, and the publishing industry to reach the nations. We have PowerPoint, Praise Teams, and drama to illustrate the Gospel. We have gifted preachers and singers to present the Word. We have state-of-the-art sanctuaries with stage, lights, and vapor. But my question today is this: Holy Smoke! Where’s the Fire?
I’m convinced I’m asking the right question because fire is mentioned about 550 times in Scripture and it was a vital part of worship in both Old and New Testaments.
Let me give you an example from the Old Testament. God instructed Moses to build a Tabernacle where His people could worship. The Tabernacle contained 7 articles of furniture that compiled the worship experience. One was the Brazen Altar. It is where the priests sacrificed animals for man’s sin. It was a place where life met death and the weight of sin became evident. But Moses reveals additional information about the Brazen Altar. It was the place where God commanded a perpetual fire to burn (Leviticus 6:12-13). The Priests had to make certain that the fire never flickered out.
You may wonder how a perpetual fire at the Tabernacle relates to worshipers today. Remember, the Bible repeatedly uses fire as a metaphor for God. Hebrews 12:29 says, “Our God is a consuming fire.” God and fire are indivisible. Thus, it informs us that there can be no true worship without the fiery presence of God!
You can run references through the Old Testament and find the defining moments of Jewish history included God showing up with fire. For example:
When God promised the land of Canaan to Abraham He sealed that Covenant by consuming Abraham’s sacrifice with fire (Genesis 15).
When God gave Moses the Ten Commandments atop Mount Sinai, the Lord descended in a fiery canopy that enveloped Sinai.
As a sign of His presence, God directed Israel through their 40 years in the wilderness by placing a fiery cloud over them.
And then, the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost came with tongues of fire sitting upon the 120 worshippers.
But fire symbolizes more than God’s presence. It has a broad and dynamic meaning. Since that’s the case, I want to investigate three emblematic ways Scripture uses fire.
(Transition) I want to discuss what it means to be “in the fire”; what it means to be “plucked from the fire”; and what it means to be “on fire.” First, let’s talk about being “in the fire.”
I. “In the Fire.”
The phrase, “in the fire,” describes someone enduring the crucible of affliction. It’s someone suffering hardship. I’m sure everyone here has had a trial by fire. I am equally certain you agree with the Apostle Peter who said that “passing through the fire” is unpleasant!
Since everyone spends time in the fire, we need to answer a question. What is the purpose of a “fiery trial”? Why has God ordained Christians to spend time there?
It could be that God puts us “in the fire” to turn us from our misguided way. Or, there are times He opens the furnace of affliction to discipline us. But the Prophet Malachi identifies the primary purpose for walking “in the fire.” Malachi 3:3 says God uses fire to purify us and prepare us for righteousness works. He calls it the “Refiner’s Fire.”
The Refiner’s Fire
Listen to Malachi 3:2. “But who can endure the day of His coming? And who can stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap. (3) “He will sit as a smelter and purifier of silver, and He will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, so that they may present to the LORD offerings in righteousness.”
(Illustration) I want you to understand what Malachi meant when he described the Lord as the Refiner. It’s really an amazing picture that Malachi paints because ancient silversmiths labored with unbroken attention. The silversmith would situate himself before the fire, set the temperature, and at the right moment place the gold or silver into the flames. This was a cleansing process that involved removing slag and impurities from the metal. And the Refiner gave his unwavering attention to this process. He never conceived of setting the temperature, inserting the gold, and walking off. That’s because the gold or silver could be destroyed if the temperature blazed out of control or it remained in the fire too long.
Remember how Malachi recorded his words. He said, “The Lord will sit as a refiner and purifier.” And here’s what that means: It means God remains steadfastly before you as He refines you “in the fire.” He’s not an absentee refiner! He doesn’t shove you into the fire and walk off!
This is why the prophet promised, “When you pass through the fire you will not be burned.” As long as you’re “in the fire” you have the Heavenly Refiner’s unblinking attention. And you should know that He has drawn as close to you as He was with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.
I know it’s hot for some of you. Perhaps the fire seems intolerable. But remember, this is a controlled fire; it’s not an unrestrained forest fire. There’s a difference between the “Refiner’s fire” and a “wildfire.” A “wildfire” destroys life, but a “Refiner’s fire” improves life. God has caused you to “pass through the fire” to make you stronger and purer and shape you into Christ’s glorious image.
I want you to understand how the silversmith knows his work is complete and the metal is refined. When the silversmith peers into the hot, liquid metal and sees his image, he knows the process is complete. Now, this explains why some of you “are in the fire.” Your heavenly Refiner is watching over you to extract the slag so He can remake you into His glorious image.
(Transition) This is what it means to be “in the fire.” But now I want to talk about being “Plucked from the Fire.”
II. “Plucked from the Fire”
I would rather be “plucked from the fire” than remain “in the fire” any day! Does anyone need “plucking from the fire”? Well, I can say with confidence that God knows how to extract you! I know there are times when we think we will never escape the heat, but the Heavenly Fire Marshall is fully capable of snatching you from your fiery trial!
There’s an expression the Old Testament Prophets employed to illustrate Israel’s deliverance from Egyptian Captivity. One reference is found in Deuteronomy 4:20 where Moses wrote: “the Lord has taken you [Israel] . . . out of the iron furnace, from Egypt.” Another is found in Jeremiah 11:4. The Lord says, “I brought them [Israel] out of the land of Egypt, from the iron furnace.”
Israel’s 400 years of captivity in Egypt was so agonizing that Scripture likened it to being trapped in an “iron furnace.” But one day a man that had been ignited by a “burning bush” marched into that “pressure cooker,” gathered the Israelites for their Exodus, and left the entire nation of Egypt in smoldering ruins. The only Egyptians that weren’t scorched were those that drowned in the Red Sea!
If God can extricate the unarmed Israelites from the mightiest monarchy on Earth, then God can deliver you from the “iron furnace” too.
And in case you’re wondering, it doesn’t matter how you fell in the fire. You may have been the worst of sinners, but the Bible says “God delights in mercy” and He is more than willing to deliver you (Micah 7:18).
(Transition) Let me tell you about one of Israel’s High Priests whom God “plucked from the fire.” His name was Joshua and Zechariah 3 tells his story. Turn there and let’s read Zechariah 3:1-7.
Joshua, “A Brand Plucked from the Fire”
Here was Joshua, Israel’s High Priest, guilty of sin. And Satan was well aware of Joshua’s sin. That’s why Satan, whom the Bible calls “the Accuser of the brethren,” indicted Joshua. But the Lord turned a deaf ear to Satan’s accusations, even though he leveled accurate charges against Joshua. The Lord said, “This is no time for recrimination or accusation. Satan, you’ve stripped Joshua of his dignity but I’m stripping him of his sin.” And with that, that Lord turned and said, “Joshua, I have taken away your iniquity and I’m clothing you with “festal robes.”” Notice that! Joshua didn’t get an ordinary change of garments; the Lord re-dressed him with “festal robes.” They were vestments that only the High Priest could wear.
Do you see what happened? Joshua, the High Priest guilty of “iniquity,” got his position back! And God can do the same for you if you will humble yourself.
Notice the precise verbiage Zechariah scripts into this narrative. He said Joshua was “a brand plucked from the fire.” God didn’t say Joshua was a “stick plucked from the fire.” He called Joshua a “brand.” A brand is an object that places a mark on something else. Think about that: God snatched out Joshua as a “brand” that would once again make his mark in life! God determined that Joshua’s purpose would remain steadfast and unaltered.
Paul wrote in Romans 11:29, “The gifts and calling of God are irrevocable.” That means your mistakes haven’t stripped away your anointing and gifts. Your sins haven’t disqualified you from service. God has a place for you in the Kingdom!
(Transition) King David also had a “close call” with sin but God plucked him from the fire, too! Let’s rehearse what happened.
David’s Illegal Census
1 Chronicles 21 discloses how David numbered Israel’s fighting men in order to assess his military strength. But David violated the Law of Moses when he took the census, so God dispatched an angel who executed 70,000 men. For three days, the death angel soared throughout Israel slaying their robust warriors. As the drama unfolded, God opened David’s eyes to see the angel suspended over Jerusalem with a drawn sword. There he was with his weapon waiting to continue, but God had momentarily stopped the angel at the Threshing Floor of Araunah. That’s when David begged for mercy.
The angel holding the sword spoke to the Prophet Gad and commanded that David build an altar at Araunah’s Threshing Floor. David rushed to the site, bought the land for 600 shekels of gold, built an altar, offered a sacrifice, and pleaded for deliverance. In response, the Lord sent fire from heaven and consumed the sacrifice and commanded the angel to sheath his sword (1CH 21:26-27). Judgment was over.
God has an important lesson here. He explains how we can get out of the fire when we are responsible for lighting it. It’s not coincidental that God halted this angel’s deathly sentence at the Threshing Floor of Araunah. The Bible shows that this property is where God repealed His wrath three times. It was a unique place where God’s grace and mercy abided. You probably remember the other two times:
First, one thousand years earlier, Abraham stood on that very spot, known as Mount Moriah, where God commanded him to sacrifice Isaac. But with his knife over his head, God halted Abraham and provided a lamb.
And then secondly, 1000 years after David, this is where our Lord Jesus Christ surrendered his life for our sins and the Roman soldier lifted his sword and pierced Christ’s side.
Do you see what’s happening at this place of sacrifice? Judgment against man’s sin stops at Calvary. God’s grace is greater than man’s sin. When we blow it and are without excuse, it’s time to visit Calvary and accept mercy.
You can see how marvelous God’s mercy is as He dealt with David. 1 Chronicles 21 opens by saying, “Satan rose up against Israel and incited David to take a census of Israel.” But then, on the heels of breaking the Old Testament Law and incurring the death of 70,000 men, the next chapter opens altogether differently. Listen to David’s words. “The house of the Lord God is to be here, and also the altar of burnt offering for Israel.”
Do you see what happens in these two chapters? One chapter of your life can be adrift with sin and failure, but the next chapter can be filled with God’s mercy, grace, and forgiveness. Christ can “make all things new.” Thank God for new chapters . . . Thank God for grace!
Isaiah the prophet said, “Come, let us reason together. Though your sins are as scarlet, they shall be white as snow. Though they are red as crimson, they shall be as wool.”
(Transition) I’ve talked about being “in the fire” and being “plucked from the fire,” but now I want to talk about being “on fire.” This is another familiar expression pertaining to fire.
III. “On Fire”
(Example) A basketball player that makes several consecutive shots is described as being “on fire.” He’s making his shots and he wants the basketball.
Christians need the same mindset. We need to get “on fire” for God so we can accomplish His work. That’s why the Bible says Jesus will baptize Christians “with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” He wants to fill us with His victorious presence:
God called Moses by the fire at the burning bush.
Elijah is known as the prophet of fire.
He called down fire and eventually departed this world in a fiery chariot.
The prophet Jeremiah said he wouldn’t speak in God’s behalf, but the fire of God’s Word burned so intensely within Jeremiah that he broke his promise and prophesied anyway!
The mission of the Prophets was so monumental that they couldn’t fulfill it without God’s burning presence.
When you read the New Testament you discover that other than the two apocalyptic prophets of Revelation (Moses and Elijah), there is no New Testament record of any specific individual ministering with God’s fire upon them. There is a reason for this: It’s because Acts 2 shows the Holy Spirit igniting every believer who would accept it! God’s offer is available for everyone and not just a select few.
The Fire of God Protects
(Illustration) Awhile back, the Lord directed me to pray for a fiery hedge to surround me. He said, “You need a hedge of fire surrounding you for protection against your enemies.” Let me assure you, God’s messengers need divine protection to complete their mission. After the Lord spoke this to me, I realized that Christ conducted His entire three-year ministry with a hedge of fire surrounding Him. There are two Scriptures that confirm this:
First, Jesus was the exact reflection of His Heavenly Father, who was a “consuming fire” (Deuteronomy 4:24; Hebrews 12:29).
Second, Psalm 97:3 says, “A fire goes out before Him to consume His enemies.”
You and I will face mortal enemies that would destroy us without God’s protection. But a surrounding fire of defense will destroy Satan’s work. It repels our enemies and helps us complete our heavenly assignment.
(Transition) But Christians not only need God’s fire encompassing them, they need God’s fire within them. Let me explain why.
The Fire of God Energizes our Message
The Holy Spirit burning within us energizes our message. It infuses our natural speech with divine authority.
(Example) How many know what it means to share God’s Word with little or no results? You know what it means to have your message fall flat before your hearers? When that happens, we sometimes blame others’ disinterest or their hardheartedness. We excuse our ineptitude by saying, “The soil of their soul was hard.” But that’s not always the answer. Sometimes our words haven’t been ignited by the Holy Spirit. We haven’t spent enough time in God’s fiery presence to set our soul aflame. Instead of the “zeal of the Lord” consuming us, we have been enamored with our polish, which may glow but has no power to burn!
It takes more than a skillfully crafted argument to explain God’s existence to a self-proclaimed atheist. It takes more than scientific proof and empirical evidence to overturn evolutionary ideology. It takes words spoken with the fire of heaven to extinguish false beliefs from people!
Skillfully crafted arguments bolstered by research, data, and articulation aren’t enough to change the minds of skeptics. People don’t always respond to commonsense. Our words must be born of the Spirit because only His fire melts hard, cold hearts.
That’s why God touched Isaiah’s tongue with fiery coals from heaven’s altar. He wanted Isaiah’s words set aflame. And when we speak with heavenly fire worldly arguments become as “wood, hay and stubble.”
The Kingdom of God needs something more than gifted orators; we need messengers “on fire” with the Spirit of God. When that happens, it becomes incredibly difficult for the world to remain untouched and unmoved.
How to Set Your Soul on Fire
You say, “How do I set my soul on fire?” There are two ways. First, I want to answer that question with some “deductive reasoning.” The Bible says, “Our God is a consuming fire.” Since God is a “consuming fire” what happens if you draw near Him? Those that draw near to God will, in some mysterious way, assume His nature and catch fire.
The reason we don’t have more heat in the church is because we are worshipping God from a cool, comfortable distance instead of close to His fiery presence. We are worshipping in the Outer Court rather than the Inner Sanctuary.
Once again let me identify what has happened to contemporary religion: Religion today has technology, cameras, lights, and even vapor to display a “churchy” production. But I must ask again, Holy Smoke! Where’s the Fire?
(Transition) The second way to set your soul on fire is found in Revelation 3 where Christ dealt with the Church of Laodicea.
Fire for a Lukewarm Church
Of the seven churches Jesus addressed in Revelation, this lukewarm congregation was the only one which Jesus didn’t have one positive appraisal. I want to read you, word for word, what Jesus said about the Laodiceans.
“‘I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. (16) ‘So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth. (17) ‘Because you say, “I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,” and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked, (18) I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich. . . .”
That’s a scathing rebuke! But the loving Lord didn’t rebuke them without a remedy. And His cure for spiritual indifference is found in verse eighteen. Jesus said, “I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich.”
According to Jesus, the answer to their spiritual apathy and indifference was to “buy gold.” You say, buying gold sets you on fire? Yes! But this isn’t metallic gold extracted from the earth. Jesus said, “I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire.”
That seems like a strange solution to lukewarmness and it leads me to ask two questions. First, what type of currency is required for making this purchase? I thought Peter rebuked Simon the Sorcerer by saying, “May you perish with your money because you thought you could purchase the gift of God.” And second, what exactly is this gold that could transcend Christ’s own personal glory? He is the incalculable treasure of the Kingdom of God, yet, He urges the Laodiceans to buy something from Him mysterious and costly. So, (1) what type of capital do we use and (2) what is this gold we purchase?
This is an incredible word picture that John paints here. Imagine it: Here is Jesus, in all His transcendence, standing before the Laodicean church and making His appeal.
Notice that Jesus said this purchase must come directly from Him! He said, “buy from Me gold refined by fire.” That meant this transaction could only occur with Kingdom currency. The treasures of heaven are not purchased with cash. That’s because the currency of the Kingdom of God is faith! “He that comes to God must believe that He is and that He rewards those who diligently seek Him.” You and I aren’t rich because the Federal Reserve System endorses our negotiating. We are wealthy because we abound in faith! Hebrews 11:6 says, “Without faith it is impossible to please God.” That’s why Isaiah 55:1 says, “You who have no money come, buy and eat. Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.”
Jesus tells the Laodiceans to reject the assumption that spiritual wealth is measured by financially security, dressing nicely, being technologically savvy, and needing nothing. Mammon cannot make purchases in the Kingdom of God. Faith is the capital stock of Heaven! Are you rich in faith?
But the second question that needs answering concerns the nature of this gold that Jesus said we must buy. And it is no ordinary gold! This is not the rich and rare “gold of Ophir” (2 Chronicles 9:10). Jesus called it “gold refined by fire.” It is without slag and flawless. It’s perfectly pure. This is gold from Heaven. And since nothing transcends the worth of Jesus Christ Himself, this gold represents the essence of all Christ is. It is His character, love, compassion, and humility. And when you use your faith to make this heavenly purchase, it will make you rich and set your soul on fire!
How Shall We Worship?
Ezekiel 5:4 shows that it only takes a few people “on fire” that can set a vast part of the kingdom aflame! The Prophet says: “Take again some of them and throw them into the fire and burn them in the fire; from it a fire will spread to all the house of Israel.”
I am grateful for beautiful worship centers. Wherever you travel you see magnificent sanctuaries. The church is blessed with modern technology, talented singers, and gifted speakers. But there is absolutely no substitute for God’s glory. Nothing! It is wrong to assume that churches can operate in spiritual power and overturn evil without the manifested presence of the Holy Spirit. We need more of God and His glory in our worship services.
Let me assure you, that while we live in the midst of difficulty and deception, the glory of God is the answer. No matter how godless the world may be, Christians can reclaim the glory of God. Isaiah 60:2 says, “Behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the LORD will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you” [ESV].
The wonder and glory of God will be revealed when Christians humble themselves and seek Him. That’s the promise of 2 Chronicles 7:14. “If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves and pray, then will I hear from heaven.” The glory of God is waiting to descend but it can’t until it first hears the beckoning of Christians.
I want to say something in the fear of God. My assessment of today’s American Church is this: The Church is talented, fluent, informed, stylish, and at times politically-correct, which makes it a comfortable place to visit. None of these qualities is inherently evil, although compromises can corrupt.
But there is a polar opposite that’s needed for this low-lit ambience of the Church. That’s because you can pack a sanctuary with talent, articulation, and comfort and still not transform one soul. The Church also needs the divine presence from another world—the Spirit of the Living God!
There are moments in a church service when style and stage-presence need to exit the back door so souls can lament, mourn, and perhaps even lay prostrate before their God. When God said “let all things be done decently and in order” that was not a command for pastors to “straight-jacketing” worshipers into mere onlookers.
There are sacred parts of worship that God designed as clumsy and awkward!
Seasons of supplication, intercession, and travail are disruptive, clumsy, and at times embarrassing. But they certainly attract the attention of Heaven.
At times, the pulpit needs to shake with bold, fearless, politically incorrect preaching. And it is this type preaching that convicts sinners and moves them to repentance.
When a Church enters the “awkwardness of worship” it is certain to claim the glory of God and enjoy the majesty of His presence!
(Transition) So what will the 21st Century Church do? Will it accept worship without God’s manifested presence? Will it accept worship without “power?” Or will we turn our hearts toward heaven and demand nothing less than divine intervention?
Let me speak directly to you. What is the primary purpose of this church? Is this an entertainment center? Is it a place to host positive thinking seminars? Is it designed for concerts? If it’s been designed for any such novelty then it needs to be retrofitted because God ordained this place to be a house prayer and to host the presence of the Holy Spirit.
There is something about praying churches that sparks the supernatural. Jesus said, “My house shall be called the house of prayer” (Matthew 22:13). Prayer is the only undertaking that brings the glory of the Holy Spirit into the church. When churches pray—when they pray consistently, earnestly, boldly, and sincerely—the Holy Spirit will show up to convict and convert sinners. There will be a release of miracles and “signs and wonders.”
Maybe things aren’t as desperate as I’ve described. Maybe I’ve exaggerated it all. Let me ask everyone several questions.
Question 1. When is the last time you have participated in a genuine move of the Holy Spirit? When is the last time you were involved in a spiritual awakening where sinners were convicted when they attended church? When have you last witnessed “signs and wonders” on a regular basis?
Many Christians spend their entire life without ever participating in a “move of God.” Sadly, many ministers have never seen a protracted move of the Spirit in their ministry.
Question 2. If you have never participated in a move of God, then when is the last time you heard of a significant visitation from God in a nearby church? I’m not talking about a move of God in a far-off land.
Question 3. Now for the most important question: How long do you plan to live without pleading for God to send a move of His Spirit?