When The Glory Returns
It had been an exhausting day. The hot sun beat down on the parched earth. The crowd sat under the cloudless sky for what seemed like an eternity – silent spectators in this playoff between Baal and Jehovah. Jehovah’s side was hopelessly outnumbered – the odds, 850 to 1 in favor of Baal.
Silently, they watched and waited and wondered as the prophets of Baal tried first one tactic and then another to persuade the god of lightning and fire to prove himself and send fire from heaven. They pled; they appealed. Unsuccessful, they began to cry out more earnestly, to cajole, to demand that Baal heed them and send fire. Still no answer. Still no fire.
Undaunted, they persisted in leaping on the altar and cutting themselves until the blood flowed – desperate, vain attempts to prove their sincerity to Baal and to see some evidence, any evidence, of spiritual reality. But there was no sign of fire from heaven – not even a spark.
In fact, there had been no movement of any kind in the heavens for more than three years – no fire, no rain, no voice, no reality. Weary with the exercise in futility, desire turned to disappointment and finally defeat.
At this point in 1 Kings 18, we cannot help noticing some striking similarities to the church in our day. The great problem in the contemporary church is that, despite its size and activity, there is no real expression of the glory of God’s presence.
By and large, we are not lacking activity, fervor, or attempts to obtain spiritual power. To the contrary, our church calendars are bulging with services, retreats, conferences, and programs. We are making lots of noise. We are busy, earnest, and perhaps sincere, but still there is deafening silence in the heavens. There is no fire.
It is not that we are not trying. We are. But apparently, all of our programs, promotions, meetings, buses, budgets, baptisms, committees, and conventions have failed to produce the one thing we need most desperately – fire from heaven.
While the spiritual leaders and activists are busily trying to produce sparks, the average church member sits back with the rest of the world, waiting, waiting, wondering where the fire is.
Calling Down the Fire
Into the arena steps a solitary figure. He has been a fugitive from the king, whose wrath he had incurred three years earlier. One would expect him to cower in the presence of the offended monarch. After all, he stands to lose his life. But no, he is secure, assured, and bold.
Now he is calling to the people to listen. They gather around him skeptically. This man has always been something of an oddity – a real contrast to other religious leaders of his day. He has always been a minority voice.
His message cuts across the grain of what is traditional and palatable. His challenge to get off the fence and take a public stand for Baal or Jehovah makes the average person uncomfortable – they would rather not commit themselves.
Now he directs their attention to the altar of Jehovah. Unused for many years, it is in a state of disrepair. One by one, he selects twelve large stones and constructs an altar. He prepares the sacrifice and places it on the altar.
Then he catches them off guard. Turning to the crowd, he directs them to fill four barrels with water and pour it on the sacrifice.
What? Has he lost his mind? Anyone knows wet wood will not burn! Even more importantly, doesn’t this strange man know that it hasn’t rained for over three years? Nevertheless, they follow his orders.
Then a short, simple prayer, and . . . fire! No matches. No kerosene. No magic tricks. No gyrations. No pretending. Just fire. Real fire. Fire that licks up the water and utterly consumes the sacrifice, the wood, the stones – even the dust on the ground. Fire from heaven. The fire of God.
What Is the Fire of God?
I do not know of any greater need in the church today than for the fire of God to fall. When we refer to the fire of God, we are talking about the manifest presence and glory of God. We are talking about the supernatural power of God.
We are talking about services that are more than just nice meetings with nice music and nice preaching. We are talking about results that cannot be explained in terms of human effort. We are talking about that which man cannot program, manipulate, plan or make happen.
We are talking about something more than the ordinary operation of the Holy Spirit in the lives of His people. We are talking about the extraordinary outpouring of His Spirit that reveals His glory in our lives and in His church.
What Does the Fire Do?
When the fire falls, we see God for who He really is. Both the Old and New Testaments reveal God to be a God of fire.
At Mount Sinai, where the law was given, God revealed Himself with lightnings and thunderings and voices. Then, in the last book of the Bible, the Apostle John was given a glimpse into the throne room of heaven. Out of that throne "came flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder" (Rev. 4:5).
When the fire falls, God takes over His church. When God shows up, people are more comfortable on their faces than in their pews. When the fire falls, it consumes everything that is unholy, earthly, and temporal.
The fire of God purifies, purges, melts, and devours, "for our God is a consuming fire" (Heb. 12:29). God is like a refiner’s fire (Mal. 3:2) that brings impurities to the surface and exposes and consumes them.
When the fire falls, sin is judged and dealt with thoroughly and uncompromisingly – not just the obvious sins of the flesh, but subtle, secret sins of the spirit as well. Masks of respectability are pulled off, pretenses stripped away, and the souls of men laid bare before the gaze of an all-seeing, all-knowing God.
When the fire falls, there is deep conviction and grief over sin. The intense searchlight of God’s holiness makes things once thought acceptable suddenly become abhorrent. Indifference is turned to mourning. A casual attitude toward sin is replaced by brokenness and genuine repentance.
When the fire falls, the efforts and works of believers are tested. Much of what appeared to be spiritual activity is exposed to be nothing more than fleshly effort that is consumed as wood, hay, and stubble.
When the fire falls, our traditional methods and programs are yielded to His lordship, and the Holy Spirit begins to preside over the workings and operation of His church.
When the fire falls, there is power. There is life. There is purity. There is spontaneity. There is reality.
Where is the fire of God today? Where is the evidence of His presence and power? Where is the sense of awe, of wonder, of fear in His presence?
Where are the tears of brokenness and contrition? Where are lost people falling on their faces, overcome by the reality of God’s presence in the midst of His people?
What church in your community is known to have the fire of God? In what Sunday School class, home, mom, dad, or teenager is the fire present?
Why Don’t We Have the Fire?
In many cases, we do not have the fire of God because we do not think we need it. We are content to live without His glory.
For the most part our nation, churches, homes, and lives are devoid of the glory and power of God. When asked to state our needs, we speak of needing bigger buildings, more money, more volunteers, better staff, or more equipment. Why can’t we see that our real need is for God Himself?
We sinned against God, and He withdrew His manifest presence from us, but our eyes have grown accustomed to the darkness. We are used to functioning in our own effort. Hardly anyone questions the authenticity of the results.
We have become blind to our true spiritual condition and need. Like the Laodicean church, we think we are "rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing" (Rev. 3:17).
I hear Christian leaders today speak of how Christianity is flourishing. Others insist we are in the throes of revival.
If that is the case, then why is every form of moral impurity rampant in our evangelical, Bible-preaching churches? Why is the divorce rate as high in the church as it is in the world?
Why do the vast majority of Christians never introduce anyone to Christ? Why do people want a part-time, convenient, weekend Christian experience that costs them nothing? Why do pastors have to twist people’s arms to get them to serve the Lord?
Why are church splits so common? Why are so many professing Christians barren, empty, hurting, and in spiritual bondage? Why is the world so utterly disinterested in what we have to offer?
As long as we think we are doing right, we will never cry out to God to send fire from heaven.
I believe another reason we do not have the fire is that we really do not want it. Oh, we say we do, but what too many of us really want is the kind of fire that draws attention to our church, packs our auditorium, increases our offerings, and solves all our problems.
We do not want the fire that consumes, destroys, exposes, burns, and hurts. We are afraid of what might happen if God appeared on the scene. We want a tidy religious experience that we can control.
Furthermore, we do not want the kind of preaching that precedes revival. I have found that many people want nothing but encouragement and love from the pulpit. They do not want the truth!
Preaching on sin, repentance, holiness, brokenness, or confession is considered negative. "You are putting people on a guilt trip. You will damage their self-esteem."
I wish we were half as concerned about people having a proper view of God as we are about people having a proper view of themselves! Deceived by the world, our egocentric theology has become more concerned about self-image than about God’s image.
We do not have the fire of God because we do not believe it can happen today. In order to justify our impotence, we have dispensationalized away most of God’s Word. "That is Old Testament!" "God does not work that way today."
A serious study of the history of revival reveals that every revival is, in a sense, a repetition of what took place on the Day of Pentecost. The Spirit is poured out on His people in an extraordinary way, and the manifest presence and power of God are released.
But in our concern to avoid the excesses and abuses of certain movements, we have altogether denied the possibility of a supernatural outpouring of the Holy Spirit. We do not pray for miracles because we do not really believe that God does miracles in this century!
Finally, we do not have the fire of God because we are not willing to pay the price to get it. We want an instantaneous, costless, painless revival. We want all the positive results and benefits of revival at little or no cost.
We want gain without pain. We want the joy of new life without going through the travail of labor pains. We want healing without surgery. We want joy without mourning.
We want to enter into the power of the resurrection without first suffering the agony of the cross. We want our schedules and programs and institutions to stay intact. We want minimum disruption of our plans or interference with our traditions.
Revival involves a process – a process of plowing up the hardened, uncultivated ground of our hearts, then planting the seed, and ultimately reaping a harvest. The plowing is painful, but it cannot be circumvented, and it takes time.
Yes, time is an unavoidable part of the price. Weekend mini-revivals may be easier to fit into our schedules, but they are unlikely to result in genuine revival.
Elijah had been in a process of preparation and purification for three-and-a-half years before God sent the fire. And the people of Israel had suffered the consequences of their sin for the same period of time before they got desperate enough for God to send the fire.
We are too busy to listen to God. God meets with those who wait for Him (Isa. 64:4), but we want Him to send the fire on our timetable. And He had better be through by noon!
Dear friend, God simply will not fit into our plans, our schedules, or our timetables. He is God! He must be given the freedom to operate as He wills, on His schedule.
If God is going to send the fire, we must be willing, if necessary, to discard our man-made traditions, methods, structures, and programs to make room for Him. It is not that those things are wrong in and of themselves; but for too many of us, they have become gods. Anything that has become more essential to us than His presence is part of the price He will require.
Certainly there will be no fire until the sacrifice has been offered. For the Israelites it meant placing their water supply on the altar. God did not need water, but when He had their supply, He had them. That is what He wanted all along.
I do not know what sacrifice God may require of you or your church. He may ask you to surrender your reputation. He may ask you to bear criticism, misunderstanding, and rejection from those whose opinions matter most to you.
He may ask you to quit your job. He may ask you to put your life savings or retirement fund on the altar.
Ultimately, what God really wants is the whole of our lives. When God has us on the altar, then and only then will He send fire from heaven and reveal His power to a watching world.
Taken from Ablaze With His Glory by Del Fehsenfeld, Jr. Copyright © 1993 by Life Action Ministries. Revised Edition © 2009. Used by permission.