Putting out the Spirit's fire in our lives is a gradual process; it doesn't happen overnight. We don't burn with zeal for Christ in one minute and then grow cold in our relationship with him in the next. What can we do in our daily lives to ensure that our lamps keep burning brightly while we await our Lord's return?
In St. Paul’s first epistle to the Thessalonian church, he challenged them using seven simple words: "Do not put out the Spirit’s fire." [1 Th 5:19]. As much as we may love the Lord, I don’t think there is a single person in Christ who has never stumbled in this particular area. If we aren’t vigilant and alert, it’s very easy to become distracted and entangled with the world to the point where our love, devotion, and commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ wanes and grows cold.
Putting out the Spirit’s fire in our lives is a gradual process; it doesn’t happen overnight. We don’t burn with zeal for Christ and His Kingdom in one minute, and then lose all sight of Him in the next. Satan is subtle, and he knows how to pull us away from intimacy with Christ little by little, using tactics specially designed for us individually. Simply put, what works on me may not work on you, and vice versa.
I love to read, learn, and study about everything and anything. Learning brings me unbelievable pleasure. While this love of learning is a good thing, the enemy knows how to take this and use it to propel me away from devotion to Christ and His Kingdom. For some, he may use television, computer games, the telephone, the Internet, music, golf, or some other recreational hobby, but for me, it’s always been books. Put a book in front of me that covers an interesting topic, and my mouth begins to salivate, and I go weak at the knees.
Sometime ago, I innocently embarked on another one of my educational journeys when I decided to study the Middle Ages. At first, I told myself that I would only study the Middle Ages for one hour a day, and only after I had spent time with the Lord in prayer and in His Word. Eventually, however, because I became so engrossed and caught up in the things that I was reading, prayer and daily Bible study got put on the shelf for eight months. Eight months!
Because I wasn’t spending any time in prayer or the Word, my writing and teaching ministry got put on the shelf as well, as it is impossible for me to effectively minister to others if I myself am not living and walking in the Spirit. Not only this, but because I wasn’t drawing close to God each and every single day, I was making decisions that were based on my own understanding rather than relying upon His Spirit, since I was no longer open or sensitive to that Spirit.
The longer I neglected daily prayer and time spent meditating on God’s Word, the less I became like Christ. I found myself walking ‘in the flesh,’ rather than in the Spirit. Anyone observing me in those days would have been hard pressed to find proof of my discipleship in Christ.
Because of His great love for us, and His jealousy for us, the Lord will immediately work in our lives to bring us back to Him, and this He does by the power of His Holy Spirit. In speaking to the Israelites, the Lord said to them: "I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God..." [Ex 20:5]. Any time we put anything or anyone before our love, devotion, and commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ, we provoke His holy jealousy.
It’s difficult to comprehend that we could be so loved and desired by Him, but this is an awesome truth, which God Himself has declared. When we forget God, He becomes jealous, and when God gets jealous, He acts. He will bring all pressure to bear in our lives, doing whatever it takes, to get us back to a life in which He and He alone is the center.
In this day and age when love seems to be so scarce among our fellow men, knowing that I am loved and desired this much by Christ empowers me and causes my affection for Him to well up even more.
Living for Christ doesn’t mean that we should dwell in a vacuum where we never do anything, enjoy anything, or go anywhere other than to Mass. But we need to exercise tremendous vigilance and discipline when it comes to those ‘other things.’ I cannot emphasize this enough. If our lives are going to be Christ-centered, it is imperative that we spend time in prayer and the study of God’s Word each and every single day. These disciplines keep us focused on Christ, His Kingdom, and His will for our lives. They keep us sharp and on fire for God. They enable us to walk in the Spirit, think in the Spirit, and speak in the Spirit.
Satan has to work a lot harder to trap or deceive a believer who is seeking the Lord with all of his heart through prayer and daily Bible study than he does in the life of one who neglects these things.
Many people don’t like to read the Bible because they find the archaic language of some versions difficult to grasp, and this is certainly understandable. But there are many newer versions available today which speak in normal, every day language that all of us can understand. Reading the Bible has never been easier than it is today.
When we read the Word, we should read each sentence slowly and thoughtfully, taking the time to meditate on what we have just read before we move on. What is God saying to me? How can I apply this verse to my life? Are there areas in my life in which I am not obeying what I have just read?
Every Sunday night, I open up my Bible and meditate on the Readings that were covered in Mass that morning. I do this so that the truths covered in these Readings really sink into my heart. I don’t want to forget the things which were read and spoken in the Mass earlier that day, and doing this helps me tremendously. God really does speak to us through the Liturgy! When Monday comes, I remember full well what was read during Sunday’s Mass and find myself making a genuine effort to put into practice what was taught because the message still burns in my heart.
Prayer, on the other hand, empowers us to put into practice those things which we have studied and read.
Have you ever experienced the joy of pouring out your heart to Christ in prayer only to have Him pour out His love to you while you prayed? Have you ever felt His presence fill the room in which you prayed? Have you ever sensed His love, so deep and so powerful that all you could do was weep like a baby as it completely engulfed you? What can the world or any of its distractions possibly give to us in comparison to precious experiences such as these? Is it any wonder that the enemy of our souls desires to keep us from prayer and the Word? And yet, daily prayer and time spent meditating on the Word of God are absolutely necessary if we are to keep the fire burning in our lives.
In Matthew 25:1-13, Christ taught the Parable of the Ten Virgins. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The wise virgins brought extra oil with them to ensure that their lamps would continue to burn brightly while they waited for the Bridegroom’s return. The foolish virgins did not take any extra oil with them. When the Bridegroom returned, only the wise virgins went in with Him to the wedding banquet, for they were prepared, ready, and fully expecting His return. The door was shut, however, on those who were not prepared.
Who is the wise virgin, and who is the foolish one? The wise virgin is the man who lives obediently to the Word of God in his daily life. Because Christ is the center of His life, he spends time with Him each and every single day in prayer and in the study of His Word, learning how God would have him to live. By the grace of God, he then applies that which he has studied to his life, knowing that we are called to be doers of the Word and not just hearers of the Word.
This man also uses whatever gifts, talents, skills, and abilities have been given to him in order to serve God and others. He continually yields his life to the Holy Spirit and allows the Spirit to change Him, making him more fruitful and more like Christ.
The foolish virgin is the man who spends no time with God whatsoever in prayer or in the Word because he has places to go, things to do, and people to see. His attendance at Mass is sporadic. Because he spends no time in prayer or in the Word, he continually walks ‘in the flesh’, rather than in the Spirit, and does not know how God desires him to live. His gifts remain dormant, and the fruit of the Spirit isn’t cultivated in His life because he has no time to sow to that Spirit in his daily life. His life remains unchanged, and he does not reflect the Lord Jesus Christ. He believes that Jesus is the Son of God, but that’s as far as his ‘faith’ takes him. May we not be found walking in this man’s shoes at the blessed return of our Lord Jesus Christ.
We all would do well to examine our lives before God. Are our lamps burning brightly or is the fire starting to go out? How are we utilizing the time God has given to us? Where do our priorities lie these days? As mentioned earlier, we all stumble in this area from time to time in our journey to God. It’s very easy in this day and age to become distracted with the cares, worries, and pressures of this world. But God is merciful, His grace is abundant, and His love for us will always draw us back to Him if we will allow ourselves to be open to that drawing.
A secret to keeping our lamps burning brightly before our Lord is to live our lives with eternity in mind. In the Book of Psalms, we read as follows: "Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom." [Ps 90:12]. This verse of Scripture counsels us to keep in mind that our lives are but a mist, here one minute, gone the next. Even if we lived to be 100 years of age, this life span is brief compared to eternity. Since we know that our time on this earth is short, Psalm 90:12 encourages us to pursue those things that will benefit us in eternity.
While there are many worthy causes that we could pursue in this life, we have to discern which causes are the ones that will benefit God’s Kingdom, and we have to make up our minds to pursue those causes. This is what it means to seek God’s Kingdom first in our lives.
Should I spend time with God in prayer or spend that time watching television instead? Should I devote my spare time to gardening or use that time to bake a casserole for a sister in Christ who is home from the hospital recovering? Life is full of choices, isn’t it? If we want to keep our lamps burning brightly for Christ, then we have to discipline ourselves to make choices that will benefit us in eternity.
I like to have a good time just like everybody else. It’s relaxing to take in a show, go to a baseball game, or curl up with a good book. We need recreational activity in our lives to keep us from becoming overly stressed. But if we spend all of our spare time pursuing these types of activities while neglecting activities that will profit us and others spiritually and eternally, we are in danger of putting out the Spirit’s fire in our lives. Not only this, but we are also in danger of becoming too focused on this life rather than on the life to come.
May Christ our Lord pour out His grace on us abundantly and draw us closer to Him, that we may keep our lamps burning brightly as we await His glorious return. May His Spirit stir our hearts to put God’s Kingdom first in our lives. And may we never lose sight of the eternal truth that the only thing we can take with us when we leave this world...
... is a life that was lived for the glory of God.
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