As usual, God seemingly heard my ranting and offered me a response to last night’s blog post. Okay, in all actuality, I don’t think my personal frustrations had anything to do with today’s chapel service- but I do know that God spoke to me through the message.
I’m currently in Virginia Beach for modular week at Regent University. And, the professor teaching my Revelation class had a double duty today as he shared a message at our midweek chapel. Speaking on 1 Thessalonians 5:19, Dr. Wilson exhorted us not to “put a lid on the Spirit’s fire”.
Sharing the imagery of a camp fire being extinguished and anecdotes of successful ministers straying toward apostasy, Dr. Wilson reminded us that a once vibrant faith can be suppressed if we confine the Holy Spirit to operating within our own parameters. Specifically, he shared how an academic pursuit to know about God can replace knowing God. He discussed how denominations and ministries may hinder the Spirit through doctrine or practice- citing the Baptist mission board’s stance against speaking in tongues and modern Pentecostalism’s tendency to distance itself from spiritual gifts in order to become more culturally acceptable. He went on to explain how our infatuation with technology may also be hindering our ability to connect with the Spirit because of our hesitancy to unplug.
By no means was Dr. Wilson advocating an intentional focus on manifestations of the Spirit or attacking any denominations or suggesting we stop using our smart phones and laptops…. he was simply illustrating how easy it is to “put a lid” on the Spirit and the consequences doing so have on our own faith and the work of the Church. The next verse in 1 Thessalonians 5 warns people not to prohibit prophetic utterances.
“…don’t hinder charismatic manifestation. To despise prophecy [or speaking in tongues or any other work of the Spirit] is to despise the Holy Spirit” - Dr. Wilson, (paraphrased excerpt)
“Do not quench the Spirit.” Quench, as Dr. Wilson noted, has lost some meaning in our culture due to popular advertising campaigns that use the verb (hint: thirst). We are prone to think that to refrain from quenching the Spirit means to not do something contrary to the Spirit… but Dr. Wilson rightly pointed out that this epistle is written to people who have already drank of the Spirit. They already know God, and the command is not to avoid making the Spirit angry. The command is to not suppress what the Spirit is doing, and to continue to seek complete sanctification, to cling to what is good, and to draw closer to God.
The problem is that we often seek to avoid doing something wrong, rather than seeking complete sanctification through the Holy Spirit (v. 23). We seek a myriad of other things: a degree, acquired knowledge, denominational credentials, approval from our superiors, respect from our friends/families, success, a sense of being updated through social media and the interwebs… the list goes on and on.
Rather than being continually open to what the Spirit is doing and actively seeking to be increasingly aligned with His heart, we too often are defined by our circumstances and our own pursuits (many times even in the name of God), and so we stifle the Spirit and place our parameters above God’s plans. As one of my classmates stated earlier today during his presentation, “putting anything above God is a form of apostasy. As harsh as that sounds and as much as we don’t want to hear it, it’s true.”
Even as I type this, I want to refute his claim. I want to say “no, that’s idolatry, NOT apostasy”. Why? Because idolatry I can live with, I can repent from and move onward. Apostasy suggests renouncing one’s faith and abandoning God. Idolatry is just putting something ahead of God momentarily, it isn’t abandoning faith….. or wait, it is abandoning God in the moment for something we perceive to be more important or valuable, isn’t it?
To put the Spirit in our own box is to place our view of God above His own image. This is idolatry, and it is quenching the Spirit. To despise what the Spirit is doing or what He could possibly do is despising the Spirit Himself. And, to despise God by temporarily abandoning the Spirit by putting a lid on Him because our circumstances seemingly deem it necessary… that is a way of actively standing against our Lord.
With all that said, and granted I am speaking through reflective analysis not through any sort of exegesis at the moment, I once again confess that I am guilty as charged. I have quenched the Spirit in favor of my own parameters and my own pursuits. Even in the few hours since hearing this message, I have made the same mistake. And as I type this, I find myself wondering: “Is it even possible not to quench the Spirit? Will there every be a day when I, a sinner, stop renouncing my God through my thoughts, words and deeds?” As I recall the depraved condition of my own heart, I am also reminded of the character of the God that I serve and therefore I have hope. His Spirit lives in me, and He continues to refine me.
As Paul writes to the Thessalonians just a few verses later: “God will make this happen, for he who calls you is faithful.” (1 Thes. 5:24- NLT). Amen. Lord, please make it happen… thank you for being faithful, thank you for for not giving up on me- even when I fall short in the same ways repeatedly. Help me to not quench your Spirit, help me to seek complete sanctification, and help me to glorify your name in every situation and circumstance. Holy Spirit, please ignite my life and let your fire burn in any way you please…