Kindling Of A Spiritual Torch
By A. W. Tozer (1897 – 1963)
Every pastor who has had experience watching over the flock of God knows why Stephen went on to surpass the other disciples. Briefly stated it was simply this: Stephen had a more intense desire after God and spiritual things. He blazed upward after God like the bush that burned, and his soul found Him, after whom he so ardently longed.
It is not an uncommon sight in any church to see one or two in the congregation who are ablaze for God, while the rest accept things calmly and without much interest. They are saved and they are certain of their position before God; but farther than that their desire does not lead them. If they grow, it is in doctrinal knowledge, not in spiritual fervor. They are content to know from the Scriptures that they have eternal life.
Many of them will engage in the routine service of teaching in the Sunday school, singing in the choir, passing out tracts, making a neighborhood canvass; but the eager pastor does not see among them anything resembling the face of an angel (Acts 6:15).
Their spiritual awareness does not become acute. Their love for God never gets out of hand, never causes them to thirst and long for God – till their flesh suffers under the struggle.
More than a quarter of a century of pastoral work has taught me that most Christians will not discipline their lives to bring them under control of the Spirit. They will not die to self. They will not make the knowledge of God the single passion of their days and years. A few will – and do, and they are the salt and seed of the truth in every generation.
A Vehement Flame
Paul once used the significant phrase “vehement desire,” and though he did not apply it to himself, he could hardly have found a more accurate phrase to describe his own spiritual life (2 Cor. 7:11). He burned with desire to know Christ, to experience for himself the “excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord” (Phil. 3:8). This holy vehemence carried him onward like a torrent to the end of his days.
Spiritual vehemence frightens the timid saints, but it carries the bolder ones upward to blessed spiritual heights. I wonder whether any great work of God has ever sprung up in any place apart from the presence of a few Christians who were ablaze with vehement desire.
A classic example of the power of holy desire is found in the person of Evan Roberts, who was the human agent in the Welsh revival. His testimony is most revealing and can be downright startling unless we have some measure of the same spirit to prepare us for the shock.
The language he uses to describe his experience furnishes a splendid expression of that spiritual vehemence of which I speak. “Suddenly I was awakened out of my sleep, and I found myself with unspeakable joy and awe, in the very presence of Almighty God. And for the space of four hours I was privileged to speak face to face with Him, as a man speaks to his friend. At four o’clock it seemed to me that I again returned to earth….”
Bend Me! Bend Me!
Again he says: “Shortly some wonderful influence came over me. I felt some living energy of force entering my bosom. It held my breath. My legs trembled terribly. This living energy increased as one after the other prayed, until it nearly burst me…My bosom boiled all through and if I had not prayed I would have burst.
“What boiled my bosom? It was the verse ‘But God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us’ (Rom. 5:8).
“I fell on my knees with my arm stretched out on the seat before me. The perspiration poured down on my face, and my tears streamed so quickly I thought the blood came out…I cried, ‘Bend me, bend me!’ After I was bent, a wave of peace filled my soul.”
It may be set down as an axiom that our spiritual state perfectly corresponds to the intensity of our desire. Each of us enjoys as much grace as he actually wants. Where there seems to be a discrepancy between what we possess and what we desire to possess, we may safely conclude that our desire is not as great as we had supposed. We want God, it is true, but we want something else more. And we get what we want most.
What shall we do when we find that our desire is but lukewarm? Treat our condition as a spiritual sickness, and act accordingly. Go to God about it as we would about any other sin, and stay before Him in repentance and faith – till the flame of pure desire begins to glow within.
With the coming of strong desire, a whole new world will open before us. The simplest Bible truth will come alive with a new and blessed meaning! The person of Christ will become dear beyond expression, and our lives will begin to glow with a fresh and wonderful devotion.