Our Tasks Were Never So Great
By James A. Stewart
“And it came to pass at the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, that Elijah the prophet came near, and said, Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Israel, let it be known this day that Thou art God in Israel, and that I am Thy servant, and that I have done all these things at Thy word. Hear me, O Lord, hear me, that this people may know that Thou art the Lord God, and that Thou hast turned their heart back again. Then the fire of the Lord fell, and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces: and they said, The Lord, He is the God; The Lord, He is the God” (1 Kgs. 18:36-39).
Fire! The Fire of God! This is ever the proof appointed by God and it is always the proof accepted by men. A cynical and unbelieving age is weary and bored with our pretentions and programs. It is looking from the sidelines to see if the Fire of God is burning in our midst. Fire, in the Scriptures, is always symbolic of the presence and power of the Almighty in the midst of His people. Fire and fire alone will convince the unsaved of the reality of the claims of the church.
Today we are being challenged on every side. The world demands proof, and rightly so, of the presence of our God among us. Even the false religions have a right to demand from us a sign and evidence of the supernatural.
Every age must have its own proof of the majesty and power of God in the church of Jesus Christ. It is not enough to give witness of God’s power in days gone by. The unbelieving world wants to see a living demonstration of the power of God today! We cannot inherit the evidences. We must create them.
The prophet did not stand and remind the people here of the wonders that God had wrought for their fathers in delivering them from Egypt and from the power of Pharaoh. He did not remind them of the miracles of the Red Sea and of Jordan.
We can delve into the past for instruction and inspiration, but we must not live there. Dwelling in the past and living on a past experience is both futile and dangerous. We must serve and worship a God who is working mightily now! The cry goes up around us, “Where is the God of Israel today?” As one has said:
“What good does it do to tell men of Bethesda’s ancient fame if they come and find no sign of angels and no cripples healed and none laughing in the gladness of new life? They will conclude naturally enough that Bethesda is a failure; that it may do for an ornamental fish pond, but the less it is talked about the better.”
Yes, every age demands its own proof and we must supply today this proof. God’s people must have the Fire of God in their midst. The church was born in fire and in the fire only can she live and conquer! Without the fire of the Almighty, she will use all carnal measures and expediencies in order to camouflage her weakness. Without the Fire of God, she is a poor, sickly thing. Without the Fire of God, she lies helpless on the battlefield.
Our opportunities to evangelize were never so glorious. Our tasks were never so great. But at this momentous crisis in the world’s history we stagger helplessly amid it all. We have lost our note of authority, the secret of our wisdom, and the might of miracles – because of our woeful neglect of the Spirit of God. We possess a theology of the Spirit but have little or no consciousness of His presence and power.
Nothing to Eat
It is useless to advertise the banquet if there is nothing to eat. It is useless to call the people if the living Christ is not in the midst of us! It is His presence that makes the feast. The energy of the flesh can promote amusements, organize programs, and raise millions of dollars for the work of the Lord, but it is the presence of the Holy Spirit that makes a temple “The Temple of the Living God.”
Our palatial buildings which we think suggest progress are no criterion that the living God is among us.
Oh for the Fire of God to fall today! The one vital need is fire. If we have not the Fire of God, nothing else counts. I will give place to no one in my stand for the historic truths of the Gospel. I will not compromise with the liberals, I will gladly die in fighting for the purity of the Gospel. But, O Beloved, sound orthodoxy is not enough! We must have the Fire of God in our midst and in our ministry!
All the gifts which the Spirit brought at Pentecost are at our disposal today. Yes, the Holy Spirit is ready to work in and through us today so that we may go forth to the world as representatives of Jesus Christ who is risen and glorified, so that the incarnate Christ shall be no longer local but omnipresent, working through us in every land and among all peoples.
Elijah Was a Prepared Vessel for His Hour of Crisis
The men and women whom God uses are the men and women who have been disciplined by Him in the secret places. The prophet was hidden by God that he might be manifested by Him. Before God could say to him, “Go show thyself,” He had to say to him, “Go hide thyself.” This man lived in the very presence of God. In one sense, he never left it. His watchword was: “As the Lord God of Israel liveth, before whom I stand” (1 Kgs. 17:1; 18:15).
Through hours of meditation and communion, he became an intimate of the Almighty. He stood ever waiting in utter readiness to respond to the voice of his Master, and he thus went forth – girt with the might of the Most High! Elijah’s credentials and authority came from his association with Jehovah.
Let us notice that Elijah’s offering upon the altar was a complete one. The fire was given in response to the prayer of an utterly yielded soul. Not only did God’s servant repair the altar which had been neglected and cast down, but in First Kings 18:33 we are told that he offered a burnt offering upon it. Now the burnt offering as described in the Book of Leviticus was a peculiar offering in that it was consumed completely upon the altar.
It was the only offering in which the victim was offered in every part, the inward as well as the outward – the fat, the kidneys, the liver and every part. All was put on the altar; it was a whole burnt offering.
So Elijah, in the great symbolic act of offering that great burnt offering, was reminding God that he himself was willing to be wholly consumed by the fire. The whole of his life, the outward as well as the inward, was put there in that great act of his.
In glad and full surrender
I give myself to Thee;
Thine utterly and only
And evermore to be.
There was a day when Bramwill Booth went to his father, the General, to explain to him that the physicians could do nothing more about his eyes. Bramwell broke the news as gently as he could. The old general said, “You mean that I am blind?”
“I fear that we must contemplate that,” said Bramwell.
“I shall never see your face again?” asked the General.
“No, probably not in this world,” was the answer.
The General’s hand moved slowly across the counterpane until it grasped his son’s. Then he said, “God knows best. Bramwell, I have done what I could for God and for the people, with my eyes. Now I shall do what I can for God and for the people without my eyes.”
The Fire of God Will Never Fall upon an Empty Altar
There is an altar before every one of us. If you have not placed yourself in utter unreserved and abandonment upon that altar, the fire cannot descend. How many Christian workers try to deceive themselves – and God – by offering a partial surrender! They have so many reservations which God cannot accept. They say aloud, “I surrender all,” and yet in secret there are hidden unsanctified places.
As E. M. Bounds has said, “It is only when the whole heart is gripped with the passion of prayer that the life-giving fire descends, for none but the earnest man gets access to the ear of God.” (See Matthew 11:12; Jeremiah 29:12-13.)
You will notice again that when the fire fell – it seized, penetrated, possessed and triumphed over everything! Now this is what the Fire of God does in our lives. When the fire of God’s Shekinah falls, it burns up everything before it – the resistance of the enemy and the rubbish in the people of God.
The Fire of God is devastating in its penetration and possession. That is why – when revival comes – it brings with it its drastic consequences! The whole life of the assembly and of the individual is burnt through and through.
Throw Out the Rubbish
In some parts of Africa the grass grows from twelve to fifteen feet high. The authorities regularly set fire to this long grass. If the old grass is left it will prevent the growth of the new, and so they burn it. So it is sometimes in the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. There are things that are standing in the way of new growth, new life, new power, and new victory, and so there must come the scorching fire to burn those hindering things out of the way.
Oh how much rubbish there is in our lives! Whatever is of no use to God in our lives is rubbish! Whatever does not glorify God in our lives is rubbish! Oh, my brother and my sister, there is no use for you to cry to God now for the fire unless you are prepared for it to penetrate every department of your life, and burn up all the dross of sin and selfish ambitions!
As Catherine Booth has declared, “God never gave this gift of the Holy Spirit to any human soul who had not come to the point that he would sell all he had to get it. While there is a spark of insubordination or rebellion or dictation, one will never get it. Truly submissive and obedient souls only enter this kingdom.
“Anywhere He tells you to go, anything He tells you to sacrifice or fly from, you will have to do. The Spirit is one of His choice gifts that He has reserved for His choice servants – those who serve Him with all their hearts.” If your all is not on the altar then you are keeping back the fire that is needed in the church today!
In closing, let us note that the purpose of the fire was not to advertise Elijah nor in the final analysis, to vindicate him. It did vindicate him, but that was not the purpose of the fire.
The fire was sent to glorify God! You cannot exploit the fire of the Holy Spirit for any personal gain. The “Spirit of Burning” will not come to advertise an organization or movement. He will only come to glorify the precious Christ of God. Elijah had one burning desire – and that was the glory of his God!
– Used by permission of Revival Literature, P.O. Box 505, Skyland NC 28776. revivallit.org