Jim Cymbala

B. Childress
Jun 04 2013

After a recent Tuesday night prayer meeting, I was introduced to a pastor who was visiting with a small group of leaders
from his church.  I welcomed him and asked where he was from.

“Kentucky,” he answered.

“That’s quite a ways from New York City,” I replied.  “How long will you be here?”

“We’re heading back home tonight.  I left at dawn this morning just to be in the prayer meeting.”

I was shocked.  “Really?  All that way for just one service?”

“Brother, I’m thirsty for God,” he said with all seriousness.  “I can’t go on anymore.  I’m worn out and burned out.  I’m
desperate for something fresh from God’s Spirit.”

As the pastor spoke, I couldn’t help but think of David’s plea at the beginning of Psalm 63:

You, God, are my God,
earnestly I seek you:
I thirst for you,
my whole being longs for you,
in a dry and parched land
where there is no water.

(verses 1-2)

Have you ever felt dried out and run down in your Christian life?  When that happens, a lot of us just keep plugging away
until the point of spiritual exhaustion.  Some folks give up and play the hypocrite, pretending to be someone they aren’t.  
The old saying “If you run around, you run down, and then you want to run away” is true.  But there is a remedy to those
dry periods when we have run around too much, and it’s found in what the apostle Peter called “times of refreshing” from
the presence of the Lord (Acts 3:19).

Symbols for Life

The Bible uses a number of symbols to make the work of the Holy Spirit understandable to us.  Later we’ll talk about
wind, a dove, and oil.  After that we’ll spend some time talking about fire.  But when we talk about being refreshed by the
Holy Spirit, the symbol that best helps us understand how that can happen is water.


In the Old Testament, where there was no water, there was no life.  People died during droughts.  Likewise, unless the
living water of the Spirit is flowing in us, we and our churches will have an absence of spiritual life and little vitality.  Just
as in the Mojave Desert, no water equals no life, no growth, and no fruit.  We can attend church regularly and have
perfect doctrine, but without the Holy Spirit to water us, we will wither and die.

Jesus talked openly about the life-giving properties of the Spirit.  “On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus
stood and said in a loud voice, ‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink.  Whoever believes in me, as Scripture
has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them’” (John 7:37-39).  By “rivers of living water, Jesus was referring to
the Spirit that believers would later receive.

When the Spirit of God comes, we have new life.  Without the Spirit of God, we’re left to struggle with our self-effort,
which is riddled by moral weakness and sinful tendencies.  But when the Spirit comes, we have joy, hope, and power.  
Notice that Jesus doesn’t refer to a drop of water but to “rivers of living water.”  Like a river, the Spirit flows – a force of
power that comes into us and then flows out so we can be a blessing to others.

God uses water as a symbol of the Holy Spirit in a slightly different way when he says, “I will be like the dew to Israel; he
will blossom like a lily” (Hosea 14:5).  We all have witnessed the grass and flowers glistening with tiny drops of refreshing
water.  By using this metaphor, God is saying he will be like the dew, which settles quietly in the night and coats the
ground by morning.  Dew can’t form when conditions are too hot or the wind is too strong.  Likewise, we can’t be
refreshed by God when we’re too busy running around.

I’v had hard times in my life when I got dry and worn out and the Spirit ministered to me like dew.  For me, dew comes
when I am sitting in his presence.  I’v missed the Spirit more than once in my life because my busyness robbed me of the
quiet refreshing times that come from the Lord.

Sometimes after our prayer meetings, people will sit quietly, or perhaps kneel and pray, lingering for a while longer.  
They don’t want to get up and leave.  They want to remain in the presence of God.  They want to enjoy the dew of
heaven as they wait before the Lord.  That is one reason we don’t schedule meetings too close together on Sunday.  If
people feel rushed, if leaders hint that they have to clear the sanctuary so the next meeting can start, sweet times of
waiting in the Spirit’s presence can easily be missed.

Even during the services, I try to be sensitive to the Spirit’s voice.  I sometimes need to pause and wait for some sense
of what to do next.  Visitors may wonder,
Why Ian’t anyone saying something?  The meeting is sagging a bit.  Come on,
why don’t they get going to the next thing on the agenda?
 But God never meant for a church service to be a
production.  Instead, what’s of paramount importance is that people experience the Lord and have an opportunity to be
refreshed by the water of the Spirit.

On occasion we have prayer meetings that start at 9:00 on a Friday evening and continue past midnight.  The last time
we scheduled one, more than two thousand people came to worship, pray, and wait on the Lord.  At times it was loud as
we made a joyful noise to the Lord, but at other times we prayed quietly or waited silently.

Once, around 1:30 in the morning, I was sitting on the steps of the altar area.  I looked up to see that there were still
more than a thousand people in the sanctuary, waiting, praying, or quietly rejoicing.  The presence of God was so real
that I whispered, “Lord, I think I could stay right here for the rest of my life.”  The atmosphere seemed saturated with
divine love and grace, and the thought of leaving it was unthinkable.  The dew of God’s Spirit had settled on us in a
wonderful way.


The Bible has other symbols for the Holy Spirit besides water.  One is wind, which in the original Greek in the New
Testament is the same word as
breath.  Wind helps us to visualize the invisible and mysterious movement of the Spirit
(John 3:8).  A dove symbolized the Spirit during Jesus’ baptism.  “Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw
heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove” (Mark 1:10).  The Holy Spirit is all –powerful yet
strangely gently and sensitive in his dealing with us.  We can all too easily grieve him.

Oil is a symbol often used for the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament.  The anointing of the Holy Spirit is likened to the oil
that was put on almost everything in the tabernacle.  When it was built as a place of worship, not only were the temple
objects anointed with oil, but so also were the priests.  Later the elders of the early church were instructed to pray for the
sick and to anoint ailing believers with oil as a symbol of the Spirit (James 5:14).


Fire is one of my favorite symbols for the Holy Spirit.  It is used to represent the power and presence of God.  When
John the Baptist came on the scene before Jesus appeared, he said, “I baptize you with water.  But one who is more
powerful than I will come…He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit
and fire” (Luke:16, emphasis added).

Jesus never baptized anyone with water.  Why?  Because the baptism he would administer was the baptism of the Holy
Spirit and fire.  Don’t mistake those words as indicating two baptisms, one of the Spirit and another one of fire.  Instead,
Luke was using imagery – fire as a symbol representing the Spirit – to describe one baptism.  Jesus baptizes in the
consuming fire of the Holy Spirit.

Consuming Fire

If you light a match and set a piece of wood on fire, the fire will penetrate the wood.  That’s what the Holy Spirit does in
our lives.  He goes beyond surface appearances to the root of our beings.  The Spirit doesn’t put Band-Aids on anything
– he goes to the core of your problems to provide help.  Likewise, preaching that is anointed by the Holy Spirit is fiery
preaching.  That doesn’t mean beating people down or condemning them; rather, it means ministry that penetrates the
heart, reveals sin, and vividly shows the need for Jesus Christ.  Without the Holy Spirit’s fire, preaching can descend to
mere entertainment or displays of oratory.

When Peter preached the first sermon of the Christian era, those ineloquent but fiery words produced deep conviction
and a response of, “What shall we do?” (Acts 2:37).  Teaching aids that help preachers communicate are useful, but
without the Spirit’s fire, hearts will never be humbled and broken before the Lord.

In Jeremiah, God asked, “Is not my word like
fire?”  (Jeremiah 23:29, emphasis added).  The Word preached with the
Spirit’s fire cuts through the clutter and deals with the troubled condition of our hearts.  Many people probably have little
interest in experiencing God’s fiery word; they prefer entertaining services and sermons that aren’t confrontational.  But
the Spirit’s fire always cuts to the chase and deals with the hindrances that keep us from the blessing of God.

The great temptation today in Christianity is to make our message so palatable to the masses that we lose the element
of fire.  We create services filled with candy and fluff.  But that will not extend the kingdom and see Jesus glorified.  
People cannot come to God without the fiery work of the Holy Spirit.

I’ll never forget one such personal experience with God years ago when I was new to the ministry.  I was praying alone
before a Tuesday evening service.  At that time, the church was housed in a little rundown building, and I knew we would
have fewer than ten people attending that night’s prayer meeting.  I had been praying that God would draw more people
to the church and increase the enthusiasm of the congregation.  As I prayed, the Spirit worked.  He went right to my core
and seemed to say, “The main problem is not the lack of people and their spiritual immaturity.  You’re the one who
needs to be changed first.  You’re lacking in compassion for the people, and you do not love them the way I want you
to.  In your insecurity, you’re just trying to get through another meeting.”

Talk about fire!  Talk about penetration!  That wasn’t easy to hear.  I ended up on my face before God.  I had come to
ask God to help me with all of the people problems of the church, and instead his fire penetrated to
my problem.  When
the Spirit works in our lives, he keeps us away from superficial excuses and the blame games we like to play.  Fire burns
away the false and leads us to the truth.


In the second-floor lobby of our church, we have a large painting of an early 1900s Salvation Army street meeting in New
York City.  The war cry, or motto, of the Salvation Army was “Blood and fire.”  Blood represented the blood Jesus shed to
save all people, and fire represented the Holy Spirit, who was sent to equip believers and transform lives.  Catherine
Booth, the wife of William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army, understood the importance of fire as a symbol for
the Holy Spirit.  Known as the mother of the army, Catherine became very famous in her own right.  I once read
something she said that has stuck with me, although I must paraphrase it because I can’t remember the actual source.  
Around 1890, she said, “I travel around the country, and I hear a lot of eloquent words and many sermon masterpieces.  
But what my soul longs for are burning words.”

Catherine wanted anointed messages that penetrated, stirred, and produced brokenness of heart.  She felt her need
and knew that change happens from the inside out.  She was a leader who taught God’s Word and understood the
difference between sermons that were just words and those that God had inspired to change lives.

The prophet Malachi wrote, “[God] will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like
gold and silver” (Malachi 3:3).  When the Holy Spirit searches our hearts, he is like a purifying fire.  Just as a good fire
burns out dross and impurities, unworthy things are burned out of our lives when we allow the Spirit to do his work.

When people are intent on getting rid of a lot of junk, they often simply start a bonfire and toss the things that they no
longer want into the flames.  Fire burns everything that is worth less.  Sometimes we just need a good Holy Spirit fire to
touch our lives.  The pure, godly things will remain because they are like silver, gold, and precious stones.  Fire won’t
destroy them; in fact, they will be purified.  But the wood, hay, and junk in our lives and churches will be burned away.


When the Holy Spirit sets a person’s life on fire, the Spirit doesn’t stop there.  The fire spreads, setting other people
aflame too.  I love that about the Holy Spirit.  When someone is on fire with the love of God – they love the Word and
love to pray – the next thing you know, people around them are inspired to do the same.  There Ian’t anything forced or
pushy about it.  It just happens, because it is the nature of fire to spread.

A growing number of people are longing for the Holy Spirit’s fire.  They love their pastor, and they love their church.  
They are born-again Christians, yet they know something is missing.  When they read their Bible, they feel it.  Every year
I get hundreds of email messages from people saying, “I need the fire.”  Of course, they don’t always us the word
but that’s what they mean.  They’re unsatisfied with their own spiritual lives.  They also know God has much more
planned for their churches.  Some tell me they have every attraction a church could want: an activities center, a gym,
great music, and sophisticated audiovisual elements.  The pastor is a good man, yet people visit and few stay to grow in
the Lord.  And although the younger generation was raised by Christian parents, by the time they graduate from high
school, they turn their backs on the things of God.

We can never do what the Spirit can do.  No amount of human talent and exertion of energy will ever grow the spiritual
kingdom of Christ.  We need to return to depending on the Spirit’s fire, which not only quickens and penetrates but also
illuminates our path.


When I was ten, my family lived on Parkside Avenue in Brooklyn near Prospect Park.  We lived in a small railroad
apartment, so called because it had three narrow rooms in a straight line, like boxcars.  My older brother, younger sister,
and I shared the only real bedroom.  My parents slept on a pullout sofa in the living room, no more than twenty feet away
from us.  We obviously were a very
close family.

One night I got up in the middle of the night and went downstairs to the unfinished basement for some reason.  It was
cluttered with boxes, crates, and my dad’s woodworking tools and supplies.  I was too small to reach the light, so I walked
through the basement in the dark.  I wasn’t worried because I knew every inch of that area.  Or at least I thought I did
until I rammed my bare foot into a heavy box.

“Owwww!” I screamed in excruciating pain.  I sank down to the floor, crying and grabbing my foot in agony.  I thought I
would pass out from the pain.  I sat in the dark until the pain subsided enough for me to hobble back upstairs.

Two days later, I was still sore.  But I learned a lesson that we all learn one way or another; walking in the dark can be
dangerous.  If the lights had been on, I would have avoided all that pain.  I would have seen the box and stepped around

For most of the world’s history, fire, not electric light bulbs, has illuminated dark nights.  Fire helped people see where
they were going so they could avoid unseen dangers.  It helped them to avoid running into things that blocked their
paths or that were coming toward them in the dark.

Thank God that the Holy Spirit’s fire also produces light – something we desperately need in a world full of difficult
decisions and hidden dangers.  The Spirit illuminates our lives and our choices so that we can see the path ahead and
know what to avoid.  Yet too often we don’t seek the Holy Spirit’s direction when it comes time to making vital decisions.  
Even religious organizations often rely only on human intelligence rather than the Holy Spirit’s light for critical decision
making.  A preacher recently told me that he had attended a board meeting for a Christian ministry.  He noticed that no
one prayed before it started.  There was also no prayer during the meeting, and when it came time to make a difficult
decision, not one person suggested trying to find the mind of Christ.  No one thought to pray, “Jesus, we don’t know what
to do.  Send us your Spirit.”

The Holy Spirit is God’s only agent on earth.  He was sent here to guide us.  If you read the book of Acts, you’ll see that
a computer-mapping program didn’t govern Paul’s trips.  The illumination of the Holy Spirit guided his path.  In fact, the
Spirit forbade Paul from going to some places – not because they didn’t need to hear the gospel, but because God had
another plan.  And the apostle waited until the Spirit’s direction could guide him into it.


To the believers in Thessalonica, Paul wrote, “Do not put out the Spirit’s fire” (I Thessalonians 5:19).  Amazingly,
although the Holy Spirit is fully God, it is entirely possible for believers like you and me to hinder his work and quench his
sacred fire.  Some people falsely believe that whatever God wants to do he will do.  Consider Jesus’ invitation to his own
church in Laodicea: “Here I am!  I stand at the door and knock.  If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come
in and eat with that person, and they with me” (Revelation 3:20).  If he’s Christ, and he wants in, why doesn’t he just
come in?  Why does he bother knocking and asking?  That’s the mystery of God’s sovereignty and our free will.  We
must respond to him, or we will miss out on his planned blessing.

Earlier I wrote about Paul telling Timothy to stir up the embers, to keep the fire going.  We need to do the same thing.  
For some of us, the embers are faintly glowing, and we need to tend to them, stir them up so they will burst into open

Thank God for financial resources, equipment, talent, education, and new translations of the Bible.  But for most of us,
the greatest need is still more
fire.  We need the fire of the Holy Spirit changing our lives and our local assemblies.  We
need it spreading throughout our towns and cities, spreading so Christ can be glorified.  May that be our prayer today.  
Send the fire, God.  Burn, penetrate, change, renovate, illuminate.  Do as you promised, as we wait in Christ’s name.


SPIRIT RISING, by Jim Cymbala with Jennifer Schuchmann, Copyright 2012, Zondervan.