Brad Haugh still remembers the sound of his heartbeat. It thundered in his chest. Two hundred beats a minute. With a fire behind him and a ridge ahead of him, this smoke jumper needed every pulse of power his heart could give in order to escape with his life.
He was one of forty-nine firefighters caught in a wildfire on the spine of Storm King Mountain, seven miles west of Glenwood Springs, Colorado. Fourteen of them lost their lives. They were overrun by flames that Haugh estimated to reach a height of three hundred feet. The wall of heat required only two minutes to race a quarter of a mile up the mountain, reaching a speed of eighteen miles per hour. Temperatures reached two thousand degrees, hot enough to incinerate the tools dropped in its path.
“People were yelling into their radios, ‘Run! Run! Run!’ I was roughly one hundred and fifty feet from the top of the hill, and the fire got there in ten or twelve seconds. I made it over the top and just tumbled and rolled down the other side, and when I turned around, there was just this incredible wall of flame.”
Few of us will ever find ourselves trying to outrun a fire. But all of us have had encounters with fire. We’ve extended cold hands over the warm campfire. We’ve lifted a burning torch into the dark night. We’ve ignited the blue flame of the gas stove and beheld the red glow of hot metal. Fire is a part of life. For that reason when fire and the Holy Spirit appear in the same sentence, we take note.
“He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Matt. 3:11). This is how John the Baptist introduced his cousin to the world. We might have expected a more, can we say, positive outlook. “He will baptize you in happy feelings.” “He will lift your self-image so you will feel good about yourself.” “He will make it easier for you to have friends and deal with conflict.” But baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire? Such was the job description of Jesus.
Please note that Jesus is the giver of the Holy Spirit fire. Do you desire the Spirit? Then turn to Christ. He will plunge, immerse, and submerge you in the very being of the Spirit. Just as Jesus stepped out of the river dripping the Jordan, so we step forth into the world drenched in the Spirit of heaven. Every part of us, top to bottom, is designed to be blessed by the Holy Spirit and with fire.
The soul baptized in the Spirit is a soul ablaze.
Fire is a chemical reaction that releases energy in the form of light and heat. In the case of a wood fire, the energy was originally derived from the sun and stored in the plant as cellulose and lignin. Heat from another fire or a lightning strike converts the cellulose into flammable gasses, which are driven out of the wood and combined with oxygen. If there is enough air, fuel, and heat, the fire will keep advancing.
Can’t something similar be said about the Spirit of God? If we let him do his work, he will not be set back. He will not be put out. He will not be quenched.
Yet this flame is never intended for our harm. Quite the contrary. Everything that is good about a fire can be listed as a blessing of the Holy Spirit.
Fire is a purifying force. My mom, a nurse, taught us this principle when we were very young. She used a needle on our skin to remove a thorn or lance a sore. She did so after she had twirled the sharp tip in the hot flame of a match. “I want to kill the germs,” she explained. Fire does this. It purifies.
The Holy Spirit is the ultimate purifier. He comes to eradicate the defilement from the vessel. Are we fit to serve as a temple of the Holy Spirit? We need the cleansing, sanctifying work of heaven to prepare us for this assignment. So the Spirit comes not just to purify but to beautify, not just to cleanse but to adorn.
This refining fire is not always pleasant. It can come in the form of discipline or disappointment, setback or loss. Yet the fire of the Spirit produces ultimate good. Do we not see this in nature? The American Forest Foundation lists several benefits of forest fires. They . . .
- release seeds or otherwise encourage the growth of certain tree species, like lodgepole pines;
- clear dead trees, leaves, and competing vegetation from the forest floor so new plants can grow;
- break down and return nutrients to the soil;
- remove weak or disease-ridden trees, leaving more space and nutrients for stronger trees;
- keep tree stands thin and open, letting more sunlight in so trees stay healthier; and
- improve wildlife habitat.ii
A fire, managed and contained, results in ultimate good for the vegetation. When Jesus baptizes us in the fire of the Spirit, it is so we can bear better and more abundant fruit for him.
Welcome this refining fire. Invite him to finish this work in your heart. “Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day” (2 Cor. 4:16 niv). In the next life your heart will have been refined of all dross. Jealousy, gone. Greed, gone. Guilt, gone. Regrets, anxiety, and pride, gone forever. This time on earth is a time of preparation, and God’s person of preparation is the Spirit. Let him do his work in you. Let him set your soul on fire.
Since entering the ministry in 1978, Max Lucado has served churches in Miami, Florida; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; and San Antonio, Texas. He currently serves as Teaching Minister of Oak Hills Church in San Antonio. He is the recipient of the 2021 ECPA Pinnacle Award for his outstanding contribution to the publishing industry and society at large. He is America’s bestselling inspirational author with more than 145 million products in print. His latest book is Help is Here: Finding Fresh Strength and Purpose in the Holy Spirit.
Excerpt taken from Help Is Here: Finding Fresh Strength and Purpose in the Power of the Holy Spirit by Max Lucado (Thomas Nelson Publishers: Nashville, Tennessee ©️ 2022).