Kindling words of fire in hearts on fire for more of the Lord’s power and presence

Feb 22, 2024 | READ

Beware Robert’s books – they spread!” (Simon, my flatmate, to Ros, soon after we got engaged.)

I am surrounded by treasures – a whole library of precious books that share so much of the heart and ways of the Lord! They bless and benefit me beyond words, and behind each one lies a story, just as behind the Bibles on our shelves are hidden the lives of myriads of scribes, copyists and monks, preserving the Scriptures until the printing press could be invented.

Books and words are precious and important, and carving out time to explore the gifts they bring is so worthwhile. In times long past, they literally would have had to be carved into stone, or written out most carefully on papyrus, but today we can take and read them in a whole variety of forms, including the one that is most dear to me: conventional, hold-in-the-hand books – especially those that focus our hearts and minds toward the living God, drawing us in to share in the things that truly matter most. ‘It is the eternal in books,’ Amy Carmichael asserted, ‘that makes them our friends and teachers – the paragraphs that grip memory and ring down the years, like bells. (Gold Cord)

Confined to her bedroom in the aftermath of a serious illness for the last twenty years of her life, Amy continued to be a fine ambassador for the Lord in South India, ministering now in prayer and through the written word rather than up front and face to face. She described books as being her change of air and her ‘holiday.’

Dr Holly Ordway, a professor at the Word on Fire Institute, agrees with her, suggesting that reading can offer us ‘literary holidays and Sabbath days‘, noting that ‘books can serve as mental palate-cleansers after reading things that (necessarily) deal with the more disagreeable and disturbing aspects of life, offering changes of pace that allow us to gain strength for more weighty tomes and topics.’ She also reminds us that ‘the imagination needs ‘the opportunity to relax and play in healthy and life-giving ways.’

But what’s the use of a book when its pages are shut, or which we read only to critique and dissect? When I was at Oxford, the reading lists we had to make our way through every week were so prodigiously long that I had little time or energy left to read anything else. It would be many months post-graduation before I felt really free to pick up a book for the sheer enjoyment of reading it, or for taking its message deeply to heart, as opposed to having to analyse and critique it.

No other book in the Hebrew Bible places such an emphasis on the heart as Deuteronomy; it is as though, having passed through the ordeal of suffering in Egypt, and then in the wilderness, God’s people were finally ready to take His word to heart, there for its fire to purify and empower them.

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one (the Lord alone). Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts . . . The LORD your God will change your heart and the hearts of all your descendants, so that you will love Him with all your heart and soul and so you may live! (Deut. 6:4-6)

Oh yes, Lord. Send Your fire to us in what we read and hear;
Burn up that which is not of use and not of You.
Implant a flame of living fire within our hearts that nothing can extinguish.
Whatever it takes, let us take Your fire into our hearts.

Let Your words heal all that is burnt or charred in our souls,
where rejections and distresses have sown their pale supplanting seeds.
And where our spirits have become in any way dull and slothful,
re-energise, Lord, with the flame of love.*

*In Peace to the soul I describe how I did just that the other day when faced with a distressing situation. 

Thoughts that breathe, and words that burn
(Thomas Gray, Victorian poet, on great literature.)

The birthing of words that bring light and which leave godly traces in people’s hearts and souls is no casual task. If we were to stop and consider the vast torrent of words that we encounter each day, I wonder how many lodge deep enough to be truly memorable? Do you remember the words preacher used in last year’s sermons? It is not usually the words themselves we remember so much as the impact they had on us, and the person who played their part in enthusing and infusing our whole life with something deeply valuable. For words have power when they have an authentic, passionate person behind them.

Bless those who write and speak such words! Bless their memory if they are now with the Lord, and their ministry if they are with us still. And bless the Lord for all He has worked in their lives and hearts that enabled them to bring us the fruit and the fire of such words.

Dr Samuel Johnson, one of England’s greatest wordsmiths, memorably reminds us that ‘What is written without effort is read without pleasure.’ To capture the ruach wind of such ‘thoughts as breathe’, that Thomas Gray was referring to, and to come up with words ourselves that kindle and burn in people’s hearts is both the fruit and inspiration of the Holy Spirit at the time, and a labour of love that requires careful and considerable crafting.

Jesus, who is the Word of God, loves to introduce us to writings which offer us the opportunity to explore beauty, meaning and truth. As we come across fire words and phrases, they are like treasures burning in plain sight: may we train ourselves to notice them, and take care not only to not allow them to fall to the ground (1 Sam. 3:19) but to take them to heart in such a way as let them make their full impression on us.

I think of Jerome, as he toiled for more than twenty years in the fourth century to translate the Greek and Hebrew Scriptures into the Latin version of the Bible that would guide the Church for over a thousand years. No wonder he wrote, ‘What labour it cost me, what difficulties I went through, how often I despaired and abandoned it and began again to learn, both I, who felt the burden, and they who lived with me, can bear witness. I thank our Lord that I now gather such sweet fruit from the bitter sowing of those studies.’

Paul writes of the power (dymnamin) of God that is at work (energoumenēn) in us (Eph. 3:20). Such is the power of God that this can come spontaneously as opportunity offers, as it did for Peter when he stood up on the Day of Pentecost to explain to people what was going on. It was both the fruit of his years spent with Jesus and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit at the time that enabled his words to make such a direct impact on his worldwide gathering of hearers, all of whom had been miraculously enabled to hear the word of the Lord in their own tongues. (Acts 2:1-41) God speaks, but then needs His preachers and interpreters to pass on what He is saying and doing, preferably in words that will remain forever imprinted in people’s hearts and minds.

The word energoumenēn goes a step beyond referring to the work itself, because it means to be ‘engaged in.’ How wonderful that God is engaged in our hearts and lives to the point of ‘giving us the desire and the power to do what pleases Him,’ as the NLT translates it in Philippians 2:13. He energises us, somewhat along the lines of an electrical current ‘energising’ a wire and causing a light to shine, or a heater to warm a room. That is fire that is properly harnessed, rather than burning wildly out of control, as it does in the hearts of those who rouse rabbles rather than guide with wisdom love and light.

Praise You, Jesus, for all those have passionately sought to allow You to engage and work in their lives according to the power that You have placed within them, so that they can share life-giving, shining words, as Moses did as he received ‘living words from You to pass on to others.’ (Acts 7:38) Thank You for those who set aside time to study and grow in wisdom, so that they might set their own and other people’s hearts on fire. Thank You for the scribes and sages who have shaped and spoken Your word in a whole variety of forms, like David as he sang fire-inspired words in his poetic psalms.

Thank You for the chroniclers who compiled the spiritual history of Israel, and for Dr Luke and the other gospel writers as they devoted themselves to their great commission to relate for the benefit of generations to come all that You did during His days on Earth – and for John who points us to the inner meaning of those actions, and to all that You are in Heaven now.

Thank You for Peter and Paul as they dictated their letters from prison, thereby revealing so much of their heart and Yours. Thank You for all who today share so much of You through their newsletters, texts and articles.

Thank You too, for the immense procession of diligent God-seekers, such as Matthew Henry who made his way to his summer house in Chester, there to painstakingly compile his great Bible commentary; and John Milton as he laboured to compose Paradise Lost even as his eyesight failed. Thank You that the finest writings so often conceal wearying struggles unseen by any but You, but which in time are read and appreciated by so many.

For how could we share life-giving words but through the struggle of birth, even as a baby emerges into the world? Amy Carmichael once began a poem with a line lamenting to God that her words are cold. The tone of her poem changes completely when a voice answers her:

“Thou shalt have words
But at this cost, that thou must first be burnt . . .
Not otherwise, and by no lighter touch,
Are fire-words wrought.”

It is not platitudes but fire-words that vanquish the dire and depressive forebodings the ancient enemy seeks to store and coil within people’s hearts. It is God’s Word that brought life and light to the whole of Creation, (Jn. 1:4) and it was fire-words that Jeremiah uttered as the Spirit of God came upon him. They were fire-words too that burned Isaiah’s tongue early in his ministry so that his voice might later resonate through the land and on down through the centuries and deep into human hearts, there to proclaim the might, majesty and purposes of the living God.

Oh God, You are the same Lord who longs for us to be on fire for You today, and to seek You without ceasing, so that our words may become flames that kindle many hearts. For despite the billions and trillions of words that have been spoken and written over millennia, You still have so much more to say and share, and You are leading us on a quest that will lead through many tribulations and afflictions (thlipseōn), but which will enable us to endure the furnace – perhaps many fiery furnaces – so that our words may carry the stamp and seal of the ‘eternal’ that Amy Carmichael speaks of.

Empower us, too, to speak, read and write ‘fire’ words that impact souls with heavenly truths, and which impart life because they proceed from the fire that comes from You and which burns in our own hearts. For this is what it means to partake of, and to partner in Your Holy Spirit’s own work of creative inspiration. Thank You for Charles Wesley, who captures this longing and this ‘burning’ so perfectly in his hymn:

O Thou who camest from above
the fire celestial to impart,
kindle a flame of sacred love
on the mean altar of my heart!

There let it for thy glory burn
with inextinguishable blaze,
and trembling to its source return
in humble prayer and fervent praise.

Jesus, confirm my heart’s desire
to work, and speak, and think for Thee;
still let me guard the holy fire,
and still stir up the gift in me.

Ready for all Thy perfect will,
my acts of faith and love repeat;
till death thy endless mercies seal,
and make the sacrifice complete.

My flatmate was right, and his ‘prophecy’ fulfilled: my books have indeed ‘spread.’ Volumes written by dear ‘friends and teachers,’ their lives salted by fire, line the walls of every room in our home, gather on tables, lie expectantly beside chairs. Many of these giants of faith have long since become my dearly loved travelling companions, friends whose stories have become almost as familiar to me as my own, their insight and wisdom by turns delighting, challenging, nurturing, and nourishing my soul.

How many such ‘friends’ I have gathered, and how many lamps have been lit by them! Even five minutes in company with one or other of them inspire and revitalise me when I am tired in mind and body. So much understanding, so much acumen, the wisdom of the ages waiting to be explored and draw me deeper to share in fire words that proceed from the heart of eternity. Thank You, Lord.

Photo by Zoltan Tasi on Unsplash

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