Ignition; What is this Fire?

3 – 2 – 1 . . . Ignition!

I’m a big fan of metaphors. My church just finished a teaching series today. ‘Ignite’ was its title and I’m pausing today to meditate on the image of ignition because I think that it’s a powerful metaphor. References to fire are very common in the Bible; there are over 500 times where fire is referred to in some way. Here’s one Patrick has used a few times for his messages.

I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!

Luke 12:49 NIV

Though 1/5 of the fire mentions in the Bible refer to God, In this particular metaphor Jesus isn’t the fire. As Jesus is a member of the trinity, to me it seems that he’s not referring to God the Father or to the Holy Spirit. I think the fire refers to something else. More on this in a moment.

About a month ago we finished a series called “Breathe” Another powerful image. Let’s take a look at another verse of scripture:

And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

John 20:22 NIV

The Holy Spirit is often referred to in scripture in terms of Air.

The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

John 3:8 NIV

The Holy Spirit – breath, wind, air, oxygen

___________ – Fire, ignition, kindling

So what is this fire?

I looked up a scientific description of what take place when fire is created. Here’s a paraphrasing of what I found on citizendium.org:

The flames of a fire are the result, or side-effect, of a chemical reaction between oxygen and a fuel source (wood, or gasoline, for example). The steps for fire creation are as follows:

  • a fuel source is touched by heat until it reaches its ignition temperature
  • oxygen breaks down larger molecules into carbon dioxide and water vapour
  • this reaction produces visible, glowing heated gas

If you’re like me this gets your mind going. And going. I think that metaphors are often weakened by over-explaination, so if you want to stop there and just consider this for yourself, I don’t blame you.

So, really what is this fire?

If the Oxygen in this equation is the Holy Spirit then we are the fuel. We are what gets set on fire. So what is this fire? Craig Groeschel, pastor of LifeChurch.TV calls it … “It.” He wrote a whole book entitled “It.” Upon first reading, I thought that “It” was just the Holy Spirit, but after discussing the book, I realized that “It” had to be a special interaction of the Holy Spirit with the people of the church. So what is this fire? Well if it isn’t God – and it isn’t us I think the only thing that it could be is… Fire. Sorry if that’s anti-climactic.

When people are excited don’t we say that they are ‘fired up?’ When a sports star scores a streak of points don’t the commentators say “He’s on fire!” I don’t think there’s a better word for fire than “fire.” If you need to get specific, it’s the ‘fire of the spirit’ described in 1st Thessalonians

“Do not put out the Spirit’s fire.”

1st Thessalonians 5:19 ISV

Step by Step

I think there is a TON you can draw out of this metaphor. Assuming the Holy spirit is Oxygen and we’re the fuel – consider…

  • Heat is applied to ignite something
  • Different fuels have different Ignition Temperatures
  • Oxygen breaks down the molecules within the fuel
  • The reaction produces a visible, glow.

Here’s the part  where I over-explain.

To ignite, you need Oxygen and Fuel you need people to be interacting with the Holy Spirit.

You also need the heat to be turned up. Similar to the way that a sick person’s fever burns away the flu, heat turned up on people burns away the junk in their lives. As much as no one wants to be in crisis – don’t our priorities fall in line when the heat gets turned up? Mark Batterson said “Everyone wants a miracle but no one wants to be in a situation that necessitates one.” You still need oxygen though, so be sure to allow the Holy Spirit in.

You have to reach the ignition temperature. You know, striking a match is easy – getting a large bonfire going isn’t quite as easy, but once you get it going, it’s even harder to put out.

Once the fire starts, the Oxygen has to break some things down. The person or people who are on fire will experience life-change and some of it may seem destructive or even be painful. Some relationships may change or break down – some habits and may have to come to an end while new disciplines have to replace them.

The reaction is always evident to anyone watching; it produces a glow. You cannot hide fire. It produces more heat (yes, more heat) to all those around and it creates light, chasing away darkness. The funny thing about fire is that it tends to spread the more it touches things and you can’t really control it. But keep in mind, without oxygen the fire goes out.

I could go on – there are so many good images that come out of this metaphor – pulling a coal away from the rest of the fire will cause it to burn out more quickly, putting it back in the fire reignites it. But you get the picture.

In Summary…

So when you feel like the heat is getting turned up and you can’t take it any more, try not to worry, you’re just that much closer to being ignited. So make sure you’re getting plenty of fresh air.

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Posted on November 18, 2010 in Bible Study, Musings, Spirituality

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About the Author

William H. Adams does creative work for a church. He enjoys sandwiches, jet skis, legos, ultimate frisbee, and living life to the fullest. Will is most passionate about using creative media to tell the story of what God is doing in the lives of those who love Christ. He believes the purpose of his life to glorify God and encourage others.

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