I wouldn’t classify myself as a charismatic. I remember hordes of high school students being slain in the spirit at a youth group in a mobile home I used to visit. I chose to hug my knees to myself, hoping to disappear in the corner. As a good Southern Baptist, I was taught to treat the Holy Spirit with suspicion. After college, I settled into an Evangelical Free church in Chicago for about fifteen years. The denomination was so subtle that my husband thought it was nondenominational for the first several years he attended. It had women elders, practiced listening prayer, taught the Bible, integrated the arts in worship services and looked for ways to serve the community. So yeah, the Holy Spirit was welcome, if not the main event.
Last year I picked one word to focus on for the year (because apparently that’s what good bloggers do), thinking I’d write about it frequently and keep it out in the forefront of my mind. During one of the hardest years in my life, the word “enjoy” seemed like a piece of spinach stuck in the teeth of life—very much out of place and unwanted. And so I was ready to try again this year and decided that my word should be “thankfulness,” (just another variation of “enjoy,” really). Because maybe this year I’d be able to get it right.
So I was surprised when I read the beginning of Luke and God seemed to nudge me towards another, much scarier word.
In a story my four year old won’t allow me to read because he can’t stand to hear about John eating locusts, John the Baptist tells the crowds he is a sideshow compared to the one who is coming soon. “I’m just baptizing with water,” he says, “but there is one who is coming who will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”
I understand ritualistic baptism rooted in reality, logic and rules. I do the do’s and don’t do the don’t’s. I was baptized—twice—and know that it is a symbol of dying to our old lives and living on in the newness of life. But sometimes I feel more like I was baptized by the waters of John the Baptist, instead of by the fire of Jesus.
Secretly, I long for the drama of fire and Spirit. Like John the Baptist, I want more.
I want the fire.
And so this year, I’m praying to be baptized with fire and Spirit. It’s a terrifying prayer, really, because the fire of God is not always about cozy scenes of snuggling under patterned fleece blankets, drinking tea by the fire with a kitten curled up at our feet.
Fire kills. It incinerates, scars and destroys.
But it is also a beacon in the darkness; provides heat for the shivering and purifies precious metals so the most exquisite elements remain.
In Luke 2 and 3, the Holy Spirit directs, empowers and fills—even as it leads Jesus to be tempted for 40 days in the desert. The Holy Spirit is much less concerned with our safety than we are.
In Acts 2, tongues of fire fall on the room of Jesus followers, allowing them to speak in other languages and preparing them to go out into the world and bring the message of Jesus. Fire is energy. It enlivens and electrifies.
For the first time in a while, as I open the Bible in the darkness of the winter morning, usually nursing a tiny baby with one hand while holding my thin leather Bible with the other, my heart burns as I read. It’s been nearly 28 years since I kneeled in my bedroom and gave my life to Jesus. The majority of that time I’ve been moving forward, sometimes running, other times leaping or crumpled down on the ground before I can take another step in the journey with Jesus.
Most times, I have followed Jesus in the way you keep loving your spouse on the ordinary, exhausting days of sweeping up dried pieces of rice and peas, high-fiving one another as you pass the baton of one responsibility to move on to the next. You love even when you don’t have the fire or passion. You love because you promised you would and love looks so different from how you expected. It looks more like the pauper shining shoes than it does the princess in the ballroom. It looks like falling into bed together with a baby between you, patting each other’s shoulder, saying a prayer and then one of you getting out of bed again just after you’ve drifted off because the toddler wants her water and the doll that she left in the toy bin downstairs.
Loving Jesus, walking with Him–knowing and giving your heart to him–looks a lot like THAT. It is mundane, familiar and comfortable.
But sometimes—just sometimes—passionate, inside-searing, chest-pounding love stirs in your heart and makes it glow, expand, contract and beat faster. The tongues of fire come down–or else they take the form of an ordinary dove that you JUST KNOW is not an ordinary dove–and you feel Jesus is with you—IN you—fueling you and moving you on in your journey.
Fire is not the norm, but you don’t always know you have it until it’s gone. Like the men on the Emmaus road who walked with Jesus, chatting away and didn’t recognize him until they sat down to eat together. “Wait, weren’t our hearts burning within us as he walked with us on the road?” they asked.
Oh wait, that was JESUS.
Jesus still makes cameos in our beautiful, normal lives.
I want to be purified, empowered and filled with the Holy Spirit in a way I never have before. I want to remember why I fell in love with Jesus in the first place and carry his flame within me in such a way that I may lead others back to dry land.
This year, I’m praying for the fire.