Beware The Dread Asbestos

In a recent Zoom gathering, host Peter Boyle began by quoting an excerpt from the journal of Jim Elliot, a young missionary who was martyred with four others in Ecuador in 1956:

He makes His ministers a flame of fire. Am I ignitable? God deliver me from the dread asbestos of “other things.” Saturate me with the oil of the Spirit that I may be aflame. But flame is transient, often short-lived. Canst thou bear this O my soul—short life? In me there dwells the Spirit of the Great Short-Lived, whose zeal for God’s house consumed Him. And He has promised baptism with the Spirit and fire. “Make me Thy fuel, Flame of God.”

(The last sentence is a line from an Amy Carmichael poem; the quotation itself is from Shadow of the Almighty, the biography that Jim Elliot’s wife Elisabeth later wrote in which she draws extensively from his journals.)

It was one of those “God-incidences” that the brother who was about to deliver the message in the Zoom gathering—David Meeten, an elder in a fellowship in the United Kingdom—had intended to read this very quotation as integral to his message. David, as he told us when he began to speak, was much encouraged with this confirmation of the message he had in mind to share with us; surely God was speaking to us, for here was a second witness confirming it.

David goes on to speak of Moses’ meeting with God at the burning bush, which, though it burned with fire, was not consumed. What an enigma. Moses, now no more than a wilderness bush himself, just had to investigate “this great sight”… with the result that we shortly discover and are dismayed at what a Consuming Fire in a wilderness bush can accomplish.

The message is entitled Presence, Purity, Passion. I found it very moving, as much for the brokenness in which it was delivered as for its content. One of the brothers commenting afterwards said it had given to his eyes refreshing tears. He had in mind a line from an old hymn, “Give to mine eyes refreshing tears, Give to my heart chaste, hallowed fires…” I too was broken up afterward. Oh, the longing for the fire of the holy love of God to burn in me. Continually.

And oh, I tremble concerning the dread asbestos of “other things.” “Quench not the Spirit” Paul exhorts (1 Thes 5:19 KJV). The New English Translation (NET) has, “Do not extinguish the Spirit.” That’s what asbestos does. That’s what “the lusts of other things” entering into the heart can do to the fire of the Spirit of God.

Jesus with great yearning told His disciples, “I came to send fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! (Lk 12:49 NKJV). The hour He was yearning for came when on the day of Pentecost that fire fell from Heaven on the waiting disciples, kindling them into fires that He sent into all the earth. It is ablaze yet, this fire… but the “dread asbestos” that abounds in our world has quenched it all too often.

It is a fire that must be continually guarded in the heart—guarded, and stirred and fed. It was William Booth of the Salvation Army who said this. “It is the nature of fire to go out. It needs to be stirred, and fed, and the ashes carried out.”

And so we find Paul exhorting Timothy:

Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands (2 Tim 1:6 NKJV).

Or, as the English Standard Version has it, “fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you…” The Charles Williams paraphrase brings out the present tense in this word: “For this reason I now remind you to rekindle and keep burning the fire of the divine gift which came upon you when I laid my hands upon you.”

This is confirmed by Greek scholar A.T. Robertson. He says “stir up” is “present active infinitive” denoting continuous action. Transliterated, the Greek is “anazopureo” which Robertson breaks down into “ana [up or again] and zo-puron, a live coal; zo-os [live] and pur [fire] then the bellows for kindling; to rekindle, to stir into flame, to keep blazing (continuous action, present time), only here in N.T.”

The “gift of God,” then—the Spirit of God, His unspeakable gift—is a live coal, and He manifests Himself in various ways. This is what the gifts, the charismata, are—manifestations, glowings, shinings forth in you and me—of the live coal of the Spirit of God Himself.

O that in me the sacred fire
Might now begin to glow,
Burn up the dross of base desire
And make the mountains flow.
(Charles Wesley)

He is given by God; that is God’s part—to give the Spirit. Our part is to guard this Fire and not quench it. Not that the Spirit comes and goes, comes and goes; Jesus promised that the Paraclete would abide with us forever (Jn 14:16). But how often He is quenched, stifled, rendered inactive, and must be rekindled into flame. And so our prayer, this again from Wesley:

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 Thy gift in me.

Let us do this, brothers and sisters, and by the mercies of God present ourselves once again and continually a living sacrifice to God. It is upon the whole burnt offering, the continual burnt offering on the altar of the Cross, that the fire of God falls and consumes it. This is the cry of my own heart once again in this hour. I urge you to join me, dear brothers and sisters; let us be broken before Him with great yearnings to see that Holy Fire of God again in our day—His very Presence, Purity, Passion—and so His Power.

…How can I help but quote the whole hymn?

O Thou Who camest from above,
The pure celestial fire to impart,
Kindle a flame of sacred love
On the mean altar of my heart.

[“Mean” here is not “malicious” but “worthy of little regard.”]

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 Thy gift in me.

Ready for all Thy perfect will,
My acts of faith and love repeat,
‘Til death Thy endless mercies seal,
And make my sacrifice complete.

Please pray with me.

Oh, Lord… when Isaiah saw You, saw Your glory, he was utterly undone, and cried out, “Woe is me,” for he was a man of unclean lips and dwelt in the midst of a people of unclean lips… and one of the seraphim, the Burning Ones, took with tongs from the altar a live coal—it was too hot and too holy for this Burning One to touch—and placed it on Isaiah’s lips, taking away his iniquity and purging his sin. Oh, Lord, put that live coal in my very heart, mean though it is, and there let it for Thy glory ever burn.

…Because, Lord, I know I am not shining as I need to shine and long to shine in this world of darkness; I feel so often like that smouldering wick Isaiah wrote of… and so I’m thankful, dear Lord, for Your faithful promise, as David reminded us at the conclusion of his message, that “the smoking flax You will not quench,” but will do whatever You need to do to cause it to burn brightly for Your glory. May I myself, then, be mindful to cooperate with You, and not by my own doing, or undoing, quench this holy fire. Amen.

4 responses »

  1. “And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins.”

    The context of the above scripture…

    “But the end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer.”

    Unforgiveness is one of the asbestos elements within a heart – Love covers the multitude of sins, unforgiveness stirs the fires of bitterness and resentment. A pure heart keeps itself free from such contaminants.

    “Thou Christ of burning, cleansing flame,
    Send the fire, send the fire, send the fire!
    Thy blood-bought gift today we claim,
    Send the fire, send the fire, send the fire!
    Look down and see this waiting host,
    Give us the promised Holy Ghost;
    We want another Pentecost,
    Send the fire, send the fire, send the fire!”
    – William Booth

    A blessed word…


    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Brian. William Booth’s hymn also came to mind as I wrote this blog entry. Here’s another verse from that hymn:

      ’Tis fire we want, for fire we plead,
      Send the fire, send the fire, send the fire!
      The fire will meet our every need,
      Send the fire, send the fire, send the fire!
      For strength to ever do the right,
      For grace to conquer in the fight,
      For pow’r to walk the world in white,
      Send the fire, send the fire, send the fire!

      “‘Tis fire we want…” Meaning, lack. ‘Tis fire we lack. That’s painfully true, and acknowledging this would result in this old hymn becoming a desperate cry instead of the upbeat popular hymn it has become in recent years.

      Liked by 1 person


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