“For he will be like a refiner’s fire…” (Malachi 3:2).
Fire is fascinating. It is intriguing to sit around a campfire and watch a burning fire. It hypnotizes onlookers as it dances up and down, and side to side. Experiments take place as those around toss items in the fire to see what will happen. To bring validity to the experience, we call these “memory makers.” Fire can be very helpful and useful, or it can cause great damage and harm. In the right hands, fire can provide needed heat and light and mold the toughest metals. The Bible often uses fire as a metaphor of purifying, judgment and growing closer to God. We might call it becoming more holy or set apart for God’s purposes.
Fire shows up a bunch in the Bible. A pot full of fire passed through pieces of a sacrifice in Abraham’s vision (Genesis 15). The fire was God. Moses saw a burning bush that was not consumed by the fire (Exodus 3). The fire in the bush represented God. Fire came out of heaven as the Holy Spirit showed up at Pentecost (Acts 2). We are to be baptized with the Holy Spirit and fire (Matthew 3:11). Fire is a symbol of God’s presence (Genesis 15:17; Exodus 3:2, 13:21-22), God’s power (Exodus 19:18, 24:17; 1 Kings 18:24, 38), and God’s purity (Isaiah 6:1–6).
A Revival by Fire
How desperate are you for God to work in the world? Where is your urgency for God to show up in your church? Are you on your face for God to make an impact in your life and family? Do you know where it starts? The beginning point of revival fire is you. Do you want revival in our land? It starts with you and me.
The origin of revival has its roots way back in the Old Testament. One of my heroes of the faith is a man who dared pray a prayer to God that put it all on the line. He prayed in front of the nation of Israel and the evil leaders of the day, “If my God does not answer this prayer by bringing visible fire, then He is not real and you can forget Him forever.” Would you pray such a bold and desperate prayer? And this man was in front of 450 angry false prophets putting his life on the line with one prayer. Do you know his name?
He placed all of his future and all of his confidence in this simple prayer for revival that would decide the destiny of a nation. Elijah pushed all of his chips to the center of life’s table and said, “I am all in.” Would you do the same?
The story is told in 1 Kings 18 where Elijah asks a question, creates a contest and calls for commitment.
King Ahab and his wicked wife, Jezebel, were after Elijah. They wanted him dead, and they wanted worship of Jehovah to end throughout Israel. Their cruelty rivaled what ISIS is doing in Syria and around the world today. Jezebel was married to the Devil long before marrying Ahab. Jezebel smelled of sensual evil all the time. The sign on the side of her chariot must have read, “Prophet Exterminator.” Elijah thought he was the only faithful follower of Jehovah left in the nation of Israel (1 Kings 19:10). But with great faith, Elijah knew his God and knew it was never too late for God to cause revival again with His people, Israel. He told King Ahab to get the 450 prophets of the false god Baal to Mount Carmel. Imagine Elijah surrounded by Baal worshippers in the epicenter of false worship calling on these evil men, women and children to show up once and for all to settle the matter. Is it not unlike our day? We live in a world that worships self, power, fame, celebrities, athletes and even material things. In many respects, we are surrounded by evil activity to our right and left. Like Elijah, are we willing to put it all on the line for God’s glory?
Elijah asked the question, “How long are you going to worship multiple gods with your life?” God is asking us the same question today. Will we worship the One True God alone? This is the start of revival. It starts with you and me.
The large crowd was standing on Mount Carmel. God had the home field advantage, and Elijah knew it. This is a supernatural Super Bowl with only one winner. Elijah tells the false worshippers to “call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the Lord. The god who answers by fire — he is God.” The people replied, “What you say is good” (1 Kings 18:24). The prophets of Baal go first and make a mess of the altar and their lives. They look ridiculous running around. Nothing happens. Elijah sarcastically taunts the prophets, “Shout louder. Maybe your god is on vacation. Surely, he is real” (1 Kings 18:27 paraphrase).
Elijah would step up and say it was his turn. He repaired the altar that the prophets of Baal had destroyed in their frantic dancing and chanting. Elijah was doing the preparation work of reformation, restoration and revival. Elijah was desperate for God to show up. He wanted revival in Israel as much as he wanted air for his lungs. This was the moment. He said a simple prayer with his deep faith,
“Answer me, O Lord, answer me, so these people will know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again” (1 Kings 18:37).
Before “amen” came from his lips, fire fell from heaven at the exact time, at the exact spot, and burned up the altar — consuming the sacrifice and water. Elijah believed God would cause revival again. He put his life, reputation and future on the line. Will you do the same?
Elijah did not need to do anything extraordinary to get God’s attention. He just believed God and prayed. The people’s response to a focused atomic fire bomb going off in front of them was absolute humility. They fell on their faces and cried out, “The Lord – he is God! The Lord – he is God!” (1 Kings 18:39). Judgment would fall on the false prophets, and revival would begin again in the land.
Elijah serves for us as a biblical example of a life totally dependent on God where prayer is not a spare tire, but our steering wheel. We are absolutely dependent on communication with the Triune God. He walks out his faith with boldness, putting his life on the line for God’s glory. Revival starts with us.
Fast-forward from Elijah, but back in history from today. Let me remind you of our roots as Free Methodists. God would raise up a leader with passion in his bones for revival.
The Great Awakening during the years 1739-1791 is frequently called the Wesleyan revival. God would use John and Charles Wesley, other leaders and dozens of other lay preachers to light and fan the flames of holiness across the world. John Wesley as an itinerant preacher on horseback would travel more miles, preach more messages of God’s grace and to more places than others at the time. God had handpicked Wesley for this task of calling down fire from heaven.
At 17 years old, John Wesley was elected to Christ Church College at Oxford, England, and entered in 1720. Little did he know at the time, because of God’s grace and sovereign hand, he would be used in a few short years to cause a holiness fire to spread across the land. Wesley was a student of the Bible, and other mentors would influence him along the way.
In November 1729 at Oxford, John Wesley, his brother Charles and two others would meet three or four times a week to pray, study the Bible, and discuss theology and their Christian lives. This gathering became known as the “Holy Club.” They fasted Wednesdays and Thursdays and celebrated Communion once a week. This personal devotion and mutual accountability among the group would light the match of what would turn into a wild fire for the Lord.
Revival would break out everywhere John Wesley would go. Large crowds would gather, the gospel was preached, people turned to God, and “revival societies” were formed. Those that gave their lives to Christ were formed into small groups for worship, study, prayer and discipleship. Maybe surprisingly, Wesley would encourage these new converts to stay loyal to the Church of England. He had no desire to start a new denomination. His desire was to light a fire within the local church. As these groups grew, more organization was needed. Wesley would encourage them with the motto, “Holiness to the Lord.” Wesley must have read Elijah’s declaration! All Wesley wanted was to see new and healthy life pouring into the church. He loved the Anglican Church to the day he died.
Through the revivals of the Great Awakening, God used Wesley to preach the gospel. Hearts would be ablaze for God again. Methodism’s leaders were led by the Holy Spirit, holy men and women of God. The historian William Edward Hartpole Lecky declared that this evangelical revival across England and America “gradually changed the whole spirit of the English Church” (fmchr.ch/burnsbl). Through Methodism, Christianity regained its rightful place in national life, gave great impetus to work among children and the poor, and instilled a new missionary vision.
My prayer is the same would happen today within the local church. Just as Wesley would desire, pray and work for the church to revive her to be a healthy living organism, not living in legalism, but love. I pray for a revival among our churches. May we pursue a living and active life in Christ together. May we pursue holiness of the whole life. May this cause the local church to live as God intended — to be set apart by His grace and for His glory.
Fire and Revival
Fire is refining. Elijah prayed, and fire came out of heaven blowing up the altar and burning up the sacrifice. Centuries later, Wesley would have the same fire in his belly for revival. Fire works to get the excess off in order to purify. It is with great significance that the words “purify” and “purge” come from the Greek word for fire. Out of God’s great love, He does the same for us. He wants us to live for Him wholeheartedly. He desperately wants to purify us in word and deed. He is working all the time and overtime to grow and mature us. I suppose our journey is God refining us for greater revival.
The word “revival” has Latin roots. The prefix of “re” means “to go back to” and the rest of the word used to be spelled “vivere,” meaning “live.” Together, the word revival means to “go back and live again.” We all have a deep need and longing for God to move in our hearts, our families, our churches, our cities, our states, our country and our world again. It starts with desperate prayer calling down fire from heaven.
May revival come to our land again for God’s glory. May we deeply humble ourselves again and be launched with boldness with gospel fire. Here is what was written Jan. 20, 1905, in a Denver Post article titled, “An Entire City Paused for Prayer”:
“For two hours at midday all Denver was held in a spell. The marts of trade were deserted between noon and two o’clock this afternoon, and all worldly affairs were forgotten, and the entire city was given over to meditation of higher things. The Spirit of the Almighty pervaded every nook. Going to and coming from the great meetings, the thousands of men and women radiated this Spirit which filled them, and the clear Colorado sunshine was made brighter by the reflected glow of the light of God shining from happy faces. Seldom has such a remarkable sight been witnessed — an entire great city, in the middle of a busy weekday, bowing before the throne of heaven and asking and receiving the blessing of the King of the Universe.”
May God cause revival to happen again in all of our cities.
Jeff Baxter, D.Min., is the lead pastor of River Church in Lakewood, Colorado, and an ordained Free Methodist elder. Most recently, he has written “The Ultimate Guide to Being Christian in College” (Zondervan) and is currently writing a book with Light + Life Communications to help the local church move from brokenness to beauty.4