We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand. ~Isaiah 64:8

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Pentecost: Reignite Your Ember!

Pentecost, for the Western church, is this Sunday. I'm posting this a bit early to participate in the Carnival of the Church Year for Pentecost.

Welcome to new friends (and old) visiting from the Carnival of the Church Year: Pentecost! I hope you'll enjoy my submission and stick around to check out my blog a bit.

Have you heard this story? There was a man who had been a devout believer and active church member. One day his pastor noticed that he was not in church. Nor was he the next Sunday. Nor the next. It became obvious that something had happened and this man was no longer attending church. When the pastor went to visit the man, he found him sitting peacefully beside a crackling fire. The man invited him to take a seat, but had no interest in discussing the matter. The pastor joined him and they both sat in silence.

After a while, the pastor took a pair of fireplace tongs and grasped one of the flaming embers. He brought the ember out of the fire (and out of the pile of other flaming embers) and set it on the hearth away from the flames. The man sat watching the ember. He noticed that it stayed glowing red for a bit, but slowly began to darken and cool. Before the ember had entirely gone out, the pastor returned the ember to the fire where it quickly began to glow again. He returned the tongs to their place, said his goodbye and left the man to contemplate that ember.

The next Sunday the man was back at church where his heart was rekindled.

Somehow that story, with its fire imagery and message about the Body of Christ, seems appropriate for Pentecost, doesn’t it?

The Holy Spirit can exist in us when we are separated from other believers by time or distance or circumstance (and does exist in us as individual believers), but the Holy Spirit came from Heaven and breathed on a gathering of believers…and there is something to that! We need other believers to stay “kindled” with the fire of belief, don’t we? There are times when our ember may be out of the fire for various reasons, but we are wise not to keep it out too long for fear it may extinguish completely.

I’m in one of those seasons right now with the new baby. Her schedule is very important to maintain, more so than it has been for my biological kids, and our church service occurs right in the middle of her morning nap. We’ve taken her anyway and let her nap in the baby sling, but it is still hard on her (and me!). So, the result is that I’ve missed a lot of church lately. Luckily I’ve found other ways to stay “kindled” – a ladies’ bible study – until I can resume regular church attendance, but it isn’t quite the same as being in worship with my church family.

My church family kindles the Holy Spirit in me. I become that cold, dead ember when I am away for too long. Oh, the Holy Spirit is in me as a believer, but I am much less likely to feel His warmth or the flicker of His flame when I am long separated from the company of my faith family.

This reminds me of something I read by Dallas Willard in his book The Spirit of the Disciplines. In the book he looks at the disciplines of the Christian life that sustain, encourage, and challenge us thus growing our spiritual life in Christ.

When we understand that grace (charis) is gift (charisma), we then see that to grow in grace is to grow in what is given to us of God and by God. The disciplines are then, in the clearest sense, a means to that grace and also to those gifts.” p. 156

He divides the disciplines into two main types: disciplines of abstinence and disciplines of engagement. The disciplines of abstinence are: solitude, silence, fasting, frugality, chastity, secrecy, and sacrifice.

In the disciplines of abstinence, we abstain to some degree and for some time from the satisfaction of what we generally regard as normal and legitimate desires. “Normal” desires include our basic drives or motivations, such as those for food, sleep, bodily activity, companionship, curiosity, and sex. But our desires for convenience, comfort, material security, reputation or fame, and variety are also considered under this heading.” p. 159

While the disciplines of engagement are: study, worship, celebration, service, prayer, fellowship (this is the one I’m getting at…I’ll get back to it momentarily), confession, and submission.

The disciplines of abstinence must be counterbalanced and supplemented by disciplines of engagement…Roughly speaking, the disciplines of abstinence counteract tendencies to sins of commission, and the disciplines of engagement counteract sins of omission.” p. 176

The discipline that I’m getting at is Fellowship:

In fellowship we engage in common activities of worship, study, prayer, celebration and service with other disciples….The fire of God kindles higher as the brands are heaped together and each is warmed by the other’s flame….

The diverse gifts or graces of the Spirit – all of which are needed in some measure by each person from time to time – are distributed among the separate members of the body of Christ, the church….

…fellowship is required to allow realization of a joyous and sustained level of life in Christ that is normally impossible to attain by all our individual effort…In it we receive the ministry of all the graces of the Spirit to the church.”
p. 186-187

Pentecost is a fitting time to assess our commitment and engagement with our church home, our faith family, our body of Christ –whatever you wish to call it - and determine our need for the discipline of engagement in the area of fellowship.

While I am at peace with my current season of being slightly removed from my particular body of Christ in fellowship, I am aware that this needs to be a temporary and infrequent occurrence. I look forward to resuming regular attendance on Sunday mornings, because I need the Holy Spirit’s movement in the Body to kindle my faith, my ember!

There is a prayer I learned in Cursillo that I've always loved and seems appropriate for Pentecost...

Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created. And You shall renew the face of the earth. O, God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit, did instruct the hearts of the faithful, grant that by the same Holy Spirit we may be truly wise and ever enjoy His consolations, Through Christ Our Lord, Amen.

Are you interested in reading more from Dallas Willard’s book, The Spirit of the Disciplines? I highly recommend it!

Want to read more? Be sure to check out the rest of the Carnival...and my Pentecost posts from 2007: Peals of Pentecost and 2008: Come Holy Spirit - and just added: Celebrating Pentecost 2009 (with photos of us in our Ghanaian batiks!).

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Amy said...

Beautiful post!

At A Hen's Pace said...

Thanks for the reminders. We are finding, with a small church plant, that fellowship is definitely the thing that is fanning those embers!

Your baby girl is just beautiful...