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I love how the Wasatch Mountains in Utah roar to life in springtime, especially in the years when an abundance of rain graces the mountainsides with explosions of green new growth.
That profusion of life does not last. The circle of life pushes forward relentlessly as life gives way to new life through death. By mid-summer, scorching hot and dry days have turned the green profusions of life to death-pale hues of yellow, tan, and brown.
What once promised life and vitality now contains the potential of a fiery death for itself and, without containment, fiery contamination to anything nearby.
After a copious spring-time of rain this year, the Wasatch Mountains were ready to burst into fire as the sun and dry heat sucked the life out of the mountain plants. That’s what happened near my home in Springville, Utah this summer. The Wasatch Mountains erupted into uncontrollable flames when someone did not properly extinguish their campfire.
I was walking across campus at BYU, some 10 miles to the north of Springville, when a huge tanker jet flew low overhead. I’ve never seen a plane this large fly so close and so low to campus. My attention was riveted. As I watched the plane head south, and seeing the billowing smoke pouring into the sky from the blackened mountain, I realized that this plane must be fighting the fire.
Making a graceful turning arc, the plane banked to the east and then to north until it was positioned to make a surgical strike against the fire. With practiced precision the plane released some 12,000 gallons of flame retardant to extinguish the fire. Wherever the fire retardant hit, the fire was immediately and permanently quenched. And the retardant created a barrier, blocking the spread of fire by quenching and suppressing the consumability of whatever it touched.
I saw fire quenching in action that day.
Do Not Quench the Spirit
When I read Paul’s exhortation in 1 Thessalonians 5:19 to not quench the spirit, I remembered the power of fire retardant to immediately and permanently quench a fire.
Quench is a powerful, evocative word. It means to extinguish, to blot out, to suppress, to stifle, to obliterate. The word obliterate itself literally means to blot out or to rub out, especially something that is written. Do we want to extinguish the word of God? Do we try to rub out the word of God? Do we seek to remove the word of God? Think of it, the word of God is conveyed to our hearts through the Holy Spirit. If we rub out the word of God, we have no life. If we kill the flame of God’s love, as expressed through His revealed and recorded word, we are extinguishing our source of life.
I’ve since thought of the fire of God’s Spirit. We sing this beautiful hymn regularly throughout the Church, “The Spirit of God Like a Fire is Burning!” Can God’s Spirit really be turned off and put out, just as I saw with the raging mountain fire I witnessed this summer?
I Wonder How I and Others Have Quenched the Spirit of God
Have we become past-feeling as we scroll through yet another social media post so that the spirit of truth has no place in our heart? Do our addictions cause us to abuse food, social-media, and other substances, seeking after their mind-numbing states so that we remove ourselves from the realities of life, including the Spirit of God?
Are we so addicted to yet another news story about some problem in the world over which we have very little control to the point that we have wasted away our lives watching other people’s problems rather than serving in and among our own immediate community? Have we let the love of God flicker and then go dormant through lack of use, for lack of blowing the life-giving oxygen of love into our relationships and actions?
Are we filled with anger because of some slight or injustice, real or perceived, so that the potential for our love has been quenched of all power?
Are we letting the crossroads of doubt condemn us from moving forward in any direction, quenching the power of revelation that comes through the diligent work of living and acting? Are we missing out on God’s Spirit of Fire promised to those who act in faith because we have been paralyzed from action by the wondering doubt of “what if”?
Are we letting criticism of ourselves, of the Church, or of its leaders or members, quench the Spirit of God that is ready to burn the atonement into our souls? Is our desire to seek perfection in everyone and everything extinguishing the life-force that only the atonement of Jesus Christ can provide? Are we trying to destroy the purposes of God by expecting everyone and everything to be perfect immediately and now?
Are we afraid to let our hearts burn within us with the love of God? Are we always circling above, like that plane, waiting to release the full force of Spirit-quenching retardant when we feel we are being too forgiving, too humble, too trusting of God and His servants, too child-like?
When does the fire of the Spirit come into our lives sweet, clean, and pure? When we ponder the truths of heaven. When we intentionally serve others. When we keep our covenants, even in the face of our own inadequacies. When we defend the Church and the Gospel, though the world scoffs and points the finger of derision. When we live what we believe.
Paul’s admonition to not quench the spirit has stirred me to reflection and action, to take account of how I am doing at stoking the fires of truth God has placed in my soul.