Keeping your spiritual fire burning
One of the saddest sights for me is to see a Christian person or a church or a ministry that began in a fire but now living in a smoke. William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, once said to a group of new officers, “I want you young men always to bear in mind that it is the nature of a fire to go out; you must keep it stirred and fed and the ashes removed.”
The Book of Nehemiah is a great example of how the fire went out in the life of the Jewish people. You may remember the story – Nehemiah came to help them rebuild the wall around Jerusalem. It was a monumental task. They had to face opposition from the local rulers – Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem. Nonetheless, they looked towards God, worked round the clock and completed the project in only 52 days! It was clear testimony to the hand of God upon their lives. The people were full of joy and faith. They stood for hours and read the Bible and confessed their sins before God. They made a covenant with God never to turn from Him. It was a real revival!
But, by the time we get to the final chapter of the book, we see a completely different picture. Everything that Nehemiah had worked for in twelve years had fallen apart. In fact, if I were writing the Book of Nehemiah, I would have left out chapter 13. Such is not the case with the Bible. It is the Word of God and it never tries to air brush the character flaws of its heroes. How did this spiritual decline happen? It began when Nehemiah had to leave Jerusalem and go to Persia for a year. While he was gone, the old enemy Tobiah saw his opportunity to sneak back in. The priest had allowed Tobiah to set up office inside the holy temple. Keep in mind – this was the same Tobiah who had who mocked the Jewish people and tried to discourage them. Now that he was allowed in, he was doing everything possible to sabotage the work. No wonder the temple was in disarray; no wonder the people were not giving and assembling; no wonder the spiritual fire had burned out.
How did Nehemiah react to all this? In his words, “it grieved me bitterly.” (Neh. 13:8) All his hard work had gone to waste. He was outraged. It didn’t take him long to recognize the root of the problem. He immediately threw Tobiah’s belongings out of the temple and had it cleansed. Next, he brought back the articles of the house of God along with the grain offering and the frankincense. He chastised the rulers for neglecting the house of God and failing to pay the Levites. He challenged the people to start giving their tithes and offerings to the Lord. He did not mince words in confronting the people about their failure to assemble and intermingling with the pagans.
What is the lesson in all this for us? It is very easy to slip back to the same old in the Christian life. The place to begin is to recognize where we have allowed some Tobiah to creep back into our lives. Remember – this Tobiah can be a person, a habit, an attitude, or some sin. They may appear to be spiritual and friendly but they are the devil in disguise. Unless you deal with them harshly, your spiritual fire will continue to die. The next step is to restore your first love. Bring back your worship, your giving, and your allegiance to the Lord Jesus Christ.
As Jesus said to the church in Ephesus, “You are doing a lot of good things. Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love.”