The apostle Paul admonished members of one of the churches he started: "Do not quench the Spirit" (1 Thessalonians 5:19). He urged the young evangelist Timothy:
". . . Stir up [rekindle] the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind" (2 Timothy 1:6-7).
Paul likened God's Spirit to an ember in a dying fire. He encouraged Timothy to stir up the live coal, to fan it into flames. He knew we must guard against neglecting the gift of God's Spirit, of letting the fire grow cold.
How can we maintain the courage, strength and love God gives us through His Spirit? What could possibly cause us to quench—to stifle—our first love and enthusiasm for drawing close to God and allowing Him to actively change our lives? We find the answers in several scriptures.
Paul tells us: "Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand" (Ephesians 6:10-13).
Satan will do all in his power to discourage us, to induce us to become disillusioned and afraid, to abandon our confidence in God. What, then, did Paul mean by putting on "the whole armor of God" as our defense? What may we use to resist such self-defeating attitudes as fear, apathy and discouragement?
Paul continues: "Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of [the hope of] salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God" (Ephesians 6:14-17, NRSV).
Paul tells us we need to stand fast in the truth we have learned, concentrating on living righteously regardless of circumstances. We also must do our part in furthering the spread of the true gospel, never losing sight of eternal life as our goal and using God's Word as the sword that cuts through all deception.
But equally important is what Paul mentions next: "And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints. Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should" (Ephesians 6:18-20, NIV).
Our ability to remain spiritually strong and active depends on how much we rely on God. Our line of communication for that help is through prayer.
Paul and his helpers prayed not only for their own needs but also for God to strengthen others who were being converted through their work. "Therefore we also pray always for you that our God would count you worthy of this calling, and fulfill all the good pleasure of His goodness and the work of faith with power, that the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified in you, and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ" (2 Thessalonians 1:11-12).
He also encouraged them to make it their practice to pray not only for themselves but for him and other laborers in the faith: "Continue earnestly in prayer, being vigilant in it with thanksgiving; meanwhile praying also for us, that God would open to us a door for the word, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in chains, that I may make it manifest, as I ought to speak" (Colossians 4:2-4).
He especially wanted them to pray for the success of his work of spreading the gospel and his service to God's Church. "Now I beg you, brethren, through the Lord Jesus Christ, and through the love of the Spirit, that you strive together with me in prayers to God for me, that I may be delivered from those in Judea who do not believe, and that my service for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints" (Romans 15:30-31).
A key to keeping the working of God's Spirit active and stirred up in our lives is keeping our minds on the big picture of what God is doing. If we dwell excessively on ourselves and our problems, we become more vulnerable to Satan's negative influences. Paul urged new converts to see themselves as part of a great work God is doing. As the point man for the preaching of the gospel in their region of the world, he encouraged them to enthusiastically support his efforts through their prayers.
He explained why their prayers were so important: "We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.
"He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favour granted us in answer to the prayers of many" (2 Corinthians 1:8-11, NIV).
Paul mentions his great concern for those converted under his ministry. "I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus" (Philippians 1:3-6, NIV).
It is important to keep our confidence in God alive and active. Sometimes we need to combine fasting with our prayers to stir up our zeal and renew our dedication and commitment to Him. King David wrote that he "humbled [him]self with fasting" (Psalm 35:13).
Fasting is abstaining from food and drink for a brief period as a means of getting our minds back on the reality that we are not self-sufficient. Fasting helps us realize how fragile we are and how much we depend on things beyond ourselves—things that we often take for granted, such as food and drink.
The Bible records that great men of faith such as Moses, Elijah, Daniel, Paul and Jesus Himself fasted to draw closer to God (Exodus 34:28; 1 Kings 19:8; Daniel 9:3; Daniel 10:2-3; 2 Corinthians 11:27; Matthew 4:2).
Someone asked Jesus the question, "Why do the disciples of John and of the Pharisees fast, but Your disciples do not fast?" He responded: "Can the friends of the bridegroom fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them they cannot fast. But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days" (Mark 2:18-20).
Jesus knew that His true disciples, once He was no longer with them in the flesh, would need at times to fast to regain their zeal to serve Him. They would need to stir up the gift of the Holy Spirit within them.
Jesus also explained the correct approach we should take in fasting: "Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly" (Matthew 6:16-18).
James tells us, "Draw near to God and He will draw near to you" (James 4:8). Through constant prayer and occasional fasting we can do this. We can make it our practice to stir up and rekindle the Spirit of God within us.