Paul likened God's Spirit to an ember in a dying fire. He encouraged Timothy to stir up that live coal, to fan it into flames. This is an important lesson for all of us. Paul knew that we must guard against neglecting the gift of God's Spirit and letting it grow cold!
How can we maintain the courage, strength and love God gives us through His Spirit? We find the answers in several scriptures.
Paul tells us, "Take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day" (Ephesians 6:13). 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; compare 1 Thessalonians 5:8).
Paul tells us we need to stand fast in the truth we have learned, concentrating on living righteously regardless of circumstances. We also must be active in doing 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 in Ephesians 6: "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. And our line of communication for that help is through prayer.
Paul encouraged Christians to make it their practice to pray not only for themselves but also for him and for others. "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).
One of the main keys 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 own problems we become far more vulnerable to Satan's negative influences. Paul urged all new converts to see themselves as part of a great work that God is doing. As the point man for the work of God in their region of the world, he encouraged them to enthusiastically support his efforts through their prayers.
He explains why their prayers were so important: "We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered . . . 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" (2 Corinthians 1:8-11, NIV).
Paul mentions his deep love 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 that we also keep our confidence in God alive and active. Sometimes we need to combine fasting with our prayers to stir up 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 as a means of getting our minds back on the reality that we are not self-sufficient. Fasting helps us realize just how fragile we are and how much we depend on things beyond ourselves. And it's an exercise in denying ourselves for God's higher purposes.
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).
Jesus was approached with 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 there in the flesh with them, at times would need to fast to regain and renew their zeal to serve Him. They would need to "stir up" the gift of the Holy Spirit within them.
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!