Are you on fire?

Rev. Dr. Bud Reeves

Rev. Dr. Bud Reeves

By William O. “Bud” Reeves
Special Contributor

Every year, there are wildfires out West. This year has been particularly bad: thousands of acres burned, hundreds of homes and businesses lost, multiple deaths. Fire can be so destructive.

Sometimes fire is a helpful thing. It can provide warmth on a cold night, cook your food, enable you to craft beautiful and creative objects. Even wildfires serve a constructive purpose: to clear out debris and enable the re-seeding of forests. Fire is good when it’s under control.

In Scripture, fire is often a symbol of God’s presence. Think of the burning bush of Moses; Elijah summoning fire in name of the Lord on Mount Carmel; or the tongues of fire at Pentecost. When there’s fire, something important is happening. Something significant is going on.

We often speak of the “fires of revival.” It was an image used for the Great Awakenings in early America. Pentecost, the first Christian revival, is symbolized by fire. And the video accompanying the bishop’s call to spiritual revival is the slow-motion striking of a match. It’s such a simple thing, but when you hear the sound and see the matchhead igniting in slow-mo, it’s a powerful image.

We want the fires of revival to burn in our hearts, our churches and our communities. Like the unruly nature of an uncontrolled fire, we can’t manage true spiritual revival. It’s a Holy Spirit thing. We can’t oversee it or elect a committee to plan it.

But we can prepare for it. Like piling up tinder to start a campfire, there are some things we can do to make ourselves ready. Then maybe the spark will come that ignites us.

To prepare for revival, we can pray. The disciples prayed for 10 days following the Ascension of Jesus, until the Day of Pentecost. Peter preached for 10 minutes, and 3,000 were saved. Now we pray three minutes, preach three days and three people are saved (if that). Real revival starts with prayer for the fire to fall.

We can share the theology of grace. I believe that many people are “nones” or “dones” today because they are tired of narrow, fundamentalist, authoritarian, right-wing political religion. We Wesleyans have a theology of grace that can speak to the deep spiritual needs of our culture today. We have been too timid about sharing the good news of the grace of Christ.

We can develop small group ministries. The genius of the Wesleyan revival in England was the small groups—the class meetings and the bands—that Wesley organized to continue the spiritual revival after he left town. Our non-denominational brothers and sisters have done a better job of using Wesley’s model than we have. The support and accountability of a small group is crucial to sustained revival.

We must invade the mission field. Few people visit churches any more. In order to make disciples—our mission, remember?—the church has to go outside its walls, address the needs of the neighborhood and build relationships with those who would not normally darken the doors of a church. We Methodists are good at helping people; revival requires that we also offer them Christ.

None of these methods of preparation for revival is new to anyone who has not been living under a rock for the past decade. The question is, will we have the discipline and the passion to do it?

I have shared in several contexts this story from Bishop Richard Wilke’s 1989 book, Signs and Wonders. At the 1988 General Conference, he was sitting beside Bishop Ki Chun Chang, president of the Korean Methodist Council of Bishops. South Korea at the time was having a nationwide Pentecost-like revival. After the Conference prayed for the needs of the world, Bishop Chang said to Wilke, “I heard their prayers, but I did not see their tears.”

We will have revival when we are so passionate about our faith that we will weep for the lost, cry out for justice and shout for joy at what God has done for us. That sounds a little bit out of control, like a wildfire.

Actually, it is all under the control of God, not human plans, structures and resources. May we be brave enough to risk being in the controlled burn of God. May we become the Ignited Methodist Church!

The Rev. Dr. Reeves serves as senior pastor of First UMC Fort Smith. Email: breeves@arumc.org.