The word of the day is “quench.” There is a fire burning in our hearts, the same fire that came down in flames of fire on the Day of Pentecost. It is the burning of the Holy Spirit given to us in our baptism. But how fiercely does that fire blaze within us? In today’s reading, Paul urges us, “Do not quench the Spirit” (vs. 19). In 1 Thessalonians 5:4-23, Paul advises ways that we can avoid quenching the Spirit and let it burn more brightly within us.
The Holy Spirt Cannot Be Smothered
In the broadest sense, we cannot squelch the activity of the Holy Spirit in the world. In the Trisagion Prayers, we pray that the Holy Spirit is “everywhere present and fills all things.” Furthermore, in the Gospel of Luke, the Lord proclaims, “I have come to send fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled” (Luke 12:49). Christ’s death and resurrection did ignite that blaze (Luke 12:49). Soon after, the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples in fiery tongues. These apostles spread the flames of the Gospel of His Crucifixion and Resurrection throughout the world. Still today, the blaze of the Holy Spirit burns brightly so that many catch fire with the faith and life in Christ.
However, in our God-given freedom, we can throw cold water on the work of the Holy Spirit in our souls. We can grieve the Holy Spirit by the passions of bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking (Ephesians 4:30-31). We can neglect the gift of the Holy Spirit, as Paul warned Timothy (1 Timothy 1:5). And the Holy Spirit can even be taken away from us (Ps. 51:13). For this reason, in Psalm 51, David prays for a “clean heart” so that a “right spirit” might be renewed in him (Psalm 51:12).
If the Spirit Needs to Be Renewed
When we become aware that the fire of the Holy Spirit is not burning as brightly in our hearts as it once did, then we must find ways to rekindle it. If we no longer are aglow with the love of God, then we must find a way to revive it. Suppose our hearts seem cold and indifferent to the proclamation of the Word of God, our participation in the Holy Mysteries (sacraments), and the prompting of the Spirit. In that case, we must seek to restore the soul’s warmth and zeal. If the flame of the Holy Spirit seems to be smoldering and not blazing within us, then we need to find out what is quenching it.
The Holy Spirit is the one who inspires, enlightens, enlivens, directs, and stirs up the gifts of God in us. But how do we let it burn, especially in times when it seems likely to go out. Our reading urges practices of active and vigorous faith in verses 16-22. But each one of these exercises of the soul is given its own verse number. This separation of each verse from the rest makes the passage seem like a laundry list of distinct activities.
Remedies for What Quenches the Spirit
Yet there is a connection between these recommendations, a common role that addresses our question of how to rekindle the fire of the Holy Spirit within us. Each one is the remedy for something that quenches the Spirit or does not let it burn as brightly as it should.
Rejoicing is the antidote to the gloominess and despair that stifles the Spirit (vs. 16). The answer to the neglect of prayer is constantly praying. And prayer is essential to our openness to the Spirit’s work in us (vs. 17). Gratitude is the remedy for a bitter and ungrateful spirit that forgets that the Holy Spirit is the source of life and every good thing (vs. 18). Reverence for the Word of God in scripture and proclamation is the opposite of disdain for the Spirit’s voice heard in ecstatic speech or rational preaching and teaching (vs. 20). When we “test all things,” we replace spiritual carelessness with the wisdom of the Spirit (vs. 21). Finally, watchfulness and attentiveness to the Spirit’s prompting are ways that we can identify and refrain from all evil (vs. 22).
Rejoicing, prayer, gratitude, reverence, testing, and watchfulness are all gifts of the Holy Spirit. And yet, they are also disciplines of the spiritual life that the Spirit gives to us if we ask for them. By practicing them each day throughout the day, we grow in faith and life in Christ. Today, we might pray for the wisdom to choose which of these would help us renew the Spirit if we have quenched it or to stir up the Spirit if we want it to burn more brightly in our hearts.