Summary: The Spirit comes to the church as fire, passion, energy, but He comes as energy to follow the Lord’s directions, not merely as excess motion.
My grandfather’s workshop held an item that was of special interest to me when I was a boy. Sitting off to the side of his cluttered workbench was a wonderful object – a model railroad locomotive. It was black with silver markings painted on it, dusty and dull by now, but obviously once shiny and clean. It was too heavy to move – we are not talking about some little HO gauge thing, but an engine about three feet long. It just sat there, week after week, this locomotive, but it fascinated me. I kept on asking about it. Every time we went to my grandparents’ house I wanted to see it. But it sat, gathering dust, week after endless week. I knew in my eight-year-old soul that there was more to it than a filthy heap over in the basement corner.
One day my grandmother showed me something that made my hunger even greater. She pulled out a yellowed photograph. There in that picture was that very locomotive, with its tender, placed on a circular track, and with a number of quaintly dressed gentlemen standing around. She asked me if I knew who the young fellow right behind the train was. I was quite surprised when she told me that this callow youth was my grandfather, and even more surprised when she said that he and his brother had crafted this machine themselves, all by hand. The photograph had been taken at some fair, where the Harpole brothers had exhibited their handiwork. The train in the basement had once been the object of excitement and wonder for crowds of people.
Well, it was the object of excitement and wonder for just one eight-year-old boy, and I really took notice when my grandmother said that it was a working steam engine, and that it ran just like real trains do – with coal burning in the firebox and steam in the boiler. Now I just had to see it work. I went back downstairs and pushed and pulled on the little levers, but of course nothing happened. I opened the tiny firebox door, but there was nothing in there but a spider. The wheels and the drivers would move only if somebody stronger than I picked up the machine and let me turn the wheels by hand. But this was not enough. I wanted to see it work as it was designed to work.
Grandpa said he couldn’t do that. First of all, he didn’t have the track anymore, and trains cannot just be put out on the floor. They need tracks. And second, he didn’t really have any way to fire the firebox. He had no coal, and stoking a tiny firebox with miniature pieces of coal would be dirty and dangerous. Couldn’t I just be satisfied with looking at the engine? Wasn’t it fun enough just as a museum piece?
I have to tell you, that whetted my appetite all the more. I’ve always been the kind of person who, when told something couldn’t be done, wanted all the more to do it. I didn’t like “just look but don’t touch” when I was eight years old, and I don’t like it now, a mere, oh, thirty-one years later! So I kept on whining and pushing to see that locomotive actually run.
So one day my grandfather said, “Come downstairs. I have something to show you.” When we arrived, I saw something wonderful. I saw a clean and shiny locomotive, not a dusty, dull one. I saw it not tucked away under the workbench, but propped up on wooden blocks, so that its wheels turned freely. And I saw a gas tube, with blue flame shooting from its mouth, aimed right into the firebox. Puffs of steam poured from vents in the boiler. Grandpa said, “Pull this lever”. I pulled and with a whoosh the steam took hold, the drivers began to work, and the wheels turned. Faster and faster, with tiny puffs and a noisy clatter, I had a steam engine. A working steam engine.
Now it still couldn’t go anywhere, because there was no track and because the source of heat couldn’t move with it. But it was a lovely sight when for so long it had been only a cold, lifeless, hunk of iron. With a fire in its belly, the craftsmanship that two teenage boys had put into it was working again. The power of the fire.
That, to me, is a parable of the church. The church of the Lord Jesus Christ was designed by the master workman to be the engine of His purposes. The church was called and designed to be a redemptive power in the world, and, though it began as a small and seemingly insignificant band of disappointed and disoriented men, once the fire came, it found power and energy and it began to move.