This is not part of my Christianese 101 series, though it probably could be. I just wanted to make that clear up front so that you won’t think this post is supposed to be tongue-in-cheek. Last night it was cold, so my wife and I built a fire in our fireplace. As I watched our fire go through its life-cycle, it got me thinking about fire and about being “on fire” in our faith.
Being “on fire” is something that we (Christians) seem to really want in our spiritual life. I can remember being in youth group growing up and hearing people talk passionately about being “on fire” for God, and lamenting when their spiritual “fire” had gone out. If you type “youth group names” in Google, you can find literally hundreds of youth ministries around the world with “fire”, “flame”, “atomic”, “explosion”, “blaze”, etc., in their name. Full disclosure – my own youth group is called “Flashpoint”. An object’s flashpoint is the temperature (among other conditions) at which combustion begins. So I’m not knocking it, I’m just pointing it out.
Generally, when Christians talk about being “on fire”, we usually mean that we’re in a state where our faith and our relationship with Jesus feel extremely real, they’re at the forefront of our minds, and we feel emboldened to do and say things that we might normally be too timid to say or do. A Christian who is “on fire” might finally share their faith with a friend they’ve been too nervous to share with before. An “on fire” Christian might stop to help a stranger that they would never have stopped to help before. Or they might devote themselves to reading scripture and prayer in a way they never have before. These are all good things.
The nature of fire is that it is hot. You can’t be near a strong fire and not know it. Even if you don’t see it, you will feel it. Fire is powerful, truly a force to be reckoned with. It can be difficult to start, but once a fire is going strong, it can be difficult to stop. Fire, when controlled, is an incredibly useful tool for safety, heat, light, cooking, and a variety of other uses.
There are some downsides to fire, however. For one, an uncontrolled fire has incredible power to destroy. Many many forests, homes, businesses, and lives have been lost to out-of-control fire.
Secondly, the nature of fire is that it consumes the thing being burned. Last night my wife and I put 8 or 9 logs onto the fire throughout the evening, probably 15-20 pounds of wood that made a stack a couple of feet high. This morning there is nothing left but a small pile of ashes.
Thirdly, all fires must eventually burn out. Because fire consumes the thing being burned, it must continually be fed new fuel. That requires a continual supply of more and more finite resources. Fire is simply not sustainable indefinitely.
I think one lesson in this is that our “fire” for God can be, and often is, a good thing. But we need to be wary of letting it get out of control. In our “on fire” moments, we can often be emboldened to the point that we disregard the thoughts and feelings of others, and end up putting them off rather than drawing them towards God. Case in point, the kind of people who will stand outside a sporting event, concert, or mall, and loudly yell at others that they are going to hell if they don’t repent and turn to Jesus. I fully believe that these people are “on fire” in their faith and are simply trying to tell others the Gospel. But seriously, do you think that’s an effective method? That’s like trying to heat a skillet with a flamethrower.
Another lesson we need to learn is that we can’t live our entire lives in this “on fire” state. Whether you’d like to admit it or not, being “on fire” for Jesus can be exhausting mentally and spiritually (and even physically, I guess). We need to take time to recharge, to withdraw for a little while and rest. If not, we will face “burnout”, the point at which all of our fuel is consumed and all that is left is smoldering ashes. When all that is left is ashes, what good are we to anyone?
Certainly there is good that comes from being “on fire” in your relationship with Jesus. But maybe instead of trying to be “on fire” all the time, we should just try to live each day in God’s will and see what happens. I think if we do that, we’ll find that, instead of being like a raging fire, we’ll be more like a bed of hot coals – still hot, still able to sear, melt, burn, etc., but able to last for much longer than an open flame, and much more easily controlled and put to good use.