A life on fire
“I came to send a fire on the earth and how I wish it were already kindled” Luke 12:49
These are the words of Jesus. A fire is to be kindled. A fire that He desires to be kindled. What is this fire that He longs for? As I have thought upon this passage, I keep returning to the same conclusion – Jesus is longing for the day when His followers are aflame with desire for Him. He came to send a fire on earth. That fire is this new life that He gives those who believe in Him. It is a life on fire.
But what does this look like? What is a life on fire? My meditations on this subject kept leading me back to one man – John the Baptist. He illustrates it well.
A life on fire is a focused life
John’s life was a focused life. He wasn’t into fancy clothes and fine cuisine, but was satisfied with camels hair and locusts. He was so focused on one thing that he didn’t need a whole lot of other things. And that one thing was this – I must prepare the way. John could have been a priest, with all the prestige and perks that accompanied such a life. Instead he chose the wilderness and a life of seeking God, being prepared for the work that God had created him for. When the prophet Malachi put down his pen, then began 400 years of silence from heaven. And then….
“Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberias Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and the region of Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, while Annas and Caiaphas were high priests, the word of God came to John the son of Zacharias in thee wilderness.” Luke 3:1-2
These verses are a veritable who’s who of that day. There were many powerful leaders both in the secular world and the religious world. These were men of influence, wealth and power; respected (or at least feared) by those they ruled. But when God was looking for someone to speak through, He spoke through John. John was nobody; some obscure man living in deserted places. But he had set himself apart to seek the face of God and be a vessel prepared for His use. So God was pleased to overlook the well-known and look upon the unknown. This man who had spent his life seeking God was now to speak for God and when he emerged on the scene, his was a life on fire.
To be continued…..
I have a friend who is a math tutor. Several years ago she tutored a high school girl named Canita. Canita not only learned math from my friend, but she also learned Christ. Canita entered college as a strong believer. Her studies in International Health included a research project in Ghana. This is a portion of one of the emails Canita sent during her four month stay in Ghana. It has affected me so deeply that I wanted to share it.
“Waiting is definitely something I’ve gotten a stronger appreciation for since being here. My prayer life has catapulted to new heights, causing my craving for the Father to become so much deeper. Given my surroundings, I’ve had no other choice but to grow. See, the believers I hang out with in Ghana aren’t your typical Christians. They give the word “radical” new meaning and truly embody our old school description of a “Jesus freak.” I have friends here whose daily routines look something like this (look closely): 8:00am-4pm: work, 6:30pm-8:30pm: church, 12am-3am: personal prayer time, 3am-5am: personal bible study, 5am-6:30am: morning physical exercise. No, this is not an embellishment! When do they sleep you ask?! My friend, they don’t. Aside from the couple of hours they are able to squeeze in here or there, rarely do they sleep. When I first discovered this, I was astonished. As a student of International Health, I was initially very concerned for their physical well-being. This, I thought, can not be healthy. Yet, when I see each of them every day they always seem to have three times more energy than I do. They’re never tired, never irritable, and never ill. Like Paul, these men and women literally put their bodies under the subjection of the Holy Spirit daily (2 Corinthians 9:27). They fast weekly, pray constantly, and truly re-present Christ in this part of the world. As you could imagine, there’s no way I can live among such a humble, surrendered group of believers and not be moved. More than anything, they’ve taught me the art of sacrificial waiting. I’ve found that something happens in the spirit when we sacrificially give of our time, our sleep, our food, and our comfort to seek the heartbeat of God.”
As the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry approached, He began to prepare His disciples for what was about to happen; that He would no longer be with them. He spoke to them using words such as these:
“I came forth from the Father and have come into the world. Again, I leave the world and go to the Father.” John 16:28
The only one who ever walked this earth that truly had a comprehension of the glories of heaven was Jesus. These are things beyond our ability to comprehend. We have never seen anything so beautiful as what awaits us there. Yet when He speaks of leaving this earth He doesn’t refer to Himself as going to heaven, but as going to the Father. For Jesus, who knew the reality of heaven, even greater than the splendor of the place He was returning to was the magnificence of the One He was returning to. It was never about a place; it was about a Person.
And Jesus says to us in John 14:3 “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am there you may be also.”
Streets of gold, gates of pearl…..beautiful stuff. But I await something far more magnificent – to see the face of the One who has loved me with a love beyond anything I’ve ever known. One so perfect and holy that my mind cannot comprehend it. But one day my eyes will see Him. What a glorious day that will be.
“According to the custom of the priesthood, his lot fell to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord.” Luke 1:9
No priest was allowed to burn incense more than once in his lifetime. How many years had Zacharias performed his duty as priest, showing up at the appointed time of service hoping that this time the lot would fall to him to burn incense, only to not be chosen – again? What was it like for him to see new priests get chosen while he still waited? Must have seemed pretty congruent with the rest of his life – always watching someone else get the blessing. But for Zacharias – no son, no incense, no blessing.
Even though this method of casting lots seems random, Proverbs 16:33 says “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.” Zacharias’ many years of waiting was not his bad luck – it was the very timing of God. There was an announcement planned for Zacharias. The timing was critical and God was holding back the lot until His appointed time. But when the time came, nothing was able to hold it back. And the lot fell to Zacharias.
It is hard enough to wait when you know there are better things on the horizon. For Zacharias, there could not have been much hope of anything on the horizon at this point. An old man by now, Zacharias may have at times entertained thoughts of having been cheated by life. But God was planning something more tremendous for Zacharias than he could have imagined.
Life is no series of coincidences. What an unimaginable frustration life would be if there was no sense of God’s providence in every step. But because I believe He is sovereign, I can trust that even if it seems that good is withheld from me, it is in accordance with His plan and His timing. Each day can be filled with peace as I recognize that because He orders my steps, I can completely enjoy where He has me today as I wait for what is on the horizon, whatever it may be.
Maybe it will be something as significant as a John the Baptist. Maybe it won’t. But I can trust that it will be exactly what He planned, exactly when He planned it.
Jesus seems to have acquired a reputation for not following protocol. From not washing His hands correctly, to healing on the Sabbath, to associating with sinners. He just didn’t seem to follow the religious etiquette of the day.
And they sent to Him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that You are true, and teach the way of God in truth; nor do You care about anyone, for You do not regard the person of men. Matthew 22:16
At first glance this seems to be a compliment, but the Pharisees were notorious respecters of persons and expected others to be respecters of their persons. This was not a comment concerning their pleasure in Christ’s impartiality. They despised this about Him, and how He continually snubbed them – choosing instead the company of prostitutes, tax collectors and all manner of sinners.
Jesus would not conform to the religious norms of His day that violated the heart of the law of God and this infuriated the religious elite. While Jesus did not purposely stir up dissention and discord, it did seem to erupt most places He went. And almost every time it was because he violated someone’s idea of proper religious protocol.
Romans 12:2 tells us not to be conformed to this world. That includes the religious world.
May the Lord strengthen us in our desire to be conformed into the image of Christ, even should it mean incurring the disdain of those who are expert in the letter of the law but void of the Spirit of it.
Are You God only on our mountaintops? Are You not also God in our valleys? Have You not chosen, O God, to draw us into a deeper place of love and dependence in these very desolate times of our lives, when all other means of support and comfort have been withdrawn? How quickly we look to other people and other things for our help. But Your love for us is too great, Your desire for a people too strong, to allow us to continue to place our trust in any other. And so we come to the valley of the shadow of death and you will not allow us to run through quickly to the other side, but You insist that we walk through. And there in the valley, as our hearts are stripped of independence and pride, we see that when all else is gone, You remain. Oh the wisdom of God! We would never willingly choose the valley, but You have set times that You have ordained it for us. How we murmur and complain as we begin to traverse it. How we pity ourselves and our miserable condition. Until that moment when You still our hearts and reveal to us the blessing of the wilderness.
Therefore, behold, I will allure her,
Will bring her into the wilderness,
And speak comfort to her.
I will give her her vineyards from there,
And the Valley of Achor as a door of hope;
She shall sing there,
As in the days of her youth,
As in the day when she came up from the land of Egypt.
“And it shall be, in that day,”
Says the LORD,
“That you will call Me “My Husband,’
And no longer call Me “My Master,’
For I will take from her mouth the names of the Baals,
And they shall be remembered by their name no more.
In that day I will make a covenant for them
With the beasts of the field,
With the birds of the air,
And with the creeping things of the ground.
Bow and sword of battle I will shatter from the earth,
To make them lie down safely.
“I will betroth you to Me forever;
Yes, I will betroth you to Me
In righteousness and justice,
In lovingkindness and mercy;
I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness,
And you shall know the LORD. Hosea 2:14-20
In the dry desert places of our lives, may we find You Oh God. And let our hearts sing in that wilderness place as we discover that in You we have a love that is sufficient for all things.