Finesse With Fire


The past few days I have been reigniting my skills with keeping a wood stove going. But something else has been going on inside of me that reminds me of the current spiritual situation going on in my church.

When we arrived here in Michigan to stay with friends for a few days to enjoy Thanksgiving with relatives nearby, the wood stove in our room was already pumping out heat. The stock of large pieces of wood behind the nearby door was waiting. This stove heats the whole house by convecting heat up the stairs, and although it is still early in the fall/winter season it is needed to supply heat as it is below freezing at night.

As is common with wood stoves, the room housing the stove is the warmest room in the building. In this case it is the same room we are sleeping in which has made it interesting trying to sleep with it so warm at night. However, having a few years experience with wood fires I knew the first night that likely early in the morning the stove would need some attention or we might have to start a fire all over again from scratch in the morning in a cold room. Sure enough, early in the morning I began to get cold and started looking for an extra blanket. At the same time I decided to get up to see if I could salvage the fire and get it going again from just the coals still glowing in the bottom.

Fortunately I have not lost too many of my skills from years ago when we learned how to finesse a fire to keep warm. Knowing just how much to open the door to allow in fresh air without extinguishing the fire is a skill that has to be developed by practice. If you open the door too wide while the damper is not open enough, you can quickly fill the room with smoke. If you keep the door closed too tightly when there is not enough heat inside, the fire can suffocate completely. How far you leave the air inlets open depends very much on other conditions. The amount of live coals, the size of the stove, the humidity of the wood and the size and type of wood all are important things to factor in as to how the fire will increase or fade away.

I could not help but notice how similar this situation is compared to the current situation in my local church. It seems to have been a practice for a long time to keep the doors rather tight on the church, to only allow in people who look a lot like the ones already there, think like them, have similar traditions that they prefer, etc. But the effect of this has been that the fire of the Spirit of God has not been allowed to permeate hearts and we have generally experienced a lot of coldness as a result. We may have been able to keep up the appearances of having a good 'fireplace' and may even have tried to provide artificial light to make it appear inviting, but there has been very little genuine love, light and warmth that would attract hurting, needy people to come for nourishment, healing and growth.

Each of us involved in this experiment of grace have our own opinions as to what needs to happen to improve our fire. Of course, none of us has a very complete perspective and we all need to seek God for heaven's perspective. God does not give any one person all of the picture but does respond to those who seek His face earnestly with parts of the puzzle so they can put it together with others to make more sense and in order to integrate all of us into an interdependent body.

I notice that if the wood I put into the fire has too much distance from the coals that both suffer as a result. The coals will continue to cool down because of a lack of fuel while the wood remains unaffected enough by the heat from the coals to ignite. On the other hand, if I place the wood so tight to the coals that no air can get in, then similar results are experienced. Only when the proportions are properly appreciated and there is the right mix of hot coals, reasonably dry wood and allowance for oxygen to circulate around them both can I expect an increase of heat and light.

As I stood here this morning experimenting with the door to see how far open it needed to be to get enough air in to make the firewood burn better, I sensed the Spirit of God reminding me of my own great need for far more 'oxygen' for my own spirit than I have ever experienced in the past with God and in my relationship to others in the church. Interestingly I read a statement this morning that really convicted me personally. Prayers, exhortation, and talk are cheap fruits which are frequently tied on, but fruits that are manifested in good works, in caring for the needy, the fatherless and widows are genuine fruits and grow naturally upon a good tree. {TMK 335} For several days I have sensed that my own relationship with true religion is likely far more shallow than I have ever realized. My experience with God may be far too full of talk and theory and too devoid of real fruit working by love.

As I write this I can look over at the wood stove and see the light intensifying as the fire increasingly warms the room. The door is open farther than I originally thought would work but as a plentiful supply of fresh oxygen flows through the chamber there is obvious increase of light and heat being felt. I also feel a deep longing inside of me to become ignited in my own heart, to open the door of my own soul far wider than I have ever done in the past to allow the oxygen of God's love to invade the dark, chilly places of my own heart in order to increase the heat inside. I long to become a more brilliant testimony of what God's grace can produce in the life of an old damaged legalist. I want to be free of the inhibitions and fears about what others might think about me and become a torch of hope for others around me who are also longing to experience the fire of God's passionate love in their own lives.

It is not necessary to resort to putting flammable liquids into a stove to get the fire going. That is dangerous and even reckless. Likewise, God does not resort to such tactics of force to overwhelm us with His grace. He wants us to come to Him willingly through natural attraction, to give Him willing permission to introduce Himself to our hearts and to capture our affections with His beauty, loveliness and charms. Too long I have focused my attention on supposed truths about God that are full of fear, that are tainted by false ideas about Him that keep me at least partially afraid of Him. But He is longing to bless me richly and draw me into close, intimate fellowship with Him and with others.

God is Himself a passionate fire ablaze with love, full of pleasure and everything our hearts crave and need. The problem is that we are starving for want of the oxygen of a true knowledge of His character and His feelings towards us. Some of us are so full of moisture like pride, selfishness and confused ideas about reality that we need a great deal of drying out before we can even begin to burn for God. But the best way to dry out wood is to keep it close to a fire and allow it some time to absorb more heat. Maybe our church is going through a drying out stage while we are letting go of a lot of confused, dark, mistaken ideas about what constitutes religion and needing to absorb a completely new vision of what God has in mind for us.

A good fire needs just the right mix of all the necessary elements for it to grow and be effective. If coals are moved too far away from the main fire they soon fade and lose their heat. If we remove ourselves too far away from the collective fire of God's children connected to His body on earth or try to inflame our hearts with strange fire from another source, we may discover that our hearts are only growing colder and we will not be usable by God to attract others to want to know the wonderful God that He really is.

There is also the problem of at times having too much openness with a fire. There are times when we may need to close the door of the stove to preserve the heat inside in order to make it last longer. There are times when the wood just needs time to soak in the heat protected from the coldness outside. It still needs oxygen to glow but will last far longer through the night while putting out an even, stable heat if it is protected and regulated. God knows when intense heat is needed to bring about revival and when His children need to spend time soaking in His presence protected from outside influences. But always there is the need for the life-giving oxygen of an intimate, experiential knowledge of His heart.

I just now closed the door of the wood stove because the large pieces I had put in this morning were finally burning effectively. The room has warmed up and it is time to slow down the burn for awhile without letting the fire die out. It takes skill, practice and knowledge to effectively manage a wood stove fire and regulate it to produce the right output. In our lives and in our church we must trust God as the expert who knows best when we need to soak in His presence or when we need to burn more openly.

God has much more fuel in waiting nearby that needs to experience the profound effects of His love and grace and healing in their hearts too. But if we are not willing to be ignited ourselves and even consumed with the passion of God it will be unlikely that He will be willing to bring much new wood into our local 'fireplace'. If our own fire is too weak to keep aflame, it would only tend to dampen and inhibit our growing spiritual life if we got too many new pieces placed in our midst. We might become excited that our numbers were growing, but unless we have some solid coals in place that can provide stability and steady heat we might be in danger of losing more than we gain.

We must pray for wisdom, for humility, for more willingness to experience the passion of God in our own hearts irregardless of what others outside might think or say about us if we want to be effective and attractive witnesses for the true God of heaven. I believe we must turn our focus away from an obsession with orthodoxy and infighting about unimportant topics and learn to draw close to God individually through His Word and learn to discern His Spirit in each of our hearts. True children of God are led by the Spirit of God according to Romans 8:14. And the Spirit of God will not lead His children into disputes or antagonism towards each other.

We need more than anything else a fresh infusion of the oxygen of heaven. We also need to experience at the heart level prolonged contact with the fire of God's kind of passion, a divine fire that may likely put us at odds with worldly passions but will draw others to want to know the kind of God who can bring about such amazing transformations as they see taking place in our lives.

There is nothing like a good, warm wood stove on a cold day to draw people around to enjoy its warmth. There is nothing like a flickering, inviting fireplace that can not only accent a holiday but can invite warm friendships to deepen through intimate fellowship with hearts bonding together in its light. God longs to stir up our coals, to bring more wood to our fire and to make our local fellowship a place of healing love for our community. But our individual choices as to how much we will allow Him to invade our hearts and renew our own minds with the fire of His personal presence will determine how much warmth will be produced by our church to attract others to want to join the party.

May God set our hearts and our church ablaze for His glory, Amen.

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