In keeping with this week’s theme of God’s break-out, I thought I’d repost an old RHR that deals with the same idea, the fire of God.
Receiving His Riches 9 – II Advent, Year A
Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19
This week, as I was preparing for Sunday’s service, I was very much taken with the “unquenchable fire” with which John says that Jesus will consume the chaff that He encounters. This isn’t John talking about the end of time, this is John talking about what the One who follows him will do. Fruitless trees will be chopped down and put on the fire. Wheat will be gathered, and the chaff destroyed. When Jesus comes. Not later, When Jesus comes. This is no “end times” prophecy. This is a description of what it means to receive Jesus.
So, I turned to the hymnal to find something to sing on Sunday about this consuming fire, and ya know what? There really isn’t much. Not anything that deals with this fire in all it’s power and destructiveness. We finally settled on one hymn that included a verse that goes, “When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie, my grace all sufficient shall be thy supply, the flame shall not hurt thee I only design, thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine.” Nice fire. Safe fire. Hurtless fire. Might be a little scary, but it won’t really hurt.
And I thought that, without trying too hard, I could with my limited experience come up with half a dozen songs from the contemporary worship world that speak directly, desirously of that fire. Without trying too hard.
I was reminded then of what a friend, another Episcopalian, had once said to me. “The folks who come to the Episcopal church don’t usually come to be changed. In the evangelical tradition they want to be changed.”
It’s as simple as that. We don’t sing about a consuming fire because we don’t really want one.
I can understand that. For a long time, I didn’t either. I wanted a church that could comfort me, guide me and teach me. I didn’t come to the church to be transformed. And yet, John says that those who encounter Jesus will encounter an unquenchable fire, one that consumes away all that no longer serves the purposes of the kingdom, one that burns away trees that waste the soil, that threaten the rest of the trees with rot if they’re permitted to lie for too long.
I didn’t want that. For the longest time, I didn’t want Jesus to reach in and torch my chaff because I didn’t know if I could do without it. I had little or no sense that He would supply what I had learned to find amidst my chaff. I certainly had no sense that what He could give me was as much better than my chaff as it really is. I really believed that God had given me my gifts so that I could use them to do my best. I had no idea that He wanted me to allow Him to burn away all my pride so that He could use the gifts He’d given me to do His best.
But that’s what He wanted, and it’s what He wants from you. It’s what He wants for you. If you come to Jesus, really allow Him to draw you to Himself, He will reveal to you the chaff that stands in the way of your ability to permit Him to work in and through you. And then He will begin to destroy it as you ask Him to.
I have a lot of chaff left for Him to deal with. I keep thinking that He’s gotten to most of it, that there are just little pockets here and there to be eradicated, but then He shows me a whole new wealth of stuff He wants to take away. And it hurts. I’m sorry to say, it really does hurt to let Him work in me. I think it was this pain that first taught me to run from Him. I had been taught to expect a painless Jesus, one who comforted but didn’t burn, so when I felt something being scorched, I figured something was wrong, and I ran. Fast.
Now, when He has something new to bring to the surface, something new from which He wants to free me, He usually lets me sit with it for a while. He lets me feel the pain it causes me, the stultification, the rottenness it brings. I have to be with that for a while before I find myself ready to say, “Okay, Jesus, just take it. I can’t stand the smell any longer,” and really mean it. And then He does. And it hurts a bit, but then there is such a lightness that comes afterward.
If you haven’t felt the burn of His fire yet, then you haven’t allowed Him to make room in you for all that He wants to do. There is no compromise here. Being close to Him burns, but it only hurts for as long as we confuse what He’s burning up with part of our true selves. As soon as we’re clear on the difference, we can dance with Him in the light of the fire.
For He really is like a refiner’s fire. And His fire is a gift, not a condemnation or a punishment.