You know those “Fire Danger Level” signs that you see at forestry service headquarters? Well, if you live in a large metro area chances are you may not. But where I currently reside (where there is surely no metro area) I drive by one often. They have an interchangeable sign that can say the level is “high”, “low” or “extremely high”. There are likely many variables that they use to choose which status to put up for each particular day. High or low humidity, wind speeds, recent rainfall totals, etcetera. Similarly, there are warning levels at beaches that can define tide activity. Anyone who’s ever visited the beach knows about the flags that are present to tell beachgoers how likely it is that they’ll be swept out to sea. Knowing tidal conditions are important for the protection of those who want to safely venture out into the immense ocean.
OK, please keep these two things in mind, the fire and the water, as we move ahead. As Christians we sing songs about “the fire of God” all the time (or at least I presume we still do as much as we did back when I attended services every week). “Lord, bring Your fire!” we say. There’s “consuming fire”, “fire fall down”, “refine me like fire”, “burn me with Your presence” - you get the idea. And what about the water? I remember songs stating “take us ‘deeper’ Lord into Your oceans”, “waves crashing over us” and “God, flood over us”. All insinuating that we’re crying out to be swept out in the vast ocean that is God and His plans to consume us to the core.
Now let me take a step away from you to get at a safe distance and say this: You’re a liar. And you know what? So am I. Sunday after Sunday, day after day as we spin “worship” cd’s in our cars, we who claim to “surrender all” to Jesus, sing songs that we just simply do not mean. Or even if we think we do, the moment God, in His awesomeness, hears our words and brings exactly what we’re asking for (even if in our ignorance), we run away from the challenges and trials that can produce this purging and purifying! We encounter even a hint of adversity and label it the devil and then beg God to remove it from our lives. Oh how silly we Christians are! But what if we can study the Scriptures and see what the disciples endured? What if we can study the historical books of old that tell us of early-century Believers who were outcast and slandered for their faith? What of the martyrs who have gone before us who underwent trials and persecutions that refined them like fire?
It has been ingrained in our soft, sissified Christian-American minds set on carnality and temporal pleasures to avoid purging and suffering at all costs. We’re content to stay bored, comfortable and unchallenged because we’re entirely unwilling to endure the process of the transformation and abolition of our will. Let me be blunt as I say this in the mirror as much as I say this to you: You will never be conformed to the image of Christ Jesus while sitting idly and comfortably within the confines of the patterns of this world. Never, ever. There absolutely must be an ongoing submission to the Lord to surrender our comforts and acceptance of what is “normal” in this temporal world. We must seek after what will produce eternal results. We must lift our eyes up as the Scriptures often instruct us.
So, let us return to my statements about fire and water. Fire. Fire in the natural is a chemical reaction that consumes whatever it can infiltrate. It primarily results in light, heat and energy. Fire needs certain conditions to be present in order for it to even start and then flourish. Obviously, and most importantly, there must be something there to burn, to be consumed. Likewise, in the spiritual, we must welcome the fire… and remain in it upon its arrival. Peter exhorted us saying, “In this [God’s great mercy] you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ”.
As of late, it seems that I’ve been bombarded on every side with the awful reality of how often I choose an environment that caters to my comfort and earthly pleasures. I’ve been asking myself over and over and over again the following questions: “What is there in my life that I’m absolutely relying wholly upon God for?” “What environment am I placing myself in where this purifying fire can continuously burn away more and more of my ties to the patterns of this world?” “How much of the activities of my daily life can I effortlessly accomplish by my own strengths?”
I pose the same questions to you to arrive at your own answers. The ugly fact is, I generally control the environment and keep all at a desirable/comfortable level – often entirely unchallenged and “safe”. Just as with the natural fire, the spiritual fire environment demands different responses/actions that produce different outcomes/results. In short, what are you intentionally seeking out in your life that will make you uncomfortable and purge you of your impurities? What are you bringing to the altar of sacrifice that can be consumed until it no longer remains? Until recently, what I brought was easy to let go of and easy to live without. No longer. No longer.
And what of this water? What of the wading out into the deep? Let us imagine that you’re walking along a beautiful beach at sunset. You leave the soothing feel of the wet sand between your toes and inch in waist high as the current begins to slowly move you about. You sway, you get tossed back a bit when a wave crashes in front of you and rolls around you, engulfing you entirely. You continue out further, inch by inch. You look back and see the red flag warning blowing in the wind and you know the current is fierce out there into the dark deep. You feel the first real senses of the power of the water as it now rises up to your chest. The vast ocean that goes for as far as your eyesight will allow you to see now lifts your feet off of the sea floor just an inch and carries you a few feet and then gently sets you down. You stand still, swaying in its power, awaiting another swell to come and move you. Here and now your decision is made. Do you wade out into the vast unknown and be carried away by the waves and awesome power of the sea or do you retreat and return to the comforts and safety of the beach? The beach is so comfortable, soothing and secure.
Right here in this place is where I stand today my friends. The Lord has shown me that I’ve been a beach chair-sitter for far too long. He’s calling me out into the deep. He is there. I don’t have the strength, abilities or know-how to do a thing out there in the unfathomable depths of this dying to my will and comforts. The psalmist told us of his experience as He said to the Lord, “All Your breakers and Your waves have rolled over me” as he declared his only hope in God in his despair and tribulations.
So what environments are you placing yourself in daily that are capable of eradicating more and more of you and your earthly pleasures? Are they ones where you’re in absolute reliance upon the Lord and your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ? What tasks are you putting your hands to that you could never accomplish in your own strength? Are you examining your life and asking Jesus to expose any patterns of this world that have infiltrated your home? And then when they’re illuminated by Him, will you be willing to cut them off at the root and continue to look for more to eradicate despite the pain and anguish that it will bring?
Friends, we must truly embrace the fire! We must intentionally create the environment for purging to take place - continually. It is not some cool catch-phrase that we should ever casually say without great thought and commitment. We must wade out into the deep of the Lord, surrendered to His chastening, instruction and direction, freed from the tethers of this world.
I’ve been listening to some new music lately and one of my favorite songs from this particular band states, “Come bring the fire, burn what isn’t You. Oh bring the flood, overwhelm us.” That’s it in its simplicity isn’t it? Our innermost beings desire must be to embark out into the awful unknown. How will Jesus ever show Himself strong until I situate myself in a place of weakness? How will He ever purify me unless I place myself in the fire? How will He carry me out to the unknown depths of all that He is unless I wade out and surrender myself to His waves? How will I ever know how to fully rely on Him to be my everything without surrendering everything I have to do so?
Jesus is not calling us to comfort, complacency and casual Christian living within the confines of the patterns of this world. He is calling us to entirely die to our wills - to venture out into the vast unknown with absolute reliance upon Him. Few will hear. Even fewer will then listen and go. I want to be one who is found faithful and obedient. I desire to establish an environment that cultivates the losing of my life for His sake, in order that I might find it. (Matthew 16:25) What about you? Let us go and die together, for His sake. Now is the time.