May 16, 2009
It promised to be the perfect getaway. A few years ago, shortly after the birth of our first grandchild, my wife, and I decided to take the long way home after having just spent several days visiting with our children and new grandson in Paso Robles, California. At last we were getting to enjoy some time for ourselves. Babs and I had made reservations at a quaint, but upscale lodge in the seaside community of Cambria on the central California coast. It was one of those package deals, one night’s lodging with dinner and breakfast included all at a very reasonable price; so reasonable, in fact, that we were a little skeptical about what we would find upon our arrival. So we were pleasantly surprised to discover they had placed us in a rustic, but comfortable, stand-alone cabin with all the normal modern conveniences.
This romantic hide-away came complete with a fireplace and some firewood; you know, one of those pressed-wood, self-starting logs. The only problem was the weather. It was simply too warm an evening to want to build a fire. By the time it finally cooled off enough to make a fire enjoyable it was already 10:00 PM. We were concerned that starting a fire this late might keep us awake. A glance at the label on the log revealed that it would burn for “up to four hours.”
“These logs never last as long as they advertise,” I reasoned. “It will probably burn out in two hours. Let’s light it anyway.”
Come midnight the log was still burning brightly, filling the room with light and the joyful sounds of crackling wood. By 2:00 AM when the log, as advertised, should have been totally consumed, the fire continued to blaze sending eerie shadows dancing across the ceiling and disturbing any attempt at slumber on my part. Babs, on the other hand, had fallen asleep hours earlier which only added to my bleary-eyed frustration. I suppose I could have easily doused the flames and put an end to my pyro-induced insomnia, but I had become intrigued with the longevity of this fire fueled by one small log.
4:00 AM came and went and still the hungry flames voraciously pursued their feast on the stubborn hunk of pressed wood. 5:00 AM saw the room still awash in the flickering glow of the persistent fire. At 6:00 AM the final tongue of flame spent its last gasp and surrendered to the inevitable, just as the first light of dawn began creeping through the curtains on our window. Amazingly, the four-hour log had doubled its life span lasting the entire night. In peaceful satisfaction, knowing we had received an ample return for our vacation dollar, I slipped into fitful slumber, right about the time Babs awoke with a desire to get an early start on a day of antique shopping in the quaint stores of this picturesque community.
In case you might be thinking I am a total “air-head” for giving up an entire night’s sleep to keep watch over a fire, allow me to share some of the thoughts I gleaned from that restless evening. We all know many Christians who have begun their walk with the Lord shining brightly, lighting up their homes and neighborhoods with the light of Christ and the joyful sounds of blessings and praise. Later, however, due to the persistent darkness of the surrounding world and the daily pressures of life, their fire has gone out, in the middle of the night, when their warmth and illumination were most needed. They failed to live up to their label. They turned out to be “two-hour saints.”
These fizzling flame-outs have taken their places alongside the five foolish virgins of Matthew 25, visibly present at the door of the wedding banquet but without sufficient oil to keep their lamps burning until the Bridegroom arrived (Matthew 25:1-13). They took up membership in the same church as the Christians in Ephesus who worked hard at their religion and displayed all the outward signs of an impressive, on-fire faith, yet inwardly were empty, cold, and passionless, having forsaken their first love (Revelation 2:1-4). A careful examination of many church rolls will show that they are riddled with “two-hour saints.” Some of these burned out clinkers have quietly faded away showing up only occasionally on Christmas and Easter. Others may still attend worship gatherings but have long since cooled below their flash-point and are ineffective at giving warmth to their brothers and sisters and incapable of disturbing the Biblically-blind slumber of their non-Christian neighbors.
What’s the answer? How can we light a spark to spent fuel long ago grown cold? How can we make certain our own fires continue to burn? I recently discovered a powerful verse of Scripture in a part of the Bible we normally like to skip over in our daily devotions. In an Old Testament passage describing the duties of the Levitical Priesthood I found this command: “The fire on the altar must be kept burning; it must not go out. Every morning the priest is to add firewood…” – Leviticus 6:12.
Every morning the priest is to add fuel to the altar. How does this translate into the New Covenant? What is this fuel that can remain lit throughout the trials of everyday life and burn throughout the restlessness of our darkest night? Perhaps Scripture can once again enlighten us. “Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.” – Psalm 119:105. “‘Is not my Word like fire,’ declares the Lord…?” – Jeremiah 23:29. And what is the spark that can ignite this highly flammable fuel? “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” – Matthew 3:11. It is the responsibility of every Christian to “fuel up” on God’s Word every morning and ask the Holy Spirit to set fire to the altar of our hearts. But since as members of the New Covenant every baptized believer is an ordained priest of God, we are also responsible for keeping the fires lit for our brothers and sisters in the Lord.
“Every morning the priest is to add firewood…” “All Consuming Fire,” consume me with eternal passion for you, for your Word, and for stoking the fire in others, for I do not wish to forsake my first love. “Light of the World,” help me remember to add fuel to my altar every day, for I do not wish my oil to run out or my lamp to grow dark. “Spirit of Fire,” keep fanning the flames of your Word in my heart, for I do not wish to become a “two-hour saint.” And please, Lord, teach us how to add firewood to each other’s altars.
Excuse me while I put another log on the fire.
Bill, a child of God, still burning