November 23, 2014

On Fire … Or Burned Out?

Painting by Mark Vallen

Painting by Mark Vallen

The email asked what the sender, I’m sure, meant as a good question for good Christians: “Are you on fire for Jesus?” It was an invitation to a conference, or to watch some service online. I forget which. But, as the email went on to say, if we are to see our world changed, we all need to be on fire for Jesus. And it’s up to us to change our world, you know. Certainly not the responsibility of the one who created it. He needs us to do the changing, and we have to be on fire to accomplish our mission.

So just what does it mean to be “on fire for Jesus”? Is that a good thing?

I’ve looked in the Bible, but I can’t find many who were “on fire.” Not even Jesus was on fire for Jesus. “In this world you will have many troubles.” Not exactly the motto for an on-fire savior, is it?  Now Elijah … Elijah called down fire from heaven and was caught up to heaven in a fiery chariot, but in between he discovered that God does not speak in fire, but in a whisper. That put the damper on Elijah being a man of fire.

So is being on fire a good thing?

On Tuesday, two boys—ages 17 and 18—set themselves on fire in Tibet to protest Chinese rule in that country. That brings the total to 104 Tibetans who have chosen self-immolation since 2009 as their way to speak out against what they consider injustice. They very literally were on fire for their country. But what good has it done? Two more families mourning the loss of those they loved, and today China still rules Tibet.

You say that is not what being on fire for Jesus means? Ok then, what does it mean?

Enthusiasm, you say. It means being excited about Jesus. In what way? Just how am I supposed to show excitement for Jesus? Does it require me to wear a t-shirt with some cheesy Christian slogan on it?

I have been on fire for Jesus. I have been to the conferences and listened to the CDs and sung the songs and, yes, bought the t-shirt. I’ve been really really really excited for Jesus. I’ve had my early morning devotions and read more than one chapter in my Bible at a time. I’ve gone to church both Sunday morning and Sunday night. I’ve even gone to men’s very early morning prayer. I’ve given up R-rated movies and cussing and eating devil’s food cupcakes. And yet China still rules Tibet.

Or, in this case, many of those closest to me still have not found the Gospel to be good news. My parents still think being good people is enough to get into heaven. My neighbors still find their greatest satisfaction in the things they can buy. My coworkers still insist they can build a great life on their own without any help from God, if there even is a God.

So consider me burned out. Do you know when I realized I was no longer on fire for Jesus? When one of my employees, ironically enough nicknamed Smokey, who is an agnostic, came and encouraged me recently when I was having a really bad day. I had let my Christian mask slip and actually said I was having a crappy day. (Christians who are on fire for Jesus never have bad days. And they don’t say “crappy” either.) Somehow the fact that I was just me, not the super-Christian-blazing-on-Holy-Ghost-fire me, was enough to allow Smokey to be herself in sharing how she, too, was having a crappy day. And in that sharing we both found that we could get up and keep going. It felt really good to be real. It was a great freedom to not have to wear a mask. I could breath much more easily without it.

Count me among the holy extinguished. I am no longer on fire for Jesus. I’m just me, take me or leave me. I love Jesus very imperfectly. I have good days and crappy days and a lot of days that are a swirl of the two. When God whispers I sometimes hear him and sometimes don’t. If being on fire would help me to see and hear and know God better, I would dump a can of Holy Ghost gasoline on my head and strike the match. I have found that doesn’t work. From now on you will have to deal with me as I am, the non-burning man. I hope that is not too great a disappointment.

 

Comments

  1. I’m with you, Jeff.

    Good days…bad days. Faithful days…and not so much days.

    Sorta happy I’m not too much on fire for the Lord these days (although I have my moments).

    I wonder how many hearts I helped to harden by beating people over the head with the love of Christ.

    • I wonder how many hearts I helped to harden by beating people over the head with the love of Christ.

      OK, I like that line a lot. As I think on it I realize that much of what we consider ‘the love of Christ’ is an external thing that we must ‘beat people over the head with’ rather than something that flows through us and out of us.

    • This is the kind of honest realism the church needs to promote, instead of hype and false appearances.

  2. I’d be a lot less leery about fire metaphors if they didn’t seem to consume so many people.

    • Edo, fire metaphors like that really burn me up, too. “If you ever catch on fire, try to avoid seeing yourself in the mirror, because I bet that’s what really throws you into a panic.” (Jack Handey, Deep Thoughts)

    • They’re a real pain in the ash.

      • That was meant to be punny, but considering Ash Wednesday was just last week, there may be an unintentional truth there. Rather than trying to be on-fire, at this time of year we observe that we came from dust and are doomed to dust. Rather than the self-aggrandizement and progressiveness of the on-fire rhetoric, we confess that we are not on the road to glory but are broken and daily in need of a savior.

  3. There have been a number of posts along these lines and I must confess I don’t entirely agree. Here comes my ill-organised thoughts, mostly from the earlier posts rather than this one.

    I want to see a Church that is the right sort of “on fire”, the right sort of extreme or “radical”.
    Big on love, big on grace, big on living the way of Christ.
    Big on the Gospel but measured in how we express ourselves. (Small on shibboleths!)
    Multi-pronged practicing what is preached. The rubber on the road (sometimes the on-fire-type worship feels like revving the engines and not going anywhere)

    Living lives that are different from what they would be without Christ. Sometimes in a way that shows dramatically and sometimes it will not be so obvious.
    Plenty of rest and recognize that God is working and it’s not all up to us. (the Sabbath is a pretty big thing in the OT) The Gospel is primarily about Christ, not us.

    I want to reject the idea that there are special on-fire Christians and everyone else can just be part-time Christians. (I realise no one here is specifically advocating this).

    We have a shared mission, a great calling. We need to keep encouraging each other, picking each other up and walking forward together, a step at a time.

    I guess we want a healthy balance. And I think the Church where I come from usually errs on the side of laxity rather than activism. Admittedly many readers here have been the hard workers, burnt out at times.

    No need for hype or T-shirts. Enthusiasm without necessarily having the outward expressions of enthusiasm that are common in some part of the church or youth culture.

    A church in my area closed after a fire damaged their building. Some people from there joined my church. We will not be singing “Church on fire” any time soon.

    • I too used to be a believer in BIG-BIG-BIG. It took a great humbling to realize that wasn’t Christian, that was American. I was a member of a BIG church, I worked in a small Christian Bookstore while praying all the time for a BIG CHRISTIAN BOOKSTORE in my area. I longed to do BIG THINGS for Jesus. Then I hit the wall.

      Now I am in a small church where the pastor repeatedly uses words like “little, lost, hidden”. Hmmm ~ strangely familiar words, where have I heard them before? It took me a while to shift gears as I wanted to push for CHURCH GROWTH and then realized that these people had a history, a long history, and weren’t at all concerned about church growth. I felt like the service was to slow, hurry up, hurry up. No, that’s not Christian either, that’s American. So now I have relaxed and (good heavens) allowed them to minster to me. How humiliating!! And how right. And I am learning now to serve the little, the lost, the hidden. And after years of thinking it was my DUTY to convert people and to have them come to my BIG CHURCH as it was the IN CHURCH in the area I met people who served quietly, who loved quietly, who were the “quiet in the land” and lo and behold I JOINED THEIR CHURCH. After the official membership part of the service, congregation members welcomed me and one woman simply hugged me and said, “your here.” Yes, finally.

      • Thanks, Adrienne, for sharing. Little, lost and hidden will be my banner for today …

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        And how does Always On Fire(TM) differ from the constant pressure I get at work? No matter how much I do, it’s NEVER enough. “Why couldn’t you do MORE?” INCREASE PRODUCTIVITY INCREASE PRODUCTIVITY INCREASE PRODUCTIVITY MORE MORE MORE FASTER FASTER FASTER MORE MORE MORE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      I want to reject the idea that there are special on-fire Christians and everyone else can just be part-time Christians. (I realise no one here is specifically advocating this).

      Clericalism — the heresy that only Clergy (Priests, Monks, Nuns, and other full-time Professional Christians) count before God and the rest of us don’t. Remember the Middle Ages? Renaissance Spain?

  4. “If being on fire would help me to see and hear and know God better, I would dump a can of Holy Ghost gasoline on my head and strike the match. I have found that doesn’t work. From now on you will have to deal with me as I am, the non-burning man. I hope that is not too great a disappointment.”

    Not a disappointment at all, Jeff. It is honest and it allows us to be honest too. Just once in a while do I get a whiff of that Holy Ghost gasoline. Just enough to make me a little dizzy, but never enough to really be on fire!

  5. Jeff, you and I are about the same age. We’ve experienced many of the same things that the Evangelical church culture deemed “necessary”. We have both been displaced from the kind of work that we paid college tuition to equip us for (and my course study only gave me enough grammar instruction to realize that I like dangling participles–“The up with which I will not put”). So, we’ve built up and lived in the Strong/Competent Worker Self for 3 or 4 decades. Now we’ve realized that our great ability to do doesn’t really give us very good “whys” or “what fors”. Now we understand that Christ has brought us to the exact situation where He intended to bring us–at the point verge of faith. We have the knowledge to do, but we now also have the wisdom to Trust. We can do whatever is needed, not because we have to, but because we now recognize the flow of Christ’ love and the way in which he is drawing us into that free from fear of drowning or tumbling on the rocks. The rapids and their rocks are less important. The depth of the water is not a great concern. The only thing that matters is our yearning to Trust, which is our why and what for.

    Err, something like that….

    T

  6. Is there a difference between enthusiasm and self-immolation? :-/

    Enthusiasm goes back to the enlightenment concept that the human condition is getting better and better. For a lack of a better term, it is anthropological evolution. It is the idea of the perfectibility of humanity. Out of the mouth of a humanist, it’s considered blasphemy; out of the mouth of a revivalist, it’s treated as gospel truth.

    It is another case where Lutherans legitimately have a reason and responsibility to stand up and be counted, because I think Luther had a much clearer understanding of what the new creation is and isn’t capable of. The new creation in Christ is not a superman, ushering in a utopian age of perfect humans and human institutions. As Jesus alluded, the poor you will always have with you, and there will be wars and rumors of wars. Luther had no concept of instantaneous perfection, as taught by the revivalists. He also didn’t teach of inner perfection, as taught by the pietists. He taught about new creation being a progressive (not crisis-based) work of the Holy Spirit by means of Word and sacrament. The place where this transformation takes place is not in a monastery or revival tent but in our vocation – at work with dirt on our hands. The engine of this transformation is forgiveness and Christ’s sanctification of our broken works.

    Other faith traditions also touch on this. Lutherans don’t own it. But this is where Lutherans can be salt-and-light for the rest of the body. Self-inflicted claims of “weak on sanctification” distract from the message, that Christ is our sanctification. How in the heck is that “weak”???

  7. Our former church also used that phrase, “on fire for Jesus.” I guess it’s an revivalistic, pentecostal term. And I hate it. Fire burns. Fire destroys. Fire kills. Fire leaves nothing in its path but desolation and destruction.

  8. It’s still early, but that last paragraph is probably the most sensible, honest thing that I will read all day. I should write that out on a notecard, keep the notecard with me at all times, and just read it aloud whenever people come at me with “on fire for Jesus” or any other language that Michael Spencer would have called wretched urgency.

  9. Travis Sibley aka BigLove says:

    Thanks for your honesty, Jeff.

    Haven’t been “on fire” for years and amazingly find myself more at peace, more open to teaching, more available to my family, friends and neighbors because of it.

    Sadly I find that those who are “on fire” often cannot see past their own enthusiasm and cannot actually do anything because they are just so consumed by the concept. And I usually find those “on fire” to be particularly closed minded. Guess “fire” does that?

    Travis

  10. There’s a viral YouTube video called something like, “How To Write A Worship Song In 5 Minutes”, and one of the lyric tips is to always “make sure something is on fire in your song: our hearts, this generation, etc.”.

  11. Something I’ve noticed about churches that talk in this way, about the need to be “on fire for Jesus” or similar terminology, is that they very often contrast themselves with other nameless churches. They’re always referred to as “some churches,” and it is imperative that we not become like them. “Some churches” are dead–we need to be alive. “Some churches” don’t take their sin seriously enough–we need to repent more. “Some churches” are lukewarm in their love for God–we need to love God more deeply.

    It’s never just that we need to love God more, or that we are lazy about dealing with sin, although those and countless other self-criticisms are probably true. It’s that other people do those things, and we don’t want become like them, do we? We need to be on fire for Jesus, or else we’ll become the terrible imperfect boogeyman that we feel superior to.

  12. Much of it simply comes down to personality types. America is a Type A, extrovert, choleric, etc. society. The people who we put in leadership tend to be charismatic and passionate, and that goes for churches, marketing firms, shoe stores, and fast food restaurants. I’ve worked at places where I could never understand how people could be so “on fire” for the product they were selling. I don’t believe all these people were actually being fake (although, there could be some of that at work). I think there are a lot of people who simply don’t have much a middle setting. They either love stuff or they hate it.

    Personality-wise, I’m an introvert, and I’m a phlegmatic. That doesn’t mean I’m a misanthrope, but it does mean that I generally prefer introspection to interacting with people all the time. It means that I have a predisposition for not rocking the boat. I’ve learned that I can use these things to my advantage, but I’ve also come to realize that for many churches, it means I’m a fish out of water. Growing up I felt constantly guilty because I wasn’t naturally outgoing and being forced to go up and talk to someone about Jesus felt like torture to me. That’s just not how I interact with people.

    I guess the point I’m getting at is that I’ve realized how I’m wired, and I also realize that it’s pointless for me to try to tell my friends who do have personalities that are wired to go more to the extremes that they are wrong. I can’t change people. Too much enthusiasm ticks me off sometimes, but people are who they are.

    • We have a new pastor that’s a extrovert (most pastors must be I guess). He’s always “excited” about what God is doing. To the extent that people are finding REST in Christ, I’m with him. But as an introvert, like you, these folks can be intimidating, especially in the context of Christian living…..and even going to church for that matter. Sometimes it seems they are set as the model of what it looks like to be a Christ follower and it can be discouraging because I’m not that way. So thanks for pointing this out.

      • Isaac (or possibly Obed) says:

        One of our priests once told me that most of the clergy he’s known have actually been introverts, but the folks who tend to lead mega-ministries tend to be extroverts. I was bumpin’ around on a site that deals with the Meyers-Brigg personality types, and they suggested a career as clergy or in ministry for five of the 16 types, but for totally different reasons:

        ISFJ (Introverted, Sensing, Feeling, Judging), aka the Nurturers, because they dig using their ability to keenly observe people as a way of fulfilling needs.

        INFP (Introverted, Intuitive, Feeling, Perceiving), aka the Idealists, because ministry allows them to use their deeply held values to work toward positive change (this is what I am. They also said that most of the world’s greatest writers have been INFPs).

        ESFJ (Extroverted, Sensing, Feeling, Judging), aka the Caregivers, because ministry allows them to serve and help people in practical ways

        ENJF (Extroverted, Intuitive, Feeling, Judging), aka the Givers, because ministry allows them to work directly with a diverse amount of people that will challenge the ENJF, which will stimulate their creativity (I bet this is the mega-church pastor)

        INFJ (Introverted, Intuitive, Feeling, Judging), aka the Protectors, because ministry allows them to tap into their deeply-held values and promote them.

    • I very much agree. The extroverted doers and shakers are the agenda setters. And I have met many of these “on-fire” types who love Jesus, are following a genuine, God-given passion and being used by God to accomplish much. The problem is when this is viewed as normative, and if you’re not like that you either need to whip yourself into some kind of frenzy (“fake it til you make it”) or you’re just a second-class Christian.

      • Yes when I start feeling like a second-class Christian (quite often) I try to remember that it’s all about Jesus, not me.

  13. To paraphrase Paul, “As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate [immolate] themselves!” – (taken from Galatians 5:12, referring to legalists forcing gentile Christians to be circumcised).

    • It’s not a stretch to call being “On fire” the evangelical circumcision.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        CIrcumcision or castration?

        “They insist on being circumcised, fine! Why don’t they go all the way and castrate themselves?”
        — St Paul, weighing in on the circumcision knock-down-drag-out in the NT

  14. David Logsdon says:

    Here in Louisville, KY: http://chucksalvo.net/ – On Fire Christian Church

    • Pastor Chuck! I used to channel surf on Friday/Saturday nights and find Pastor Chuck in all his glory on local access. Aside from Chuck and his preaching…er, screaming about the devil and sin, teenagers would stomp around the stage in camouflage pants and black tshirts. Liturgical dance, I guess?

  15. Funny — if you’re loud, aggressive, spread tracts, bounce from church to church looking for “revival,” talk loudly in prayer and “claim” people and things, bumper sticker up your car — you’re on fire.

    If you pray quietly, hang out with agnostics and hear them out, live in a town of 500 in rural America and work on the City Council, drop off food for widows and new mothers, donate to the food shelf, and pray and support missionaries you’re probably just an average Christian.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      If you pray quietly, hang out with agnostics and hear them out, live in a town of 500 in rural America and work on the City Council, drop off food for widows and new mothers, donate to the food shelf, and pray and support missionaries you’re probably just an average Christian.

      AKA the Lukewarms(TM) who keep things running and do all the scutwork while the On Fire True Christians run around being all On Fire(TM).

  16. I once heard an aquaintance mention that he was on fire in his early non-denom days, but after joining my faith expression he has more of a warm glow. And that’s how I would describe myself, looking for God in the mundane, not worrying much about the next big trend, helping, influencing and seed sowing in little ways.

    If on fire means that people run the other way when you walk into a room because your zeal has blinded you to whatever is going on with others then count me out.

    And as for the mask… one great thing about getting older is that you get to lose the mask and be yourself. I understand in some christian circles that is frowned upon, must maintain for the good of the movement, but in reality, most who are not part of the movement see right through it and maintaining the mask just ends up giving you gas ; )

  17. David Cornwell says:

    The people who have meant the most in life to me have been the simple and ordinary. A good example of this is my father-in-law (he’s been dead now a few years), a quiet man, upright, loving, honest, and faithful. He seldom raised his voice, but if he did one would take notice. He loved his children and wife. For recreation he could spend a day fishing.

    But here’s the thing about him: He didn’t go around announcing to anyone that he was a Christian. You just recognized that about him; you just somehow knew that here was a man who loved Jesus.

    And then those who were “on fire for Jesus.” I’ve known any number of them. All I want to do when I’m in danger of meeting up with one is this: RUN. And most of people I know feel the same way, although they may not say so bluntly. Or– wrap them up in a blanket and roll them on the ground to snuff out those flames.

    • Julian of Norwich called the mindset “full homely divinity”…quiet, simplicity, and the average daily life is divine in and of itself, even without extraordinary occurrences and excitement.

    • Your post made me chuckle. I’ve known a few like your father-in-law and I find many times that this way can have the most effect on a person who is aware enough to take notice. I know in my life those people I have looked up to and considered mentors were of this type, and I will consider myself successful if I could ever emulate this quality.

      Snuff out those flames… i am with you on that…

    • I love your reflections. You always root them in people you know. So that the concept becomes personalized.

      I almost think of you as internetmonk’s very own Garrison Keillor, although your people are real and not fictional.

  18. On fire? I just think about the first believers who saw Christ after His death on the cross.

    It’s passion to do what He wants, to love who He loves, and to simply obey Him.

    I mean, our Savior conquered death is coming back on a white horse. That’s INTENSE. And yea, it sets me on fire.

    I want to follow Him and die. Lay crowns at Jesus’ feet. That sets me on fire.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Let me guess… Young, energetic, with a Youth Pastor beard and all the energy of Pinkie Pie on double espresso shots plus Red Bull?

      What happens when you’re 50-something with knees and joints reminding you of your age, a couple other medical conditions, and all that energy has burned out leaving you with a 2000-mile stare?

  19. Couldn’t help but think of Lecrae’s song “Fuego”, in which the chorus says:

    …Get your torches high let’s set ablaze the sky
    Passion’s a fire bright and we’ll be burning forever
    Set the world on fire let’s set the world on fire
    Set the world on fire let’s set the world on fire…

  20. Let me just say, Jeff, that I love you! Crappy day or not. This is a beautiful irony that made me laugh out loud. Thank you! I think loving Jesus imperfectly is right up His alley. I’ll meet you there…..

  21. It’s been said already . . . Thank you for this honest introspection and encouragement. Hmmm – does the spark still glow in the pile of ashes?

  22. Jeff I’m with Rebekah. I thought the whole point of God sending His Son for us is because we are going to have more crappy days than not. He knows we’re not going to love Him perfectly, that’s why He loves us perfectly. Taking off the “Christian mask”. I did that this week and found myself right where I needed to be: at His Mercy.

    • Hey Joel, I have a page on Facebook titled Grit & Grace, I just quoted you, “Taking off the “Christian mask” and found myself right where I needed to be: at His Mercy.” Just with your first name, hope you don’t mind.

      • I will look for your page. This is the first and probably last time someone quotes me. Thank you Rebekah… I’m blushing. :)

        • Joel: It might be the first time someone has quoted you in their blog. However, I follow I.M. daily, and your contribution to the conversation seems heart felt and I appreciate your comments…

          • Gail, I read I.M. daily too and see your comments here as well and coming from you this is quite a compliment. Thank you so much. :)

          • I think this is the 10th time I’ve tried to post this so I hope they don’t all show up at once…. but thank you Gail, this is very encouraging coming from you. :)

  23. I have spent a large portion of my life wanting to and being ‘radical’ for Jesus, doing things totally foreign to my GOD-given nature, because it was the way we, as CHRIST-followers, ‘should’ be. I have handed out Lifesavers on the street with scripture attached, presented ‘Four Spiritual Laws’ to total strangers in a hospital, led church choirs and youth groups, sang solos, many other inane things working ‘for’ JESUS. I never been comfortable in that role, but felt, at the time, that it was the right and holy thing to do, tho’ in my Pharisaical heart, I was fooling myself.

    I am older now, and hopefully, wiser. I am still ‘working out my salvation’, but not working ‘for’ JESUS any longer. When my LORD calls me to participate in His Kingdom work, I try to be available for whatever He purposes to do through me – most of it is very simple, just simply loving people where they are. Hopefully, what they experience is Father loving them through me.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      I have spent a large portion of my life wanting to and being ‘radical’ for Jesus, doing things totally foreign to my GOD-given nature, because it was the way we, as CHRIST-followers, ‘should’ be. I have handed out Lifesavers on the street with scripture attached, presented ‘Four Spiritual Laws’ to total strangers in a hospital, led church choirs and youth groups, sang solos, many other inane things working ‘for’ JESUS.

      No, Pam, you spent a large portion of your life in Wretched Urgency mode, WITNESS WITNESS WITNESSING with God’s gun held to the back of your head.

      In my church it usually manifests itself as 24/7 devotions devotions devotions Mary Mary Mary Mary Mary. And according to Orthocuban, in the Eastern Rite it usually manifests as acting as much like an ascetie monk as possible without actually taking vows.

  24. Jeff … :) That’s all.

  25. During the Vietnam War there would be protests by Buddhists for being persecuted by the corrupt S. Vietnamese Roman Catholic government. At a Saigon intersection Thich Quang Duc lit himself on fire as a form of public protest. You can read about it here:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Th%C3%ADch_Qu%E1%BA%A3ng_%C4%90%E1%BB%A9c

    So if there are going to be “Buddist barbecues” in the spirit of fundagelicalism should there be “Fundagelical barbecues?”

    Just think of the possibilities!

    -So should followers of Francis Chan practice self immolation to truly be “Radical?”
    -At Bethleham Baptist should members be told “not to waste that gasoline but to immolate themself for the glory of God?”
    -Instead of making infants forgive their molesters at Sovereign Grace Ministries…should they require infants to self immolate themself instead?

    I mean seriously…self-immolation can be one of the must truly radical acts a person can do. Why hasn’t the reformed crowd picked up on it?

  26. Good insights. I don’t know you, Jeff, but I can definitely commiserate, and have felt as you do often in my 62nd year. However, I think there is at least one good biblical example for “keeping the fire burning” in our hearts for Jesus. Paul exhorted Timothy to “fan into flame the gift of God” (2 Tim 1:6) which was within him. The compound term (used only here) seems to suggest to “kindle into a living fire.” Since the Holy Spirit is also associated with fire (Lk 3:16; Acts 2:3), that seems to fit the context.

    Rather than the artificial “on fire for God” language of evangelical zealotry, though, this passage to me is the idea that fire is like light…it is a metaphor for life. We dare not let the flame of the Spirit die within us. Paul said it was Timothy’s responsibility to keep his own fire alive. He didn’t say how to do that, but seems to suggest that Timothy needed to overcome the weakness of his own “spirit” (small “s”) and exercise “power and love and discipline” to keep the fire burning in his heart.

    Like you, have felt my flame waning for over a year now, with very much the same experience as you describe. I am in ministry and don’t know exactly how to rekindle God’s fire, but I sense intuitively in my spirit that I am the only one who can keep it alive. Much of my “wandering” is like Lamentations 3:19-25, simply trying to “wait” on God, but I know that waiting is not an entirely passive act: “The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the person who seeks Him.” Thankfully, it doesn’t say “finds Him” so I continue to seek and hope. No formulas or magic fixes…just waiting and seeking.

    Sorry if this sounds like a rebuttal or advice. That’s not my intent. Just trying to figure out how to navigate this passage of life myself. Thanks for your honesty.

  27. Jeff
    I can see what you are saying but I disagree with the way you have framed it. It is almost like you are saying this is a one or the other proposition. We are either on fire or not, maybe even burned out.

    One one hand the New testament is full of on fire people. What do you think Paul’s (and others) evangelism was all about? They were clearly motivated. There was something that kept them going. I have an uncle in his 80s who is going to be an interim Pastor in a small town. He had a career in ministry, and heard about a need this community has hundreds of miles from his home. And he is not all-emotional about things. And yet I would say he is on-fire.

    Might I suggest that the problem is the definition of ‘on-fire’ that many evangelicals have? On fire the way you and I saw it in our youth was like puppy love, and maybe was mostly emotionalism. But that does not change the fact that many of the ‘heroes’ of the faith were in a true sense on fire in that they could and would not give up their love for God and desire to impact the world around them. And that may or may not have been an emotional experience.

    I just want to be careful here. I am saying that I think the popular definition of being on fire is just emotionalism, not being on fire. In my definition I would look at the dedication I see in both you and Chaplain Mike and say that is being on fire. Not a great emotional experience (although I don’t discount that you may have them), but commitment to carry out what God has set before you.

    • I have to agree with Ken here. It is entirely possible to be quiet, sensitive, gentle, and introspective, and still be on fire. Being on fire means that you will not succumb to the world’s pressure to become indifferent or lukewarm. It means that you are devoted to doing the things that God has put in front of you, no matter what the cost, not in the “try harder, do more, sing louder” way but in quiet confidence, trust, and devotion. It’s a quality of devotion that is not restricted to those of a certain personality type. There are plenty of quiet introspectives who are worthy of emulation because they will not let anything block them in their quest to be Jesus to those around them. They are the ones who are truly on fire, notwithstanding their personality type.

    • The things is, the Evangelical celebrity glam scene doesn’t see consistent motivation and faithful service as exciting. It’s getting all reved up, crazy loving, and radical that people consider to be “on fire.” It’s just really hard to get motivated by that sort of thing. Ture heros of the faith showed admirable dedication and zeal, but not from an internal emotional overflow that kept them going: I do not think they were self-motivated upwardly-mobile go-getting yuppies for God. Instead, in light of Isaiah 30:15, I think they were strengthened by the Spirit as they drew comfort and nourished their souls on grace found in the Word. By contrast, the demand for external displays of devotion, piety, or sincerity leads, imo, to the type of spiritual starvation that actually prevents genuine “fire” you speak of. But the slow, steady, faithful route of Christian living and witness just doesn’t seem to merit “fire” as the right descriptor. The world is already burning with the fires of hell, and I think that we should seek to be more like a glass of cool water. We should be putting out fires, not causing them.

      • I often wonder if a lot of our values and ways of expression are not just cultural ones that we have baptized and called Christian.

        I became a Christian in the 1970s. The dominant church ‘ethos’ if you can call it that, was like my parents generation.

        I go into a number of places now and it just seems to me to be baby boomer culture. Endlessly narcissistic, at times navel gazing, and worship services that are trying to be Christian Woodstock. What is important is feeling good and having a good experience.

        Us boomers do CCM and our heroes are not Mother Theresa or Jim Elliot. Our heroes are all part of the christian music scene

        • Honesty like this is refreshing. I think you are right on, and this is why the historic liturgy of the church is so valuable: It is timeless, and not the expression of any one particular culture, but an organic synthesis of multiple successive cultures as they hand the faith down through the centuries. It’s not limited to what’s happenin’ now, and it won’t fade away as quickly either.

  28. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    I’m going out-of-town and out-of-communication for the next four days, so I can’t ring in on this one.

    So Blue Oyster Cult has to speak for me.

  29. Wait a minute Jeff. Do you mean for you, that every day isn’t a Friday? :)

  30. Clay makes a good point about ‘fire’ being light.

    When I hear ‘being on fire’ being used, it is often used as a counter to ‘lukewarm’. Once a month or so the bible quote of ‘you are lukewarm so spit you out’ is used from our pulpit (stage?). This is always countered with our need to be ‘hot’ and ‘on fire’. I keep asking myself how often do people choose to drink hot water? How about drinking cold water? But cold is never mentioned; either hot or dead.

    • If you are from East Asia, as is my wife, you DO actually drink hot water. I also have adopted the habit, to the infinite amusement of my coworkers for whom the water “cooler’s” red button is a complete mystery.

      Come to think of it, though, even hot water is not on fire….

  31. Been yelled at for saying “crap” before. Lol!

  32. David Cornwell says:

    “Getting on fire for Jesus” can wear other masks also. When I became a pastor back in 1979 the big thing to get on fire for, in our denomination, was church growth. And the engine for this growth had to start with a pastor who was on fire with projected numbers, programs, targets, and motivation. Evolved Methodists (think “united”) weren’t so apt to talk about Jesus, but from the top down it was all about turning a declining denomination around. We had speakers at Annual Conference from Fuller Seminary (growth experts), district motivational events of all kinds, and contests (not called that, but I can’t remember the official name). We became experts on keeping numbers (Methodists have always been good at that anyway). Churches that did well were celebrated, the pastors were given certificates and recognition, and sometimes became growth celebrities.

    I had one expert come to our church to talk with our people, hold a seminar, and give some advice. Mistake. He was surely on fire however. At our final even he said the problem was the pastor (me) who hadn’t really set up big goals for the people (arguable). I also fall into the introspective-introverted category, at least to a degree. I worked with my congregation, not way out in front of them. But what he did for me was plant a seed of thought within my mind to leave the pastorate, which I did a couple of years later. It’s hard to have good feelings toward someone who slaughters you in front of your people. Part of the problem did involve me of course, but this man had no idea as to the real truth of it.

    I could go on and on in this vein, but will spare you. And anyway, this hasn’t really worked, except in a limited way, in selected “on fire miracle churches.” Look at the numbers!

    • I’m pretty much terrified anytime I heard the word “consultant” used by a small mainline church.

      • Randy Thompson says:

        I agree.

        Whenever you see the words “consultant” or “leadership” in a church context, run.

        And run hard, and run far.

  33. “One great trouble is that people come to special revival meetings, and for two or three weeks, perhaps, they will keep up the fire, but by and by it dies out. They are like a bundle of shavings with kerosene on the top. They blaze away for a little, but soon there is nothing left. We want to keep it all the time, morning, noon and night.” That was D.L. Moody in 1884. Burning all night long has a certain Lionel Richie flavor to it. With that flair for purple prose, Moody would make a bundle writing worship songs if he were alive today.

  34. “On fire for God”.

    Is this not another one of those semantically void shibboleths that has been coined in evangelicalism, that sounds spiritual and affirmatively pious?

    (John)

  35. Not sure if this fits here, but for what it’s worth…..

    SEND YOUR FIRE!

    Send your fire, Lord!
    The controlled fire the farmer uses;
    Bulldoze away the stubble, deadwood and chaff of our life.
    May our jealousies, gossip, deceit and lies all go up in smoke,
    And be a stench in our own nostrils.

    Send your fire, Lord!
    The intense heat of the refiner’s furnace;
    Get rid of the impurities, burn away pride, fear, anger,
    and all manner of evil.
    May we keep on becoming the beautiful person you want us to be,
    Shining as pure, unblemished gold.

    Send your fire, Lord!
    The powerful fire of the blow torch;
    Destroy the artificial, man-made boundaries, limitations and walls.
    May you fuse in harmony, men and women, parents and children.
    May we be one in the Spirit of love!

    Send the fire, Lord!
    The raging forest fire that strikes with lightening sharpness;
    Burn to the ground all our lofty ideals and our reaching for the stars.
    Bring forth the new growth, the delicate flowers of love, peace and joy,
    To adorn our renewed heart.

    Then let us be on fire for you Lord!
    Ablaze with love and warmth,
    and grace and mercy
    to illumine the darkness,
    showing others the way to You
    and radiate so that others may
    see You, the Light of the World,
    shining through us!

    Karin Ristau ©

  36. great post, honest, humble. We are all like this; believe it.

  37. Thanks for the post, Jeff.

    The speaker asks people (to the effect): Are You On Fire for Jesus?

    How are you really supposed to answer this question?

    “No, not really. As a matter of fact, Life really sucks right now. I’m actually feeling a little depressed. Yet, despite it all, I find comfort in knowing that Jesus still loves me.”

    What do you do when Church seems like a pep rally, and you don’t have any pep?

    Why does scripture repeat again again how much God truly knows us? I think it’s to remind us, that we can be real. I love the fact that Jesus meets us as we are.

  38. Zeal does not equal fanatical, although that has become the accepted definition. Zeal has to do with love. I’m not sure how to equate “on fire” with love. Although, even in love, the younger generations look down on the older as not being passionate enough, while many couples who have been married for decades have a quiet, rich intimacy and friendship. To borrow from Tony Campolo, somebody switched the price tags. What we call love now is nothing more than emotions. It’s no different in the way many approach love for God.

  39. Randy Thompson says:

    This business of “being on fire” has a longer history than many might think.

    The Desert Fathers have different take on this issue, I think, and I rather like it.

    “Abbot Lot came to Abbot Joseph and said: Father, according as I am able, I keep my little rule, and my little fast, my prayer, meditation and contemplative silence; and according as I am able I strive to cleanse m heart of thoughts: now what more should I do? The elder rose up in reply and stretched out his hands to heaven, and his fingers became like ten lamps of fire. He said: Why not be totally changed into fire?” (“The Wisdom of the Desert,” edited by Thomas Merton).

    Let the Holy Spirit burn, and don’t sucker for enthusiasms manipulated by preachers who have mistaken hysteria for devotion. When the Spirit “burns” inside us, we don’t end up the kindling. That fire has an eternal fuel (and we’re not eternal).

    • Randy Thompson says:

      As a preacher and the one responsible for the previous post, I should share another, perhaps relevant, saying from the Desert Fathers:

      “It was said of Abbot Agatho that for three years he carried a stone in his mouth until he learned to be silent.”

    • Nice; in fact, I was wondering when someone would mention the East.

      I’m not the best qualified to explain it, as I don’t fully understand Orthodoxy, but I’m under the impression that Orthodoxy has an understanding of God as a flame, or a river of fire. God refines/purifies; a saint might glow or become flamelike (in that believers grow to reflect God, to be God’s image); the chaff burns in the presence of God; etc.

      Notably, this is a very different picture fire as a metaphor for being “all revved up”.

      (I’m sure I butchered my characterization of Orthodoxy. If someone Orthodox is reading this, maybe they can explain it better!)

      • Ack — I meant “Notably, this is a very different picture THAN fire as a metaphor for being “all revved up”.

  40. Here is the perennial fire video. It’s practically a caricature of itself!
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d2XAeTpBPPA

  41. You know all those end-of-the-world stories where the Antichrist takes over the world, and Christians have to either betray their faith or suffer martyrdom? To most of us it sounds like bad science-fiction, but China today really is like that. Its rulers allow several religions to be practiced, but only in groups that they control. That means Catholics who refuse to denounce the pope, or Buddhists who refuse to denounce the Dalai Lama, can lose their jobs / educational opportunities / pensions, be arrested and sent to labor camps, etc. So instead of mocking the Tibetans who immolate themselves, we should be saluting them for their courage in refusing the Mark of the Beast, so to speak.

  42. “You can shine your shoes and wear a suit
    You can comb your hair and look quite cute
    You can hide your face behind a smile
    One thing you can’t hide
    Is when you’re crippled inside.”
    – John Lennon

  43. I agree with the heart of what has been expressed, but when is anyone going to address the elephant in the room? The real issue here is so called Christianity. Everyone wants something real. That implies that what you experience isn’t real. It’s true. But, are you willing to give up everything you hold to and have been indoctrinated in to be true? I’m not advocating giving up Jesus Christ. But stop and ask yourself the question, if what is called sound doctrine was true, would there be a constant role of dead churches. Churches that don’t live up to what Jesus Christ promised? Is the problem us, for not being dedicated enough (ie, not trying hard enough)? Or is the problem what the church is itself? If you want something real, are you willing to give up the established church? Or do you just want it to be better? The truth is that what calls itself the church is dead and apostate. We all have a choice; either completely give up on the apostate church and pursue truth, or, if you’re not willing to do that, stop complaining, and just enjoy the fakeness it offers, and the lack of any real power, and just accept being defeated by sin, since the apostate church has no way to free you from that, and get in line.

    Obviously I haven’t chosen the later, but this is the choice we all face. God bless you all, and may God give you the strength the bear the cross which you choose for yourself. And please remember, not everything you think and believe ia true.

  44. I too am post-fire.
    ; – )

  45. In the church I used to be part of, we talked a lot about being “fired up”. I only realized that it was part of the lingo throughout that group of churches when I attended a church conference and, as part of a questionnaire, I was asked how I had been feeling lately. One of the answers was, “Fired up”. (One of the others was “Discouraged”.)

    One of the speakers that was very popular in my group of churches actually said, as you get older as a Christian, you shouldn’t be less fired up. You should be MORE fired up! You can probably guess what impact that had on me, who was “struggling” at the time.

  46. Rob Grayson says:

    This is great.