Sunday, August 9, 2015

Building Fire: Principles of Spiritual Formation

Making a Campfire
“Our God is a consuming fire.”
–Hebrews 12:29 (Deuteronomy 4:24)
I love building campfires in the great outdoors! My joy is gathering a bunch of kindling, stacking it just right. Then I try to light it with one match—no paper here, or heaven forbid, lighter fluid!
Three Principles of Fire
My dad taught me about fire and how it works. There are three important principles. First, obviously, fire burns upward. So when placing the kindling, you want the flames to start at the bottom and catch the little branches on fire as the flame moves up. Having a “fuse” on the bottom is important—and nothing works better than birch bark! It lights instantly and sends up quite a blaze and catches the small twigs above it on fire. While the flames are leaping up from the little kindling, you can begin to lay some larger twigs or small branches on. Even if they are not fully dry, the flames will dry them out and then catch them on fire.
Second, branches in a fire need to be close enough to feed off of each other. At least until there is an established bed of coals for the campfire, branches or logs need to be within about an inch of each other. Pull two longs too far apart, and they both begin to smolder and go out in a rather short time. A log does not burn by itself. It always needs other logs and/or the bed of coals from other logs to keep on burning.
Third, branches and logs need room to breathe. A fire needs air. If the logs are too close and there is no room for air to move up between them, they don’t burn well.
Spiritual Fire
These three principles are also key to spiritual formation. First, spiritual formation needs to move upward. Indeed the Holy Spirit always wants to move us upward. Throughout Scripture, fire is a symbol of God’s Spirit. If we are ablaze with the Spirit of God, we will naturally help others catch on fire. Just by getting close to us, they will be affected by our flame. Either they will back away quickly because they do not want God’s Spirit to move in their lives (and burn up sin and selfishness that they might be hiding), or they soon catch on fire themselves!
Second, we need to stay close to other people on fire if we want to stay ablaze with the Lord. Just as there is no such thing as a log burning all by itself (except the manufactured “logs” made with woodchips and probably some lighter fluid), so there is no such thing as a “lone ranger Christian.” Both smolder out quickly.
Third, however, we always need to leave room to breathe in our spiritual friendships. While we need to stay close to others on fire, we cannot suffocate them or let them suffocate us. Rather, there needs to be room for air. Air, wind and breath are likewise symbols of the Holy Spirit throughout the Bible. The Old Testament word Ruah means both breath and spirit. The New Testament word pneuma likewise means both. Even in our closest relationships we need to leave room to breathe—room for the Spirit of God—between us.
When I remember these three principles, my campfires go great! (Although last week I sadly had to use a second match to get the fire going.) When we remember these principles, we are also able to stay ablaze with the Spirit year after year!
© 2015 Glenn E. Myers

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