When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”
- Luke 24:30-32
“We need to learn this secret of the burning heart. Suddenly Jesus appears to us, the fires are kindled, we have wonderful visions; then we have to learn to keep the secret of the burning heart that will go through anything. It is the dull, bald, dreary, commonplace day, with commonplace duties and people, that kills the burning heart unless we have learned the secret of abiding in Jesus.
“Much of our distress as Christians comes not because of sin, but because we are ignorant of the laws of our own nature. For instance, the only test as to whether we ought to allow an emotion to have its way is to see what the outcome of the emotion will be. Push it to its logical conclusion, and if the outcome is something God would condemn, allow it no more way. But if it be an emotion kindled by the Spirit of God and you do not let that emotion have its right issue in your life, it will react on a lower level. That is the way sentimentalists are made. The higher the emotion is, the deeper the degradation will be if it is not worked out on its proper level. If the Spirit of God has stirred you, make as many things inevitable as possible, let the consequences be what they will. We cannot stay on the mount of transfiguration, but we must obey the light we received there; we must act it out. When God gives a vision, transact business on that line, no matter what it costs.
“We cannot kindle
when we will
The fire which in the heart resides,
The spirit bloweth and is still,
In mystery our soul abides;
But tasks in hours of insight will’d
Can be through hours of gloom fulfill’d.*
- *Matthew Arnold, Morality (1852)”
- Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest
The Scripture is from the road to Emmaus story. When we are in the presence of our Savior and we realize it, our hearts are on fire and we can feel it. Chambers speaks of when we leave that moment and face the world. We need to remain on fire at that time also.
To have a physical fire, we need three things. We need oxygen, fuel, and a source of ignition.
The oxygen is in the air that we breathe, about 21% of the air being oxygen. There are a variety of things that could be used as fuel: wood, coal, natural gas, propane, fuel oil, gasoline. Those are the common things that you might think of, but if there is a lot of oxygen trapped in a molten bath of steel, aluminum is dropped into the bath to burn, thus consuming the oxygen bubbles so that the steel is purified in that sense. Steel itself can burn, thinking of steel wool. The ignition source required for a fire could be a spark, a match, an existing fire, or simply something that is hot enough to ignite the fuel.
When we are on fire for Jesus, it simply does not happen on its own. We need to be born-again. We need the Holy Spirit working within us. And we need to be willing to be ignited. It is not just a matter of repentance of sins, we need to seek God and be a willing participant in the fire. Since we have no capability of generating this kind of fire within us, God must provide the ignition source, but we must keep our kindling dry, so to speak. We should not be as bold as Elijah. In 1 Kings 18, Elijah asked to have his altar doused in water, three times. He was going to show just how powerful God was. But as for the fire that Elijah had in his heart that day, it had been burning for a while.
The way to keep the kindling dry is to spend time in prayer, spend time in Bible study, and seek wise counsel of other Christians. But then spend time while in prayer and Bible study listening to God.
The problem in many Christians is that they do not keep the fire lit, and once lit, it can easily be blown out.
My wife grew up with a term called a “Feir Flugel.” With a Dutch father, there were such terms that became part of her lexicon. A Feir Flugel is hot one moment, full of energy and vitality, and cold the next. Usually they are hot when the attention is on them and as soon as the attention shifts elsewhere, why bother? With Christians, the focus should be on God and not us, but some fall for that temptation of taking the credit and glory – thus easily losing the ‘fire’ when not being applauded for a good job. Yet, there are other reasons why the flame might go out.
On my first trip to India, I was there to teach the customer, but a commissioning team was there to light the furnace for testing of the rolling mill and production of the first steel product from the steel mill. One of the things that I had to teach the class was how to light the furnace. To light the furnace, we requested that the customer purchase a propane torch. To buy anything at the steel mill, they had to drive two hours into Mumbai. The problem was that they did not purchase the right type of torch. Their torch had a delicate flame. They lit the torch for the start-up engineer. He leaned over and gently blew the flame out. He then pronounced their torch to be inadequate. As a result, we took a short length of pipe, tied rags to one end, dipped the rags in oil and set them on fire. The rush of fuel and air into the burner drew the flame from the old fashioned torch through a small lighting port, and lit each burner in turn, about 150 burners. It was messy, but the flame did not go out. In the photo, the person holding the torch is not setting the engineer’s pants on fire – a happy accident, or optical conclusion, while taking photos.
Sometimes it gets a little messy while God tries to keep the ignition source close to us so that our fire can stay burning. Why? We get in the way. We say that the world around us gets in the way, but it really is us. Sometimes we sin. Sometimes we are so determined to do our pet project that we do not realize that God’s plan is in a different direction. And believe me, I can screw up with the best of them. I do a great job in ideal circumstances, but I fall prey to the lamest of temptations at times, sometimes thinking that I am doing the right thing. My emotions get the best of me. And it is so hard to find a piece of pipe, some rags, some oil, and a match – once the pilot light goes out.
In a way, that is where the continuous state of prayer is most handy. When people around you are losing their minds and doing crazy things, asking God what to do next is a great idea. And if you stumble, regaining composure quickly might keep the fire lit.
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.