I recently trimmed the shrubbery around our house. The springtime growth was getting out of hand, and by evening I had a sizable pile of greenery overflowing my fire pit in the back yard. I pushed aside some of it to make room for a “real” fire. Standing a couple of big, dry logs end on end, leaning inward like a teepee, I carefully arranged a bed of small, short, and very dry sticks. I finished it off by inserting a couple of ripped up cardboard strips from Amazon boxes, and the preparation was complete. My plan worked better than I thought it would, and before I knew it I had a roaring fire. Every few minutes I would push some more shrubbery on top of the fire; the moisture inside would sizzle and pop, sending up plumes of smoke.
Maybe I had too much time on my hands as I stood gazing at the fire. But it seemed to me a perfect metaphor for the believer’s usefulness in ministry. The fire itself is the work of God in a local church. The oxygen that feeds the flames and give them life are the work of the Holy Spirit. And we are the wood God uses to keep the fire going.
Some believers have soaked up too much of the world to be very useful. When they are tossed on the fire, they create a lot of noise but their moisture actually douses the flames. Pile on enough, and they can actually threaten to kill the fire. In the end, though, if the fire prevails, it will consume those
bright green leaves
to curl and shrivel,
sending up plumes
that choke every passer-by
that float away,
ugly in the wind.
Every believer will be used of God, the only question is how willing we will be in that process. I do not believe in the existence of a “carnal Christian,” of a person who never bears fruit but somehow possesses faith. But I do believe in the dangers of the allure of this world, and as a pastor I am painfully aware of the impact worldliness can have on the people of God.
There are others, who, in their zeal, offer themselves up to God for service out of a willing spirit. But they have no patience. Rather than seeing the wisdom and value of studying the Scriptures, of stewarding their gift, and of learning from the leadership around them, they push ahead in zealous recklessness. I believe God loves their heart, but he groans over their foolishness. These may be, as it were, kindling sticks.
They are short,
they burn brightly,
and they cause a lot of light
but not much heat.
Kindling is useful for starting a fire, or perhaps for counteracting the dampening effects of suffocating shrubbery, but kindling can only last for so long. After all, it only has so much to give by way of zeal. So, in a moment, it comes and is gone.
There are some believers who take the long view in ministry. They see the seriousness of their mission and willingly sacrifice to make use of their gifts. They gladly give much of their time, abilities, and resources to the kingdom, and so their opportunity to contribute to the fire is equally great.
Like great, dry logs in the fire, the Maker lays them up to support one another.
They do not catch fire as quickly as the zealous kindling.
No, because these logs are so large, they take a great amount of heat to set ablaze.
They are too careful to burn up with passing fads, but when the flame burns brightly and the heat becomes overpowering with the all-important work of exalting Christ and his gospel, these logs burn for hours down to their very core.
They provide heat in the cold and light in the darkness.
They dance and flicker with joy, sending off pops and cracks that signify not a dousing of the flames but that of a healthy, roaring blaze.
They do not burn for sake of themselves, but for sake of the Maker who has placed them together into their perfect design for his own deserving glory.
Even as they burn up, sending their last flicker of light,
the hard wood falls blackened on a bed of coals beneath the fire
that make up the fire’s true center of blazing heat and energy.
Even in death and apparent weakness, this bed of dying coals can lay glowing with heat
through the coldest of nights.
And when day dawns, the Maker resurrects a new work from the ashes
by simply laying a few more well-placed logs and a little kindling.
Then, in an instant, the heat ignites a flame.
The work is alive again.
What part do you want to play in the kingdom of God? How have you made yourself useful in his service in your local church? We all have the opportunity to burn brightly for Christ, fully satisfied with where the Maker places us. May we make the most of it.