The Fire Building Principle

Let’s imagine the Holy Spirit as a glowing ember flickering in your soul somewhere, wherever that happens to be. Your small intestines? I don’t know, it seems like when something goes wrong in life that’s where the dread hits you. Or, when something amazing happens, that’s where butterflies dance around, so maybe that’s the general location of your spirit being. It doesn’t really matter, honestly.

But first, let’s start with a little backstory. Last Sunday morning I slept through my alarm. I stumbled outside to fill up our outdoor furnace with firewood, as one should do if they want the furnace to keep burning. I opened the squeaky furnace door and to my dismay I found that the fire was out! There were just a few coals left, sitting there flickering despondently and wondering where it all went wrong.

Obviously the best remedy would be to park an F-16 in front of the furnace door, apply the brakes, and then hit the afterburners for fifteen minutes. Even ten minutes would probably do the trick. I don’t know of a better way to get my furnace up to operating temperature quickly. Of course, there’s never an F-16 around when you need one, unless maybe you live in Iraq.

F-16 on full afterburner

I didn’t have an F-16 but I did have an afterburner, sort of. All an afterburner does is basically dump a load of fuel on a hot fire. I was tempted to grab a gallon of mixed gasoline I had for the chainsaw and throw that in there. Surely that would set something on fire! Maximum heat with minimal effort seemed attractive at the moment. Of course, the gas wouldn’t burn long enough to ignite the firewood. In fact, it’s more likely that it would blow pieces of outdoor furnace through the neighbors window, which is counterproductive.

My mind scrolled through my options. Much like my Facebook feed, my options were just a bunch of fake news and home remedies; nothing that helpful.

Sigh. I would just have to do it the old fashioned way. I split some logs down into quarters, then took my hatchet and split the quarters into kindling. I gathered all the live coals into a pile and built a kindling tepee over the hot coals. Then I turned on the blower, opened the flue, closed the door, and waited ten minutes, twiddling my thumbs and daydreaming about tropical destinations. I opened the door again, laid on some bigger pieces of firewood, and repeated the process. It took me four hours and six trips out into the frigid Michigan winter to get the furnace up to the proper temperature.

Now my point is not to just complain (that’s just a fringe benefit) but it got me thinking…

You know that cliche that heat purifies gold? It’s true but we always think about that in terms of external trials and tribulations making us better Christians, which is true. But let’s think about it this way; the Holy Spirit is the fire and the hotter it burns inside you, the more impurities come out of you.

Thinking along those lines then it’s also true that the colder life gets, the hotter the fire has to be. When life gets cold, miserable, and nasty, it’s pretty important to have firewood to put in your furnace and not just a several bags of last week’s garbage.

But using firewood is a lot of work. It’s heavy, it makes my back hurt, it gives me splinters, and splitting it is so much work. Sigh. Maybe I’ll do it tomorrow.

So, logically, when God wants you to stoke the fire what will he do? He’s going to send a metaphorical polar vortex down from Canada, the temperatures will plummet to -18, and the chickens will freeze solid on their roosts. It will be super annoying (especially since frozen chickens do not lay any eggs) but nothing makes you more motivated to find quality firewood than a cold front. It’ll make you stoke your furnace. It’ll force you to find better material to feed your fire with.

I’ve noticed this metaphorical pattern in my life: It’s morning. Last night the house was warm and I had went to bed enveloped in a warm glow of comfort. But now it’s morning and there’s frost on my nose. I dig down into my blankets like a groundhog that saw its shadow and hit snooze on my alarm, again. My bladder finally gets me out of bed but then I find the toilet is frozen! This makes me run through the snow to the furnace while still in my pajamas. I throw a quart of gas into my furnace because I need maximum revival in the minimum amount of time. Revival shoots six feet out of my smokestack but within sixty seconds all that’s left is a melted ring of snow. My eyebrows are gone, my nose is singed, and yet I’m getting cold again. That’s because the revival didn’t burn long enough to catch on. I’m back in my old habits.

What I’ve found though, and I think it’s very true, is that fast doesn’t last. Instead of panicking, throwing gas in the furnace, then running around with my hair on fire, I have to intentionally make incremental, tiny adjustments in my life and then maintain them.

For example: I stop reading my Bible. This takes quality fuel from my spiritual fire and my house gets cold. I panic because the pipes are freezing and so I resolve to read the entire Bible in a week. I read through Genesis, Exodus, and half of Leviticus on the first day. Revival is shooting six feet out of my smokestack. The second day I don’t have four hours to devote to Bible reading and so I skip it. I don’t touch my Bible again for a week or two. The fire has already went out.

Another example: I resolve to just open my Bible everyday, that’s it. The whole point is to establish a habit. It will be far easier to do this but no matter what, it has to be done. This is an attainable goal. After a month, increase the material you consume. In this way you’re building your fire slowly and intentionally and in a way that lasts

God doesn’t want a thermal nuclear mushroom cloud once a month, he wants a steady, reliable heat source he can use to impact the world around it. Of course, thermonuclear mushroom clouds also impact the world around them but generally not in a positive way.

I think this fire building principle is applicable to many areas of life, not just Christianity. Big results come from consistent, small steps. I’m trying to apply this to our support raising process. We’re building up support base out of many small pieces and that will enable us to do big things on the mission field. It all takes time and effort but I think this is a foundational step to what we hope is a lifelong ministry. I like to think of it as building an airplane; there’s big pieces and small pieces but it takes every piece to make the plane fly. Thank you for being a piece of this airplane.