Monday, January 07, 2013

Fear of fire

This year, for the Jesus Army, has been dubbed the year of ‘hearts on fire’. Led by Mick Haines, our main leader, we’ve become aware again of our great need of God. At a recent leaders’ conference, Mick read this passage from early Methodist pioneer Samuel Chadwick:
The church is powerless without the fire of the Holy Ghost. Destitute of fire, nothing else counts; possessing fire nothing else really matters.
A confession: talk of the fire scares me a little. I know as a charismatic-Christian-type it should set my heart beating and my blood racing. But at the leaders’ conference I found myself feeling a reticence I couldn’t immediately explain. Was it reluctance to get into hype? That would be a safely smug conclusion – but it wasn’t, not really.

It’s God I’m afraid of. God tends to get me into trouble.

‘The fire’ led me into Christian community. It hasn’t always been easy. The fire demands I forgive those who hurt me. Those who think that is easy have never really been hurt. The fire led me to give up a job I loved. The fire demands I share all my money and most of my time. The fire led me to put hope in some who subsequently let me down. The fire insists I continue to (in Churchill’s famous phrase) move from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.

Some may think of the fire of God as warming, like a homely hearth. I’ve come to think of it as scary and liable to scorch.

Cleansing fire
So it was comforting to me when a friend quoted Malachi chapter 3. ‘Who can endure the day of his coming?’ asks the prophet, and I know what he means. ‘He is like a refiner’s fire’.

But Malachi adds another metaphor to fire: ‘like fullers’ soap’. The fire – burning, blazing, roaring, consuming, purging – is also soap – gentle, cleansing, soaking, renewing.

When God comes close – and we know he must if we’re to be renewed as a movement – he comes as fire and it’s right to fear him.

But the presence of God is also like a warm bath filled with cleansing soapy, bubbly, lather. Get in, get cleansed, get healed.

(As Malachi puts it, no longer say ‘It is vain to serve God. What is the profit of our keeping his charge or of walking as in mourning before the LORD of hosts?’) Let cynicism and disappointment be washed away. Be renewed. Be refreshed.

I’ll have some of that.

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