Tending the Inner Fire
My father is a master at barbecue. He can grill anything on his Weber grill with a bag of charcoal and a bit of lighter fluid. It’s amazing. He knows just how to arrange the coals so they heat up quickly. He knows just when to spread them out and how to arrange them so they’ll have maximum heat over a larger area. He has passed some of that knowledge onto me, but much of it was acquired after I left the house so some of his secrets remain a mystery.
One thing I’ve observed is that sometimes as the coals are burning, one will roll off the pile and wind up by itself. It might have been aflame when it was a part of the pile, but when it rolls off, the flame quickly dies out. When that happens, my dad takes his tongs and gets the stray coal and puts it back on the pile. Often it lights up and begins burning right away. Sometimes we don’t see the flame, but its reconnection to the pile enables it to slowly start burning again.
Last night we finished a series on worship at AIC. We defined worship as “the heart response to the supreme worth of God, expressed in all we say, think or do.” Because of this it is essential that we tend our “inner fire” – our “first love” that Jesus talks about in Revelation 2:4. If we don’t, we are in danger of being like the Pharisees whom Jesus condemned citing the words of Isaiah: “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me…” (Mark 7:6 quoting Isaiah 29:13).
In Revelation 2:5-6 Jesus tells the Ephesian church three things they can do to regain their first love: Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.
A. Remember – Jesus says they should remember from where they had fallen. At one point they had a passionate, first love. The fire burned brightly and strongly in their hearts. They needed to think back to that time. We should do this too if our inner fire is dying out. We should remember how close we were to Jesus at that time; how we couldn’t wait to read his Word; how we couldn’t stop telling others about how he loved us and them; we should remember how living intentionally for Jesus was so easy and joyful and filled with his presence and blessing. Remember that height…remember how great it was…remember…
B. Repent – The Ephesians had lost their first love. It wasn’t Jesus who had moved, they had. They had made choices over time that allowed their hearts to build up with the silt of sin and neglect. They had stopped living intentionally. Perhaps we have too. And like them we need to repent. We need to repent of the coldness and indifference and distance and messed up priorities in our lives. We need to confess them as sin. We need to turn away from them and choose to begin living our lives for God again. We need to allow our hearts to be broken and to rid ourselves of anything that might stand between us and God. We need to strip our lives of the idols we’ve built that kill our first love. We need to repent.
C. Repeat – Jesus said to the Ephesians they should repent and do the works they did at first. They needed to repent and repeat what they used to do. They should go back to that time when their hearts burned with holy fire and repeat the things they did at that time. We should too. We should repeat the things we did when we walked most intimately with Jesus but perhaps have begun to neglect. Whatever those things were…we should do them again.
Jesus tells the church in Ephesus that if they do not remember, repent, and repeat, they will be removed. They will lose their standing as a church.
There is more that can be said about these verses. But I want us to think more about tending our inner fire. How do we rekindle our spiritual passion? Ultimately, we don’t. We can’t. It comes as we spend time with the one who created us and who is the author and perfecter of our faith…as we open our hearts and give him access to our lives that he might stir up the coals of our heart and keep our inner fire burning brightly.
So, what are ways we can open ourselves to God so he will keep our first love strong? During the service last night, I asked seven people from our congregation to share with us something they have found helpful in keeping the fires of their first love strong. Here is the list of things they said and a few of my own:
1. Time in God’s Word – the most common thing said was regular, consistent times in God’s Word. I go through times where I read larger sections or several passages and other times when I sit with a smaller portion and really spend time in it chewing on it – meditating on it. Scripture memory is really helpful too.
2. Confession/self-examination – several people shared the need to open our hearts to God and confess sin and keep short accounts with God. We don’t want to let anything come between us and Him that would hinder our relationship. David wrote, “3 For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. 4 For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. 5 I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,’ and you forgave the iniquity of my sin” (Psalm 32:3-5).
One of the reasons Ephesus was a major city in Asia Minor was because it was a chief port. But the harbor had to be dredged regularly because Cayster River emptied into it bringing lots of silt and sediment. If you visit ancient Ephesus today, you’ll find the ancient city is 8 km away from the sea! The people were not careful to dredge the harbor. They neglected this work and the city lost its heart and the thing that made it strong. It’s the same with our first love for Jesus. We need to continually dredge our spiritual lives and keep the silt of sin and neglect from building up.
3. Good literature – Two people suggested reading classics and other books that draw our hearts and minds to God. Reading good literature engages our mind and encourages us to think biblically. Such reading cannot replace our time in Scripture, but it can deepen and augment it.
4. Silence and solitude – One person shared how times alone with God being silent and waiting on Him allow refreshment. I find such times to be vital for centering my heart on Jesus and allowing my false self to come to the surface and God restore and change my heart more into my true self.
5. Journaling – Along with the silence, one person suggested she takes time to listen to the Lord and journal what she senses Him saying. I like to journal my prayers motivated by God’s Word and my responses to it, but I like this too. Writing our thoughts or what we sense God saying to us can be a good way of looking at it and processing it to see what is really from Him and what might be “wishful thinking”.
6. Community – I suggested that in all these things, we cannot neglect the community of faith. Whether it is the larger church, a small group or one-to-one spiritual friendship, we need to be involved in the lives of other believers if we hope to keep our inner fire burning strongly. We need safe places where we can be our true selves and find love and acceptance; people to pray with us and walk with us through the valleys and struggles of life; and people for whom we can be there to reciprocating the love of Christ.
7. Open eyes – I loved the suggestion that we need to walk through life with open eyes, watching for glimpses of God and his greatness all around us, and then using those sacred moments for times of worship and praise. This truly is our Father’s world! May we always be aware of his presence all around us!
How is your “inner fire”? How are you doing at fanning the flames of your first love? Remember, repent, repeat…or perhaps there is something new God is inviting you to through the ideas shared above. Whatever the case may we be a people who get hot and stay hot for Jesus!