Do you ever feel like a fake? Phony? Fraud? When it comes to faith, I sometimes feel this way. I look around and see other believers who are “on fire.” Faith just seems jump off of them like a three-alarm blaze. Their souls fully engulfed in towering flames. Singing praises even when challenges threaten to dampen the flames.
Their faith sizzles.
That’s not me. At least not right now. Maybe never. My faith questions and probes. My hope is hiding under a heap of ash on a lot of days.
My faith fizzles?
My hands are tucked neatly by my side during Praise and Worship (though I have been known to tap a toe to the beat on occasion). My heart may whisper “Amen” during service but I’m not the one who’d ever cry it out from the top of my lungs. When I received the call with the news of Brooke’s death, I dropped to my knees – but not in praise of God.
What’s wrong with me? Why aren’t my hands raised? Why doesn’t my voice exclaim God’s praises? Why can’t I be a three-alarm Christian who without waiver gives witness to the goodness of the Lord upon receipt of the pink-slips, the MRI results, or the phone calls?
You see what Satan did there? He swooped in with one of his most efficient tactics – comparison. Comparison is a stab in the heart of any relationship. Contrasting my measure of faith with another’s based upon outward appearances puts the most important relationship of all at risk – my relationship with Christ, himself.
Satan’s goal is to extinguish our faith, pouring the sands of doubt, shame, and guilt over us. God’s promise is to turn those tactics around as means to fan the flames of our faith and to make us more like Christ. (Romans 8:28)
As a young Girl Scout, I learned to build fires to cook meals and for warmth and light on overnight campouts. A fire needs three things to ignite – fuel, oxygen, and a heat source. The flaming faithful seem to have all three in abundance with no nod of running short of fuel, oxygen, or heat. My soul barely flickers at times and at others has shriveled to cinder. My tender heart does not prove suitable tinder to ignite a flame.
Can mere coals suffice to provide sustaining nourishment? Can piles of cooling ash warm our hearts and souls during the cool night? How can we kindle our faith when morning conceals itself from the horizon?
Satan insinuates that there is no hope under the cooling ash. The Holy Spirit finds smoldering embers under the ash to be reignited. There is more power in those embers than might appear. This is the truth that Satan seeks to seclude. If faith the size of a mustard seed contains enough force to move mountains, do not discount the reserves of faith in cool, gray ash. Embers may not be as showy as an inferno of flames and you’ll likely never see them featured center ring at the circus but make no mistake – those cinders are reliable and steadfast.
Tucked away in the woods of North Louisiana, I could see power of an ember. At camp, we’d dig holes and bury them with foil-wrapped feasts. Just a short while later, that smoldering ash would transform a hamburger patty and some raw veggies into a nourishing meal. Even a simmering faith has the capacity to nourish your soul.
This is no ordinary fire blazing (simmering or even just building) inside you. Even the slightest whisper from the Word kindles the coals. Those embers of your heart can reach blistering temperatures without ever producing another flame.
When tinder and kindling meet the bellow, a delicate balance is required. Too little air and the flames never ignite. Too much air and the flames burn out before they take hold.
Embers on the other hand have already been tested by the flame. Simmering coals are what remains when water, gases, and other elements have been burned away from the log. These coals are especially sensitive to the bellow’s whisper. Unlike a pile of tinder and kindling, embers respond with to the bellow by burning with increased intensity.
And Satan would have me convinced that faith only sizzles when aflame. Perhaps the truth is that there is a lot more sizzle than fizzle hidden in a hushed hope.
Whether your faith dances in showy flames or smolders in a slow burn – all fires need to be fed. Let the whisper of God’s truth intensify your faith. In those valleys of our lives when the flames have subsided, the embers hidden beneath the ashes of bitterness, doubt, or exhaustion are set to spark hope with just a whisper of the Holy Spirit’s bellow .
When you feel that your faith isn’t enough, there is still a source of light and warmth. The only fire that will burn hotter than the sun for eternity is the Son and there are no means to extinguish this Fire. During our hungriest hour, our coldest night, or a day dark as death, Jesus Christ is the only source that can fully nourish our hunger, warm our souls, and light our ways.
The people of Zion were no strangers to hunger, cold, and darkness. However, the prophet Isaiah was sent to share good news with the them. “The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; He has sent me to bring good news to the afflicted, to bind up the brokenhearted, . . .To comfort all who mourn; to place on those who mourn in Zion a diadem instead of ashes, To give them oil of gladness instead of mourning, a glorious mantle instead of a faint spirit.” Isaiah 61:1-3. This is our good news! When cankerous circumstances have consumed our contentment or sickness has singed our spirits, God is waiting to bind up our broken hearts.
What’s God waiting for? Bind up my broken heart, crown me, anoint my head, and wrap me in a cape. Take away my mourning. Usher in the joy that comes in the morning. (Psalm 30:5) There’s no time like now. What’s God waiting for?
He’s waiting for each of us. He’s waiting for me. He’s waiting for you.
If we want God to make beauty of our ashes, we must be willing to let go of the ashes. We must be willing to set aside those things that make our spirits faint.
Although God is not surprised by the mess of this world (whether on a global level or a personal one), this isn’t the world that God created and deemed “good.” (Genesis 1:31). As a result of man’s free will, this world has become our spiritual refinery – whereby we are tested, refined, and increasingly purified, but we can’t pass through the furnace alone.
Relinquish your ruins. Seize your crown and cloak. Let the Holy Spirit anoint you. Bask in the eternal beauty that was once ash.
May the Holy Spirit kindle your faith. May you hear the truth that there is no right way to “do faith.” There is no room for comparison. God’s campground is large enough to accommodate all of us – whether you are a Three-Alarm Christian or you keep your hands by your side during praise and worship.
Can I get an AMEN!