I love the chill that comes suddenly when the sun goes down in the mountains. The campfires are crackling against it, and you three and your cousin are laughing as you throw sticks and pine straw and anything else you can find into the flames. I am watching you carefully and regretting dressing you in highly flammable pj’s, but your Daddy simply says “Respect the fire” and then smiles and tells me not to worry. I try to settle in and take his advice.
Respect the fire.
There is so much I want you to know. My heart aches with the fullness of it all. Do you see the fire? Feel it? Do you know we can’t live without it? It is survival in a bitterly cold land. It is light that cannot be overwhelmed by the darkest night. Do you see its beauty? Its brightness and its depth? Do you sense its power? Its ability to consume, its danger and intensity? Do you love it and respect it and fear it and delight in it?
I spend so much of my life drawing lines, building walls. I tell you what is appropriate and what is not, what you may say and do and what is unacceptable speech and behavior. I give you laws and rules and sometimes it feels like it’s working and mostly it feels like it is not.
And I know, and have known for so long, that the rules are not enough. I do, I know it with all of my being. The law can’t save. The rules are so necessary for life to work, but they won’t change your heart. And I am torn with the weight of it, because even as I correct and train and discipline, what my soul is desperately crying out is for you to respect the fire.
Our God is a consuming fire.
I stare into the crackling flames and remember who He is. He is life and light and we can’t live without Him. He is holy and powerful and if we get too close to Him without the covering of Christ’s righteousness we will die. He is uncontainable and wonderful and comforting and terrifying all at the same time.
When you hit your sister or lie to my face or complain about everything under the sun, what I most desperately want is for you to respect the fire. Throwing rules and consequences at you will contain the situation but it won’t transform you. Nothing in your heart will change until you come face to face with the Maker, and see His beauty and power and goodness and justice, and realize that in your sin you will be consumed by this fire unless you take the merciful provision of forgiveness accomplished at the cross. And then you can delight in His presence instead of being consumed by it, and the fruit of your life will be produced by something so much deeper than what I can manipulate from the outside.
All these things are swirling around in my heart at the campfire tonight, and you guys are just laughing in delight as the pine straw goes up in flames. I laugh too, and while I once again find myself in humble awareness of my helplessness to transfer the life-giving fear of the Lord into your hearts, I also once again find peace in knowing that I am not the author of your story.
No, I am not, but I know who is.