January 16, 2021

On Fire … Or Burned Out?

Painting by Mark Vallen

Painting by Mark Vallen

The email asked what the sender, I’m sure, meant as a good question for good Christians: “Are you on fire for Jesus?” It was an invitation to a conference, or to watch some service online. I forget which. But, as the email went on to say, if we are to see our world changed, we all need to be on fire for Jesus. And it’s up to us to change our world, you know. Certainly not the responsibility of the one who created it. He needs us to do the changing, and we have to be on fire to accomplish our mission.

So just what does it mean to be “on fire for Jesus”? Is that a good thing?

I’ve looked in the Bible, but I can’t find many who were “on fire.” Not even Jesus was on fire for Jesus. “In this world you will have many troubles.” Not exactly the motto for an on-fire savior, is it?  Now Elijah … Elijah called down fire from heaven and was caught up to heaven in a fiery chariot, but in between he discovered that God does not speak in fire, but in a whisper. That put the damper on Elijah being a man of fire.

So is being on fire a good thing?

On Tuesday, two boys—ages 17 and 18—set themselves on fire in Tibet to protest Chinese rule in that country. That brings the total to 104 Tibetans who have chosen self-immolation since 2009 as their way to speak out against what they consider injustice. They very literally were on fire for their country. But what good has it done? Two more families mourning the loss of those they loved, and today China still rules Tibet.

You say that is not what being on fire for Jesus means? Ok then, what does it mean?

Enthusiasm, you say. It means being excited about Jesus. In what way? Just how am I supposed to show excitement for Jesus? Does it require me to wear a t-shirt with some cheesy Christian slogan on it?

I have been on fire for Jesus. I have been to the conferences and listened to the CDs and sung the songs and, yes, bought the t-shirt. I’ve been really really really excited for Jesus. I’ve had my early morning devotions and read more than one chapter in my Bible at a time. I’ve gone to church both Sunday morning and Sunday night. I’ve even gone to men’s very early morning prayer. I’ve given up R-rated movies and cussing and eating devil’s food cupcakes. And yet China still rules Tibet.

Or, in this case, many of those closest to me still have not found the Gospel to be good news. My parents still think being good people is enough to get into heaven. My neighbors still find their greatest satisfaction in the things they can buy. My coworkers still insist they can build a great life on their own without any help from God, if there even is a God.

So consider me burned out. Do you know when I realized I was no longer on fire for Jesus? When one of my employees, ironically enough nicknamed Smokey, who is an agnostic, came and encouraged me recently when I was having a really bad day. I had let my Christian mask slip and actually said I was having a crappy day. (Christians who are on fire for Jesus never have bad days. And they don’t say “crappy” either.) Somehow the fact that I was just me, not the super-Christian-blazing-on-Holy-Ghost-fire me, was enough to allow Smokey to be herself in sharing how she, too, was having a crappy day. And in that sharing we both found that we could get up and keep going. It felt really good to be real. It was a great freedom to not have to wear a mask. I could breath much more easily without it.

Count me among the holy extinguished. I am no longer on fire for Jesus. I’m just me, take me or leave me. I love Jesus very imperfectly. I have good days and crappy days and a lot of days that are a swirl of the two. When God whispers I sometimes hear him and sometimes don’t. If being on fire would help me to see and hear and know God better, I would dump a can of Holy Ghost gasoline on my head and strike the match. I have found that doesn’t work. From now on you will have to deal with me as I am, the non-burning man. I hope that is not too great a disappointment.


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