This weekend I traded the Baltimore city lights for the star-dusted sky and ambulance sirens for an abundance of silence. Only 50 minutes north of a congested, overworked, and ashen city is the expanse of stewarded beauty that is creation. I was blessed to be able to pull away from the demands of everyday life at Intervarsity Christian Fellowship’s Winter Conference in Manchester, Maryland, and as much as I would enjoy continuing to search for words to adequately describe the scenery and the God we all worshiped this weekend, I want to cut right to how my expectations were not met at this retreat.
Coming out of the valley that was the last five months or so, I was so ready to be caught up in the overwhelming desire to emit praises from a gracious and humbled heart. I knew that the music was going to lead me to tears, the speaker was going to cause me to see a passage of Scripture in a new light, and the time with my friends would resemble time spent with family. Even though it only took the first night for all of those things to happen, I still wanted to feel that spiritual ecstasy that is almost impossible to describe. I wanted to be so encapsulated in the beauty of my Savior that my only desire was to keep glorifying His name. I wanted to feel the peace that surpasses all understanding (Phil. 4:7) and the abundant life (John 10:10) that Jesus promises to His beloved. Every human has the ability to engender intense emotions by the power of the mind, but I didn’t just want intense emotions. I wanted to be “on fire for God”.
The first night of the retreat we always go out and make s’mores around a huge bonfire. The fire was so large this time that we were fueling it with old window shutters and wooden drawers. The flames shot embers ten feet into the air, and I could only stand with my face to the flames for a few seconds before the heat became unbearable. The golden yellows and sunset oranges danced up and down as the flames rapidly consumed any and every substance with which they were presented. Yet, I couldn’t help but marvel at the bottom of the flames. The base and center of the fire was so hot and so clean that it burned the exact opposite color than the rest of the fire. I immediately remembered when my high school chemistry teacher told us to always wait until the flame of the Bunsen burner was blue before we began to melt a substance because the blue meant that the flame was pure, not contaminated with any unwanted particles. The blue parts of the bonfire were barely flickering. They were constant and continued to burn even when the fuel was beginning to run out, and the yellow flames that once licked the tree branches shrunk to their ashy remains.
During a period of reflection, I was half praying, half just kind of listening to see if God would bring any images or ideas to my mind. (I’ve found that’s how I typically hear from God.) Sure enough I began to think about the bonfire and how I so much wanted to be like it. I wanted to shoot up like the tallest flames and launch powerful prayers into the sky like embers. But God drew me down, down to the seemingly insignificant blue flames that are never the highlight of the show. He told me to substitute my desire to be the extravagant yellow flame that grows just to shrink again for the desire to be the stable, pure, constant blue flame. That was when I realized that this “spiritual high” I so craved wasn’t at all glorifying to God, but was meant to make me feel like I was being worshipful. In fact, like the colors of the ostentatious yellow flame and the pure blue flame, my desire was the complete opposite of God’s desire. God wanted me to recognize that one of the marks of a faithful follower is steadfastness and self-control (Prov. 25:28). God wanted me to resemble the fire of His Spirit, passionate and powerful but never lacking self-control and never looking for an audience.
I don’t want to be “on fire for God”. I want to resemble the fire of God.