"The Fire" is credited, where we live, as the cause for various illnesses and sometimes even emotions. Physically and emotionally, I can't say I really understand the idea.
Spiritually, however, I can clearly see how fire is a great image or metaphor for life... burning, blazing brightly, beautifully.... refining, changing us into more of the image of Christ.... consumingly fueled by joy for the greater pleasure in knowing God than any circumstance (fire) on earth could be or offer us. Scripture gives us lots to learn about life being refined in the fire (I Peter 1:7) and not wasting our lives on things that will burn up in the fire, ie. that won't last for eternity (I Corinthians 3:10-15), and about our God "who is a consuming fire." (Hebrews 12:29. And I'm sure there's much more.
I just listened to a great sermon by John Piper titled "Put in the Fire for the Sake of Prayer." The title was chosen from Zechariah 13: 8-9... Here's the first quote that jumped out for me:
"We have no right to go to God except through Jesus. If you try to go to God apart from Jesus, you may be incinerated. God is very dangerous apart from Jesus. He's angry apart from Jesus.
He has put Jesus Christ forward to remove his anger and to clothe us with righteousness so that we can walk right into the flame of his holiness and not be consumed. Jesus is the only hope that any prayer will ever be heard."
This reminds me of a quote from John Calvin that I recently came across in Transforming Grace, an outstanding book that is nailing me quite well, written by Jerry Bridges. (p. 85) Here's what Calvin wrote...
"All God's promises depend on Christ alone. This is a notable assertion and one of the main articles of our faith. It depends in turn upon another principle- that it is only in Christ that God the Father is graciously inclined towards us. His promises are the testimonies of His fatherly goodwill towards us. Thus it follows that they are fulfilled only in Christ... Secondly, we are incapable of possessing God's promises till we have received the remission of our sins and that comes to us through Christ alone."
What a powerful lesson to dwell on: we have nothing to stand on but Christ, and in Him we have all of God's faithfulness to all of his promises (Romans 8:32). As Bridges has reminded me- our merits and demerits do not matter the least little bit to determine God's faithfulness towards those who are in Christ. He is faithful to us, gracious to us who believe in His Son, for His Son's sake, just as he is faithful and gracious to His Son.
Finally, Piper concluded his sermon also quoting Calvin and though it's a little less connected to this theme, this theme is still compellingly worth noting. Again from Calvin:
"It is therefore necessary that we should be subject from the first to the last to the scourges of God [Piper explained this to mean "the fire"] in order that we may, from the heart, call on him, for our hearts are enfeebled by prosperity so that we cannot make an effort to pray."
Piper went on to add, "If that's not the American church I don't know what is. We are enfeebled by prosperity so that we can scarcely make the effort to pray because so many other good things, prosperous things, right things, fill our powerless lives. So would you resolve with me that this simply will not happen to you in 2009?...This meaning that our hearts are enfeebled by prosperity so that we cannot make the effort to pray. Would you resolve with me... 'I'm not going to be enfeebled by my prosperity?"
YES. I want this pleasure, this grace-strengthened power to really live.
The three points Piper suggested to make such a resolution for prayer happen, and to make 2009 a better year of prayer than any of us has yet known, are: 1) set a time and a place to pray and be there, 2) pray the Word, and 3) pray through concentric circles- global to local to personal- or whatever order you choose.
I am eager for this resolve to bear fruit in me, and in you with me- in us, this year. May it be for the praise of His glorious grace and for our great joy in Him!