(written in October 2016)
For days, the familiar jungle landscape has been disfigured by hazy smoke. It is burning season.
Today the fires were closer than any uncontrolled fires I have ever seen. The chief burned his crop area, but the fire went past it, scorching a path through the jungle, until the end of the village where my coworkers live was half-surrounded by a semicircle of fire.
Imagine the largest roaring bonfire you have ever heard, and turn the volume up. That loud, crackling sound was our background music all afternoon. There were moments that my ears tricked me into thinking it was the sound of a storm, with strong winds and distant rain.
It made me want to call Smoky the Bear, or drag everyone into an underground shelter to hide. Ingrained in my early childhood memories is this directive: when fire approaches, leave the vicinity. Fast. But the Neno do this every year. The village itself is clear from trees, brush and undergrowth, so it is safe. Fire can’t burn across empty patches of dirt. Science. So there we stayed, everyone occupied with their daily activities, seemingly paying little attention to the fires around us.
The words of Hebrews 12:29 blazed brightly across my mind,
“For our God is a consuming fire.”
Despite the many times I have meditated on these words, they have taken on new meaning for me during burning season.
God is a consuming fire. He comes, blazing like a wildfire. We may have our own premeditated idea of who we think God is, of where we would like Him to work, of how we expect Him to act in our lives. What we often fail to realize is that once we invite God to begin His work in our lives, what happens next will be out of our hands. It is as if we allow God’s “spark” to be released in us, and then there is no turning back.
Imagine that we ask God to work in a certain area of life – one overwhelming situation, one difficult relationship where we need His grace, one important decision. God steps in, works, moves, and acts, so we are thankful. Then all of a sudden, we realize that God is not finished. Oh, no. He has only just begun. That one small area was the starting point – the spark for a fire that would start blazing a path across your entire life, even the areas you didn’t think needed any intervention at all. Yet God must think differently, because all of a sudden, He is burning through thick underbrush that you would have rather left alone. You wonder what on earth you unleashed when you asked God to work in your life.
Like a fire blazing through the jungle, God is unstoppable. He is unpredictable, grand, majestic, awe-inspiring, tremendous, splendid, glorious, holy. He is uncontainable. And none of the adjectives we could use, in English or Neno or any other language, do Him justice. God is indescribable.
In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, written by C.S. Lewis, Jesus is represented by the lion Aslan. While visiting the kingdom of Narnia, four children meet Mr. and Mrs. Beaver, who describe Aslan to them.
“Is he a man?” asked Lucy.
“Aslan a man!” said Mr Beaver sternly. Certainly not. I tell you he is King of the wood and the son of the great emperor-beyond- the-sea. Don’t you know who is the King of the Beasts? Aslan is a lion – the Lion, the great lion.”
“Ooh!” said Susan, “I’d thought he was a man. Is he – quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”
“That you will, dearie, and no mistake” said Mrs Beaver; “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”
“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.
“Safe?” said Mr Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
And that is the Truth that overarches everything. Of course God is neither safe, nor tame, nor predictable. Yet since God is good, He can be trusted, even when the flames roar.
Charred, barren areas of your life may look like God made a huge mistake. Why would He have ruthlessly destroyed what seemed healthy and alive? It may have been wild, untamed jungle, but at least plants grew there, and animals were sheltered. Now – nothing.
Yet in the jungle, out of death comes life. From ashes come rich, fertile soil. After the burning, comes the sequence of planting, growing, and eventually a bountiful harvest.
In the midst of these and other Burning Season meditations, I found myself on my knees one night, asking God, the All-Consuming Fire, to do His work and have His way in my life. You see, even though God has worked in my life for years, I know there is more. And I long for more. I long for God. I long to see Him move in power, in me, around me, and through me. It was a sobering moment of prayer, however, as I realized more intensely than ever, that I have no idea where His fire will end up, what areas of my life will be forever changed or destroyed, or what crops and fruit He plans to cultivate.
Do you want more, friend? Do you want God? Do you want Him to work in your life? Just ask. And then allow the spark to be kindled in your heart, as God begins to move in ways that are mighty and powerful, perhaps even terrifying at first.
You might be tempted to do the only logical thing – try to control the fire of God – set a limit, a boundary. If that fails, you might consider running as fast as possible in the opposite direction. But please don’t. The God who is a Consuming Fire is also Good. He is Love. He knows all and sees all and has a purpose and a plan, not just for the world, but for you as an individual, if you will give your life and your future to Him.
So my challenge to you today, is to do the unthinkable. Ask God to burn away anything in your life that does not glorify Him, to take control of your heart in a deeper way than ever before, to make you fertile ground for whatever He wished to plant. You may want to find a friend you trust to pray with you about this, to help you remember your petition and commitment in days ahead.
Burning season for the Neno people comes in September and October, a regular part of their yearly routine.
In our lives, however, burning season may start at any moment.