I recently was in a conversation with a friend, talking about the challenge of being a Christian over the past ten months. For many believers, pastors, and churches, this has been the most challenging season of following Jesus on record, it's quite simply been a challenge. Now, it's not as though challenge doesn't come with the territory of following Jesus. And it's not as though we are somehow exempt from suffering. Any believer with the slightest amount of biblical understanding and spiritual maturity knows Jesus meant it when He told us that "in this world, we will have troubles." What has made this season extra challenging for so many of us is that the ways we used to be able to "tend the fire of our own soul" have been blocked, complicated, obfuscated or outright eliminated. The challenge of the season is only a part of the struggle. For many of us, the bigger issue has been the way's we have historically dealt with trials and tribulations, the tools we've used, like Church gatherings, prayer group, human contact and support, are gone. The ways we have historically practiced our faith have been hijacked by isolation, distancing, crowd restrictions and masks, to name a few.
Many believers have found themselves lower than they've ever been because the fire of their faith is dwindling.
What do you do when the old pathways and tools for spiritual success and personal intimacy are no longer accessible to you?
You find a new way.
You do whatever you have to do. The one thing you cannot afford to do is let the fire dissipate.
The Apostle Paul once wrote a letter of encouragement to the Christians who lived in Rome during the height of the Roman imperial persecution of Christianity. After much beautiful and powerful philosophy and theology, as he was nearing the letter's end, Paul gives some bare-boned, basic "Christian living" instructions.
He said in Romans 12:11, "Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervour, serving the Lord."
He doesn't give us much by way of instruction as to how... just that, above all, you need to never, ever, ever....ever... let yourself lack in zeal/spiritual fervour. It's almost as though he wanted to reiterate how critical our soul temperature is and figured if you care enough, you'll find a way to keep up your spiritual fervour. After all, necessity is the mother of invention, isn't it?
There are a few ideas in this instruction from Paul which bear consideration in this difficult time of trials we are all facing.
Your zeal and your spiritual fervour being kept up is crucial for life.
Your zeal and spiritual fervour are your responsibility to manage, no one else's.
Never means never; There is no excuse or exemption. In the prison or the palace, the pit or the platform, we are called to keep our spiritual fervour alive and bright.
Remember, Paul is writing to a people who were being persecuted for their faith in Christ, and he tells them, "there's one job that is important above them all, "keep your spiritual zeal!" Furthermore, there is no time it's not important, and it's in the times where you are likely most tempted to let it go (persecution...pandemics...etc), that you need to resolve all the more to do whatever it takes to keep the flame of faith ablaze. In a time where you'd think these people would be looking for an olive branch, or permission to step back and take a break while the storm passes by, Paul says, do not allow the fire to dwindle and fade because the Holy fire in our soul is the key to everything else. In other words, the state of your soul is the state of your life. If the light and life of God fade within you, it's only a matter of time before darkness, destruction, and despair are all around you.
As a believer, your most important job is managing the fire of faith within you. From this internal, heart level reality, everything else flows and goes.
My great grandfather was a lighthouse keeper back in the early 20th century. (If you're interested in geeking out on the history of Gannett rock lighthouse, check it out here) There is much to unpack and glean from the job of a lighthouse keeper, and it has much to say about the life of faith (which perhaps we will explore other lessons in future posts), but for today's purposes, there is one thing we must realize from the lighthouse keeper. There is one job that rises above all other roles, tasks and responsibilities for a lighthouse keeper, and that job is... make sure that light stays lit. No matter what. If the light goes out, disaster will eventually ensue. The light being on, and staying on, no matter the storm or the season, or the circumstance, is a matter of life and death.
This week, may you tend the flame of your faith, even if it's hard, no, especially if it's hard... and may you realize that the light is life.
Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." John 8:12