One of the most common shortcomings in the life of believers is letting our lamp grow dim. In modern Christian lingo we often call this growing lukewarm. We don’t stop believing the things we know are true — things we couldn’t deny if someone put a gun to our head. But the fire inside has diminished. We have somehow, slowly, over the months and years cooled off from the joy and excitement we once enjoyed, especially as young Christians. John, indeed the Holy Spirit, addressed this problem in Revelation 2:4, “You have left your first love.”
Maybe we have stopped going to church because we are discouraged, or frustrated with the believers, or just feel too swamped by the necessities of life. Or maybe we are still going to church, but it feels more like a chore than happy fellowship in the family of God.
Maybe we haven’t been reading the Bible like we know we should. Maybe we are still reading it, but we hurry through our section or chapter, unmoved by what we read, perhaps unable to even recall it a few hours later.
Maybe we haven’t been praying except for a short snippet at meal times and before bed. Maybe we have been praying, but it is little more than going through the motions. The sense of being in the presence of God and talking to Him face-to-face is gone.
Maybe we have let our ministry fall to the ground. Maybe we are still pushing through the outward formalities of our ministry, but we are running on fumes. We wonder how long we can keep this up.
Brothers and sisters, it does not have to be this way. We don’t have to be a smoking wick in the work of the Lord, our lamp running out of oil. We don’t have to go through the Christian walk and ministry with the light flickering and dimming. We don’t have to struggle along: tired, defeated, and discouraged. May God help you to renew your vision. May He set your heart ablaze with excitement about being part of the most glorious cause in the entire world, indeed the entire universe.
When David’s life appeared to be falling apart, he encouraged himself in the Lord (1 Sam. 30:9). Not long after, God gave the kingdom into his hand. Sometimes the most amazing victories come after times of darkness, discouragement, and disappointment.
A similar experience in the Bible is seen in Paul’s encouragement to Timothy, “Stir up the gift that is in you.” Apparently, Timothy was either distracted or discouraged. Somehow, he had lost his focus and drive. He had lost his first love. Paul encouraged him to refocus, renew the flames, and burn brightly for Jesus. Now most of us haven’t had hands laid on us like Timothy did in the apostolic era, but all of us have been given spiritual gifts for a spiritual calling. God has a purpose for each of us in his great work, and his equipping will fit us for it.
In both of these instances, godly men grew despondent because they took their eyes off off God and put them on themselves or their circumstances. Turn your eyes back upon Jesus. When we take our eyes off our commander in chief, we start to flag in battle. We lose our vision for the battle — what we are called to do and how we are called to do it. And the Bible clearly says, “without a vision, my people perish.” When a vision for the work of God based on the word of God ceases to burn in our hearts like rocket fuel, there is nothing to replace it but the things of this world. And temporal things simply cannot deeply fulfill or deeply thrill the one who is born from above. They leave him feeling dry and empty.
Now being on fire for Jesus doesn’t mean that we won’t face difficulties and trials. But it does mean that some of the edge can be taken off those trials. We can face them with a song in our heart that neither the world, nor the Devil, nor our own flesh can extinguish. We can have joy and excitement and vision on the inside that buoys us up when the waves overwhelm us on the outside. “Joy unspeakable and full of glory.”
When I was a babe in the Lord — twenty years old and fresh out of the 2nd Ranger Battalion — I went to Bible camp for the first time. A Bible-college-student counselor took me aside for a big-brother talk. He suavely told me that he appreciated my zeal. But then he informed me that my zeal was going to cool off. And that was okay. It happens to all Christians. Zeal isn’t normal Christianity. Zeal is baby Christianity. Believers mature out of it. That was a zinger that stirred up some righteous indignation in my breast. I pointed at his chest and said, “I will never stop being zealous.” And I haven’t. I have had a few deep trials in my life that lowered the flames for a season, but the fire never went down to mere embers, and the fire has always come roaring back.
The truth is. The fire is not the anomaly. The lack of fire is the anomaly. It is not God’s design for us to limp through life burned out or unexcited! How can we not be on fire?! We are redeemed by the blood of Jesus — who is truly and eternally God-manifest-in-human-flesh! We are headed for Sweet Everlasting! We know the only message on the planet that is truth through and through! We are the only ones who know the way through the wilderness of this life to the promised land! We have what every man on earth needs.
If we are faithful with the fire on the altar of our heart, amazing things can happen. A few years ago, the Lord began taking me deeper than ever before into the beauties and wonders of holiness. The fire began to burn even hotter, incinerating frustrations, discouragements, and self-indulgences faster and more completely than ever before. Less of self and more of Jesus. I was more completely taken up with the work of God. I wasn’t necessarily putting in more hours. But there was more prayer, more Holy Spirit leading, and more divine blessing in those hours. There was less prayer for the ministry that I wanted and more gracious acceptance of the ministry that God opens the doors for. I am as focused as ever on higher ground in devotion, doctrine, and discernment (which has been my heart passion for decades). But my heart has been revived with a renewed vision for the great commission — the gospel and the basic truths of discipleship. All in all — there is more surrender, more death to self, more Jesus.
Brethren, if we let our heart be a living sacrifice on the altar, a continual burnt offering so to speak, we can walk through this defiled, unbelieving world with a heart whose first love is fully and truly Jesus the Crucified One. God will take us ever deeper into the beauties and wonders of Jesus and the beauties and wonders of holiness.
Eyes wide open, brain engaged, heart on fire.
Lee W. Brainard