After dessert on Thanksgiving Day, the big kids and I went out to the (now vacant) goat pen to build a fire in the pit they dug. For my money, building a fire is the least expensive form of therapy. There is something inexplicably soothing, grounding, and time-suspending about staring into those flames.
Every time I build a fire I also get the sense that I am doing something akin to pastoral care. This may sound strange–not to mention offensive if the metaphor is taken too far–but let me share some of the parallels. Perhaps they will encourage you in how you care for the souls of others.
1. Different wood burns at different rates
Think about the wood that you use. In our case, we had a few pieces of purchased firewood from last year. We also had part of our neighbor’s tree that blew into our yard during that terrific storm in late August. As you might guess, the long-dried firewood burned wonderfully while even the twigs from the recently-felled branches did not seem to catch on.
Likewise, people are consumed with spiritual zeal at much different paces (again, do not read too specifically into the metaphor). Some light up quickly and burn consistently. For others, there is a lot of resistance and hissing. You have both types in your life. The ideal way to make the fire work is when the two are mingled together so the consistent, strong burn of one can consistently share fire with the other. In church life this translates into small groups and Bible studies.
2. Bright flashes rarely last
Consider the endurance of some fuel over others. Toss in some newspaper or thin, dry bark and you can get some spectacular flames. For about 15 seconds, that is. The kids loved the flares of light, yet they are soon past. On the other hand, there is nothing dazzling about the pieces of wood that break off and become the “coals” at the bottom of the fire, yet without these a long-lasting fire is unsustainable.
In Christian community, we can often be most impressed by those high-energy, charismatic believers whose lives look like a fireworks display of vision and passion. At least, we imagine God is most impressed with them. Yet the Scriptures suggest that God is more impressed with faithfulness and endurance than flair.
3. It’s not dead, it just needs to be tended
Throughout our fire experience, the flames would die down and one of the children would panic, “The fire’s dead!” To which I responded–often enough that the other children began quoting it before I could, “It’s not dead, it just needs to be tended.” All it needed was a little more oxygen, a little more kindling, or clearing out suffocating debris, and five minutes later the fire was bright and warm again.
There are times when our own faith or the faith of a brother or sister seems to be snuffed out. But if they are truly born again, the faith is not dead, it just needs to be tended. So we pray. We listen. We sit with the person and feel what they feel. We invite them to listen to God’s word with us. We plead with the Spirit to blow on the embers.
May we be a people who tend to the fire together. May its light and heat bless others and bring honor to the One who ignited the original spark.