My column in Evangelicals Now for the New Year –
Why is there deadwood? Because it has not remained in the vine. It is attached to the vine but is no longer living. Sometimes you can’t tell until a wind comes and breaks it off, and the fire comes and renews what still has life. I wonder how many churches will survive when the storm comes? I wonder how much of our work will have turned out to be wood, stubble and straw, when the fire comes to test the quality of each person’s work (1 Cor. 3:14).
There is a fire of persecution and the fire of the Spirit. That’s why the Scottish Presbyterian Church (and many Presbyterian churches throughout the world) took as its emblem the burning bush with the words ‘nec tamen consumebatur’ – ‘yet it was not consumed’. The fire of persecution did not destroy the church, and the fire of the presence of God renewed her. My own experience of ministry is that if the church is to continue to grow and develop, it is not our strategy plans or new programmes that are the primary need, but spiritual renewal and the pruning done by the Father. At times this can be extremely painful – when the One whose eyes are like blazing fire (Revelation 1:16) are on you it can be somewhat unnerving! – but it was always ultimately cleansing and invigorating.
Perhaps the church in the West is carrying way too much deadwood – including in its leadership? Perhaps in this New Year, both corporately and individually, we need to know something of Pascal’s ‘fire’ experience? On Monday 23 November 1654 between the hours of 10:30am and 12:30pm Pascal had such an experience that he kept these words sown into his coat for the rest of his life:
‘GOD of Abraham, GOD of Isaac, GOD of Jacob not of the philosophers and of the learned. Certitude. Certitude. Feeling. Joy. Peace. GOD of Jesus Christ. My God and your God. Your GOD will be my God. Forgetfulness of the world and of everything, except GOD. He is only found by the ways taught in the Gospel. Grandeur of the human soul. Righteous Father, the world has not known you, but I have known you. Joy, joy, joy, tears of joy.
‘I have departed from him: They have forsaken me, the fount of living water. My God, will you leave me? Let me not be separated from him forever. This is eternal life, that they know you, the one true God, and the one that you sent, Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ. I left him; I fled him, renounced, crucified. Let me never be separated from him. He is only kept securely by the ways taught in the Gospel: Renunciation, total and sweet. Complete submission to Jesus Christ and to my director. Eternally in joy for a day’s exercise on the earth. May I not forget your words. Amen.’
Or as Stuart Townend puts it in his additional chorus to Cowper’s O For A Closer Walk with God:
O Fire of God, come burn in me
Renew a holy passion
Till Christ my deepest longing be
My never-failing fountain
Or maybe we just prefer to talk and sing about the Fire – but we don’t want the real thing – because it burns?