August 11, 2014
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine! When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, nor will the flame burn you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. Isaiah 43:1-4
We’ve all been hearing about the terrible fires out West. Ironically, I’ve just completed an article for the magazine that goes out to Costco members about fire safety planning in the home (you can read it in the October issue of Costco Connection).
Yosemite National Park in California has been battling fires, but according to the latest update, the largest one, named El Portal after a nearby town, is contained. Other fires in the park, started by lightening strikes, are being managed.
During a visit to Yellowstone National Park a few years back, I read about the historic fire of 1988. That summer was the driest in the park’s recorded history, leading to 8,500 burned acres by mid-July. But within a week, fire encompassed nearly 99,000 acres, and by the end of the month drought and high winds made the fire almost unmanageable. Firefighters around the country arrived to help in what became the nation’s largest fire-fighting effort, and the effort made national news. On the worst day, in August, winds pushed the fire across more than 150,000 acres. The first snows in September helped dampen the flames, and the immediate threat to life and property was over, although the last of the fire wasn’t extinguished until November.
But the most interesting thing I learned about fire that day was that fire isn’t always bad. Naturally occurring wildfire, from lightning, can be good, contrary to early opinions that it’s destructive and should always be suppressed. Fire clears away forest floor debris to make way for new growth, and thins the tree canopy to let in more light to stimulate this rebirth.
What I found most fascinating was this: lodgepole pines, which make up nearly 80% of Yellowstone’s forests, have cones that are sealed by resin. It’s only the intense heat of a fire that opens them up, releasing the seeds inside so they can spread to make more pines.
Fire is a given in life, both the physical and the emotional and spiritual kinds. To prevent real fires, we do everything we can to avoid them—buying/renting places whose wiring has been inspected, installing smoke detectors, purchasing flameproof sleepwear, teaching our kids not to play with matches, etc.
But sometimes fire comes, no matter what we do. A few winters ago, during the Christmas season, we had outdoor lights, plugged into a timer in an outdoor light switch, using all perfectly safe equipment. But one night Joe smelled and saw smoke near the doorway, and we called the fire department. Whew—what a scene! Three fire trucks, police, sirens flashing…My neighbor came over and asked if I was burning the Christmas cookies I always make for him and his family! The fire fighters tramped all over the house, using an infrared camera to find the source of the smoke. Turns out the outdoors socket was half-buried in snow, causing unseen smoldering that could have burst into flame. One of the firefighters also gave us a few tips about things he saw around the house that he felt were small fire hazards.
Joe and I were grateful nothing bad happened that night, but believe me, we’ve had other “fires” in our lives, those difficult emotional, financial and people-related infernos that threatened our well-being. Sometimes the “flames” were so intense, I wondered how we’d survive.
I love the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the Old Testament book of Daniel. King Nebuchadnezzar threatened to throw them into a blazing fire because they would not bow down and worship his statue: “And what god is there who can deliver you out of my hands?” he taunted (3:15). But the trio stood their ground: “We do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it. But even if He does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up” (3:16-18).
What amazing faith! Faced with a horrible death, they refused to renounce God and trusted Him to either save them or help them die. Perhaps you know the end of the story, how a raging Nebuchadnezzar order the fire heated seven times hotter, tied up the three “rebels” and had them thrown in (the fire was so hot the soldiers who did the deed died). “Then King Nebuchadnezzar leaped to his feet in amazement and asked his advisers, ‘Weren’t there three men that we tied up and threw in to the fire?’ They replied, ‘Certainly, O king.” He said, ‘Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods’” (Daniel 3:24, 25). Bible scholars and commentators speculate that what Nebuchadnezzar saw in the furnace may have been an angel or possibly a preincarnate appearance of Jesus—at any rate, the king realized whoever this being was, he was mightier than his gods, who could never have saved the men. But Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego emerged from the fire so unscathed that in addition to not being harmed a bit, they didn’t even smell like smoke!
No, Scripture doesn’t shy away from affirming that everyone—Christians or not—will go through the fire in this life. Job says, “Man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward” (Job 5:7), and Jesus states, “In this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33).
But in the latter half of that verse, He also assures us, “Take heart! I have overcome the world.”
I have passed through my fires—and I will future ones, too—because Someone walked through the flames with me, the God I’d given my life to, whose commandments and promises I’d studied. One of them is this: “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed” (1 Peter 1:6, 7). My troubles have cleared out the “deadwood” in my life and allowed God’s light to shine through. Just as God designed the lodgepole pine to flourish under fire, He always brings new growth in my faith through my fiery trials.
And He will do the same for you if you are His child (John 1:12), right up to the very end: “The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack, and will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom. To Him be glory forever and ever” (2 Timothy 4:18).