Summary: This sermon discusses three threats to our personal devotional life.
Tending the Fire
We have an altar in the human heart, on which burns a fire, kindled by the grace of God. On this altar rests the deepest allegiance of a life given to God. What ever else may be deferred, keep the fire burning. The flame must not go out.
There is a passage from the sixth chapter of Leviticus (6:8-13) which describes the duties of the priests of the tabernacle in handling the burnt offerings. These priests had many tasks, but among them stood one supreme duty.
The fire on the altar, the eternal flame on which sacrifices were offered to God, was to be tended with care.
Other duties could be postponed.
Other tasks could be deferred.
But the fire on the altar was to be kept burning because it was the visible symbol of God’s presence among his people.
This sacred fire, where God’s people offered their gifts and rededicated their lives, was not to go out.
I had a seminary professor who told us not to try to write everything down, concentrate on listening and just take notes on the important stuff. One student asked, “How do we know what is important?” the professor replied, “If I say it more than once, it is important.”
Three times in this passage God says the same thing. IT IS IMPORTANT!!!
We are far removed from those ancient days and customs. We don’t worship with burnt offerings. We don’t maintain an eternal flame in our churches.
But there is a sense in which this challenge... to keep the altar fire burning remains true and binding on all who believe.
For the Christian, the inner flame of devotion to God, which represents the consecration of our lives to his service, burns on the altar of the heart.
That inner fire of devotion must burn brightly if the outer life of the Christian is going to reflect, in word and deed, the light of God in the world.
Whatever else the person may choose to do or not to do, the sacred fire on the altar of the human heart must be tended and kept burning. It must not go out.
The Bible uses fire as a metaphor.
John the Baptist said, "/ baptize you with water...but he (Jesus) will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire." (Matt. 3:11)
Jesus said, "/ came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!" (Luke 12:49)
The significance of all this is that Christians are supposed to be on fire, burning with enthusiasm, ablaze with vitality, and aglow about the things of God.
It is difficult to define that. A lot of things in life defy definition.
Someone asked Louis Armstrong to define rhythm, and he said, "Rhythm is what if you’ve got it, you don’t need a definition, and if you don’t got it, no definition is any good."
It’s the same with the fire of the Spirit—if you’ve got it, no definition is necessary, and to those who don’t have it, it is very difficult to explain.
Charles J. Connick was a craftsman who became famous for his stained glass windows. He tells about a time when one of his young apprentices came to him and asked if he could borrow his tools. Connick asked him why, and the young apprentice said, "I’m very dissatisfied with my work. I’d like to use your tools to see if I can do better."
In about a week Connick went back and said, "How are things going?" The young man replied, "Not so good, sir." One of the older artists in the workshop overheard the conversation and interrupted to say to the young man, "You not only need the tools of the master, you need his fire!"
John Wesley was asked why so many people came to hear him preach and he replied, "God set me on fire, and people come to watch me burn."
Unfortunately, in a world like ours, there are many threats to the interior life which, left unchecked, can extinguish the fire of our devotion to God.
1. One danger to the inner fire is EXHAUSTION.
No fire can burn without fuel. The priests in ancient Israel had to ensure a ready supply of wood, lest the flames be exhausted by a lack of fuel.
There is the story of a man who was restless and dissatisfied with his job. He explained his problem to a wise friend, who replied with a request. "Inhale and fill your lungs." The man did. "Now exhale as fully as you can." The man complied. The friend then said, "Now before you inhale, exhale again." The man tried, but couldn’t. Regaining his composure, the man asked the reason behind this silly request. The friend replied, "That’s exactly what you’ve been doing in your life, and that’s why you are all used up."