Summary: 1. You have to decide what is of value. 2. You have to let go. 3. You have to seek out others who have been through the fire.
A few weeks ago Eli and I attended the National Outreach Convention, along with our wives, in beautiful San Diego, California. Shortly after we returned, fires blazed through that entire area. After the convention Sue and I drove to one quaint little town which was filled with antique and gift shops. The white wooden buildings of the small town of Julian were nestled in the mountains. The town barely escaped the flames by a fortunate diversion of the winds. But much of the area we drove through was totally devastated by the fires. Sue and I also went to a wonderful little pie factory just outside of Julian and had coffee and pie as we watched the pies being made in an assembly line behind glass. It is possible that little pie factory was destroyed. Much of what we saw on that drive to Julian no longer exists, so the Southern California fires took on a special interest to us. Thousands of acres of forest now lay in ashes. Many people lost their lives, many more lost their homes. Schools were closed. A National Football League game between the San Diego Chargers and the Miami Dolphins had to be moved to Tempe, Arizona. Fast-moving fires raging in Southern California were fanned by low humidity and hot Santa Ana winds blowing 30-35 mph and gusting even higher. One man who narrowly escaped said, “I looked outside my house and I thought I was in the middle of hell.”
What do you do when the world is on fire? What if you knew that everything you owned would be burned up completely in a matter of minutes and you would be able to save little if anything? I remember being on the volunteer fire department in the little town where I was serving several years ago. I stood next to a family who had just lost everything they had in a fire. The thing the mother lamented more than anything else was the loss of the family pictures. It had never before occurred to me that pictures would be important, because I was young and at that point we had so few pictures and such a short history as a family. But it was as if someone had taken all her memories away.
But there are other ways that our lives go up in flames. You experience a painful divorce. You are notified that you will no longer have a job. A child, a spouse or a parent is diagnosed with a terminal illness. You go through a financial crisis. You are betrayed by a friend or loved one. Your health deteriorates. You fail at something important. Your life is reduced to ashes. What do you do? I am assuming this morning that you understand that I am coming from the perspective that the only way to get through these fiery trials is to know God and have him in your life. That is the given from which everything else I am saying comes. Those of us who have gone through these trials with God cannot imagine what it would be like to have to go through them without him.
So, given that assumption, the first thing that is necessary to survive the fire is: You have to decide what is of value. Sooner or later all of us come to a place where life takes us unawares and presents us with a devastating loss. No one gets by in life unscathed. The Bible says, “Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you” (1 Peter 4:12, KJV). The difference between those who make it and those who do not is whether or not they had clearly defined values in their lives. Those who make it in life see beyond the present circumstance to the meaning and purpose of their lives. Psychologists studying the people in death camps have discovered that the difference between those who survive and those who do not is often attributable to whether or not the person had a sense of values that went beyond their present circumstances. Viktor Frankl, a concentration camp survivor who later became a world famous psychiatrist, said, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s way.”
Here is what Peter says should mold our values: “Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives” (2 Peter 3:11). If you do not understand who God is, who you are, and what your responsibility to him is, then life is going to overtake you and consume you. If you do not understand what is of ultimate value in life, then you are not prepared for the conflagrations of life. If all you do is exist from day to day, then the fire storms of life will overtake you and leave your life in ashes. You have to know that there is more to come after this life is over. You have to understand that there is more to life than meets the eye. You have to be in touch with the spiritual side of life. You have to build your life on eternal values — the things that will last beyond this present world. You must have the knowledge that God cares for you, has a plan for you, and the faith that he will see you through the worst that life can bring. You have to be grounded in the reality that you are important to God, and that he cares deeply for you, in spite of the pain of life you are now experiencing. You have to understand that we are in a spiritual battle. You have to believe there is a higher power and a greater plan than you may be aware of. You have to believe that even though you don’t understand all that is happening to you, one day you will. It will all be made clear.