Campfires are wonderful things, aren’t they? Sometimes I think we go through all the rigmarole of camping just so we can sit beside the fire and roast marshmallows. They are the warm center of it all.
My own campfire of faith had become a very close and intimate thing to me. I had spent years tending it, keeping it lit and warm. I shared it with anyone and everyone, even carrying firebrands into the dark to spread the light of my fire. Not only was I familiar and comfortable with my personal fire, but by its light I saw and understood everything around me.
But if you have ever sat beside a fire all through the night, then you know there’s a certain point when the fire just isn’t quite as warm and comfortable as it used to be. It’s so cold before the dawn. It’s vibrance begins to fade as the morning light creeps in. So you scoot a little closer, put a little more wood on.
But no matter what I did to stoke up my fire, I just couldn’t get warm anymore.
This experience was so contrary to everything I understood about my faith and about the promises available to me in Jesus Christ. Promises of a Comforter and Guide, a Holy Spirit Power, and being born again a new creature in Christ, transforming from glory to glory into the image of His glory. Predicated on the idea that none of this was contingent upon my best efforts, because my best was but filthy rags before His righteousness, I couldn’t conceive of how my faithful expectations weren’t being met.
The only one who could effect real change in me was His Holy Spirit, but I wasn’t seeing change. I was seeing repetition and excuses, and I was burning out.
I started to question what was the day to day, brass tacks, rubber meets the road kind of experience I could expect from my relationship with Christ. The more I dug into this question, the more I began to realize that the answer wasn’t going to be found in perfecting my ritual or getting my theology right. I was discovering a whole new way of understanding the world around me. I felt like I was uncovering a new reality.
The only way I could describe it was that it was like watching the sun rise over my little fire, completely overwhelming it’s petty light and meager warmth. And I’m left standing over the ashes wondering, “But if this isn’t the way, then where do I go from here? If the light is going to shine on everything, then how will I know the true way?”
But the deepest question of all was, “How do I walk in the light of the risen sun and still experience campfire intimacy with the Father of Lights?”
When you’re using ritual to create intimacy, the tendency is to turn ritual into law. Then, instead of having a deep relationship, you end up with a shallow, contractual agreement. I couldn’t figure out how to bring what I had learned from tending my fire into the new day while avoiding that trap, but I desperately didn’t want to lose the intimacy I had with Spirit to some ritualistic checklist.
That’s why I went into the wilderness to reenact this vision of the dying fire and rising sun. I wanted to experience it first hand and see what fears I could shed.
Well into the night, I wrote in my journal as though Spirit were speaking to me:
“Jed, my command to be holy as I am holy is an invitation, not a threat. Being holy is not something you do, it’s something you are.
“You do not practice the disciplines in order to partake of the Divine. I have already given you that in my Son. Practicing the disciplines is simply a way of life, the Kingdom way of life. The disciplines are our culture.
“My call for you to be holy is my invitation for you to join us in the Kingdom way of life as a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven. Not to become a citizen, but to live as the one you are.
“As you live in the world, I have asked you to be an emissary for the Kingdom of Heaven. Live as a citizen of the Kingdom in foreign lands so that the nations may know the Kingdom is come, the sun is risen.
“But what good is your citizenship if you forget the culture and customs of the Kingdom? When I come to find fellowship with my people, will I find fellowship with you? Or will you be a foreigner to me?”
His words gave me a glimpse of a new reality. Instead of a dark world made known to me solely by the light of my small fire, I was being invited into a vast world lit up by the light of the rising sun. My fire would still be useful to me as a tool to stay warm, cook my food, and light shadowy paths, but I was not longer constrained by it. My journey was no longer limited to it’s range or to the amount of fuel I could provide.
In the light of the risen sun, my survival no longer depends on my fire.
Renovaré puts it like this on their website:
“Disciplines do not earn us favor with God or measure spiritual success. They are exercises which equip us to live fully and freely in the present reality of God – and God works with us, giving us grace as we learn and grow.”
I may not know yet how this new journey will take shape, but at least I know it’s an invitation and not a threat.
How has your journey taken shape or changed course? Perhaps you have discovered something similar to what I share here, but you might use different words to describe it. I’d love to hear about it! Leave a comment or contact me through the form below.
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Buen Camino, my friends.