I like routine.
Above all, on a cold winter’s morning.
First, I make coffee for myself and tea for my dear wife. Then I love to stoke the fire. I do that every morning during the winter.
We do have central heating, but that’s not where the joy lies. Instead, it’s found in our wonderful log burner that chugs out copious heat all day. It’s especially satisfying during this squeeze on energy prices, because I feed the fire with an endless supply of free wood that comes from the farm where I live. Double joy! Stoking a fire to get it going and the knowledge that we’re controlling our costs.
As I placed another log inside the burner the other day, I was struck by the thought that oxygen is to fire what Jesus is to life.
Let me explain.
In the morning, I notice that embers usually remain in the grate from the night before, gently glowing. I pull them forward, place logs on top, open the vents to allow oxygen in, and hey presto, within minutes the embers turn to flames. If the fire has gone out completely, I must light it afresh, but the essential ingredients are the same: fuel, heat, and oxygen.
What a wonderful picture of the life that Jesus brings. Having served as a pastor for most of my life, I’ve been privileged to witness the miracle of new life on many occasions. To sit with someone as they confess their sins and receive new life in Jesus, well, that’s a joy far beyond a morning’s ritual with a log burner.
For without Jesus, there is no life. Just as without oxygen, there is no fire.
A while back, my son-in-law and I cleared an area of scrub ground for some building work. We built a fire, piling the branches high, and adding more wood each day with the help of the farm loader. That fire burned for many days, and in fact, it’s still there today. Sometimes you can see a little smoke rising from deep down at the bottom. But it’s not burning very well. The branches sitting on top aren’t being burned at all. The problem? The ash pile down below is blocking the oxygen from getting in. Without oxygen, the fire is smouldering. It’s not really burning.
As I looked at it, I saw another picture.
How often do we allow ash to pile up in our lives, blocking the oxygen of life? Our busyness, the demands of family life, the pressure to provide, some of these ashes are very understandable. Other ashes are less so—the race for material gain, the pressure to succeed and to be seen succeeding, the fear of failure.
When our ‘stuff’ blocks out the oxygen we need—Jesus—we are unlikely to bear fruit. The ‘aroma of Christ’ (2 Cor 2.15) that we desire to be . . . it’s absent. We don’t smell good, because we are cut off from the oxygen that gives us life. How often in ministry is it necessary to stop and draw breath? Breath—that should give us a clue. The breathing in of oxygen that gives us life.
Lord Jesus, how we need to come before you in honest repentance and humility.
How we need to confess our need for you in the midst of worldly temptations, that suffocate us.
Fill us, Lord, with your life, with the breath of your Holy Spirit.
BURNING BRIGHT, NOT BURNING OUT
I remember a song my mother used to sing to my siblings and me. One of the lines went something like this: “I want to burn out for thee.” Those words used to grate on me. I saw an image of a worn-out, burned-out shell of a person, who had run out of usefulness because they didn’t pace themselves properly.
That is not healthy, and that is not right.
We are not called to burn out. We are called to burn bright. The last few days of my mother’s life gave me a picture of what that meant. As her days drew to a close, she shone ever brighter, full of Jesus as he called her home. What a joy it was to see, and a comfort to us in our sorrow at her passing.
St. Paul writes to the Philippians, “Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life (Phil 15b-16a). My mother shone like a star, and we will never forget her.
We read in Matthew’s gospel,
You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.
The light of the world? That Christ would describe us in this way is an honor, a privilege, and a calling. For this world is dark. We don’t need to look very far to see just how dark. Certainly, the war in Ukraine reminds us of the darkness, but it is found just as easily in our churches, and indeed at times in our own hearts.
Yet, we are the light of the world because Jesus lives within us by his Holy Spirit. The oxygen of life is within us. Every day. So clear away those ashes, and make space for Jesus to fill your body, your soul, your whole being.
He is truly the oxygen of life.