On Fire for God

On Fire for God: To be enthusiastic, passionate and devoted to God in a way that is obvious to everyone around.

We called ourselves the Firestarters and sat every week in the back booth at Denny’s, arguing over the best way to ignite revival in our high schools for Jesus. I had to beg my mom to drive me there because I was the youngest in the group – a sophomore with no car – and as we inched along in the pre-rush-hour traffic, I felt like my chest might explode with all the urgency, like I might be consumed by all this flame.

There were a dozen of us, Bible study leaders from various large high schools across the northwest suburbs of Chicago. We were 15, 16, 17, terrified of not mattering, filled with disembodied passion. We said words like ignite, like burn for God, like take our schools for the Lord.

We ate mozzarella sticks so hot that they burnt our tongues when they split open between our teeth. We quoted Scripture to one another: “Because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth,” God was saying to someone in the book of Revelation.

To us, lukewarm looked like a minivan, a mortgage, like the daily mundane lives we assigned to our parents. We wanted to be bright like the burning stars – not the far away ones that you need a powerful microscope to see, but big enough, luminous enough to gain a proper name for ourselves.

What about a magazine? What about a concert? We could pass out flyers! We could get it into the announcements! We could make a difference for Jesus! We were throwing ideas around, growing more and more excited until the whole table blazed.

I knew a girl once who had been burned, an entire side of her body scorched away by heat so intense that it still gave her nightmares so many years later. Skin on parts of her face had melted away, and they had to graft in bits from her thighs so that her profile carried a broken texture of pain.

On fire.

A campfire goes out of control somewhere in Bear Wallow Wilderness of Arizona and burns through 469,000 acres, smoke and flame forcing evacuation, burning homes, turning everything to ash.

But we say “on fire” and think devotion, passion, arms raised high in the air for Jesus. We think of the Gospel spreading like wildfire—unstoppable, powerful, catching.

Fire. Flame. Burning.

There is a violence to all of this. The fire comes and goes, and you are consumed by it…until you aren’t. The emotions die out, the passion runs dry, and then there is nothing left but destruction. The fire blazes on, unaware of all the ash.

I am older now. I have a mortgage and a minivan. I do mundane things like the dishes. I am trying to figure out what faith looks like after the wildfire has moved on. I am discovering things like stillness and peace. I am digging beneath the fire-scorched landscape of my life and finding a deep kind of quiet.

The Firestarters sat every week at the table, planning and dreaming. We were on fire. We burned and burned until eventually we burned out.

  • http://myofferings.wordpress.com Aubry

    This is exactly where I am. I was the firestarter in high school and college, desperate to matter. Then I had kids, and it feels like most of my day is doing things that don’t fit that fire image. Bottles. Diapers. Potty training. Conversations with neighbors. Dishes.

    But I’ve become convinced that true discipleship, true maturity, and true “mattering” is often found in the mundane, slow, unsexy everyday life. It’s teaching your children the Gospel every day. It’s serving and loving in ways that may not be noticed for years, or ever. It’s building relationships with neighbors and cashiers and waitresses. It’s taking a group of fishermen who don’t seem to matter all that much, telling them stories, and letting them follow you around. And sometimes there are those fire-filled, big moments – a decision, a newly-lit passion, a cross, a sacrifice. Those are important, too. But not to the exclusion of the tame, everyday mortgages and minivans.

    Brilliant post – I need to go back through your archives! Loving this blog! :)

    • Addie Zierman

      Thanks Aubry. So glad you stopped by!

  • Lee

    Great piece. I’m hard pressed to think of anywhere in the Bible where this kind of language is used for the daily lives of believers. The Bible leans toward things like the growth of a plant, or the building of a temple, the meanderings of a flock, or the maturing of a body. All slow, all “a long obedience in the same direction” (as Eugene Peterson put it).

  • Carra

    As I read your post, I am wondering why we have internalized–and perpetuated–as an evangelical culture, the need to create fires instead of disciples. I can rattle off a list of reasons…but nothing seems satisfactory. Do you think the evangelical fire will ever burn itself out? Are we in the process of that? How many people will get burned before we realize our own destruction?

    Great post, by the way. Remember that new life grows after the fires and ashes have come and gone. And sometimes that new life wouldn’t have been able to grow before the flames made way for it and the ashes created richer soil for it.

    • Addie Zierman

      Love this note about life after the flames. Thanks for the beautiful reminder.

      And I do think that the Christian as a whole is undergoing a shift to the more organic, quiet, soft-around-the-edges kind of faith. But think that, particularly in the youth culture where there’s such a drive to MATTER and to be larger than life and make a difference, there will always be fire raging. It’s a dangerous combination: God and selfish ambition.

      • Carra

        I wish there was a “Like” button for comments. :) I agree with you. And I like to think that it’s our generation that’s bringing that change. I hope we can pass that onto the youth as well.

  • http://www.thedailyb.net gina

    I found your blog via your #cnftweet and was drawn in. Having grown up in the South, I spent a LOT of my teens and twenties immersed in evangelical ministry. And I did burn out. I cringe at the cliches. I recoil when I see a stereotypical rose-colored-glasses Christian. I crave honesty and authenticity, and I struggle with how to introduce my children to God and a faith community while protecting them from being burned.

    Great post. I look forward to reading more of your writing :)

    • Addie Zierman

      Thanks for the note, Gina. So glad you stopped by (love #cnftweet). I struggle too with how to present faith to my kids in a way that’s honest to curb my own cynicism with certain aspects of it. It’s a struggle. (Your kids are beautiful, by the way. Lovely blog.)

  • http://www.bernardshuford.com Bernard Shuford

    Dang, you write good.

    Okay, I said no more compliments today. Gosh. Being snarky is hard when this kind of stuff is up to be readed.

    • Addie Zierman

      Thanks for maxing out your compliments on me today, Bernard! It was hugely encouraging.

      You can be mean and spiteful all day tomorrow if you want.

  • Brock

    i was one of those Firestarters and in many ways i hope that i still am…. just differently. from those times we learn about who we are in a way that will never again be replicated. we found community in that group, we found people who were like us and loved us. i am glad that we did something, we were sick of talk and rhetoric that always ended up in nothing. some of us live in other countries doing the work that God has set out for us and some of us have minivans and live in the suburbs doing the work that God has set out for us. i don’t think that any of us would have changed that group for anything in the world. they are still my brothers and sisters in arms, i still love them and miss them.
    i think that we’d all agree with “The Firestarters sat every week at the table, planning and dreaming. We were on fire. We burned and burned until eventually we burned out.” it took us a long time to burn out, but we did. and now that the naiveté has burned off, what do we do with it? yes, a strong sense of reality has settled in, but that should not mean that our passion has been extinguished, to many of us are just wallowing in our ‘reality’ and upset cause things didn’t work out like we thought they would, but God does not follow our misunderstandings. why are we upset? why are we down trodden? cause we didn’t get it right?

    to the young… the fervor, elation, campaign, yearning, irresponsibility, the naiveté and the glory.

    to the old…. the patience, understanding, peace, wisdom and the humility.

    • Addie Zierman

      Love your thoughts, Brock. And loved that I was able to get to know you through that group. To me, the friendship, the community was more significant than anything we ever “did for the Lord.” I sort of wish that hadn’t been our focus–my focus.

      I think I misunderstood the message of Christ then. I wanted it to be showy and BIG and all-consuming. But as I understand it now, the love of God is most often communicated in small, humble ways. Quiet like a stream underground rather than a blazing fire. I think if I had understood that in high school I would have been a braver person.

      • Brock

        i think that we misunderstand God now. i totally agree, it is all about the relationships. i have done things ‘for God’ that i am now embarrassed about, but i’m not ashamed of my zeal. Addie, even with all your internal worrying, you were (and probably still are) a brave person. humans internalize fear, but what makes us brave is what we actually do.

        • Addie Zierman

          “i think that we misunderstand now” – so true. Great perspective.

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  • Ross

    Addie,

    I really appreciate your blog. I read them almost every time they’re posted. I really like this post. I think that I am still trying to reignite that fire, but at the same time discovering what peace and stillness is out here in the bush. It is a confusing thing. I am encouraged by your writing.

    -Ross

  • http://www.tammygrrrl.wordpress.com Tammy Perlmutter

    This is beautiful and necessary:

    “I am trying to figure out what faith looks like after the wildfire has moved on. I am discovering things like stillness and peace. I am digging beneath the fire-scorched landscape of my life and finding a deep kind of quiet.”

    I totally get this. I’m in a similar place as well, seeing where and how God will use me in all my soot and smokiness. Learning to rest. I think it’s interesting how Psalm 23 says “He MAKES me lie down in green pastures.” I know I wouldn’t know how unless he made me!!!
    Years ago I needed to learn how to be quiet and find rest so I started reading some early monastics, which really helped. They know the value and necessity of solitude, and make “holy leisure” a priority!
    I hope you find direction and vision. You’re in the right place for it.

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  • Carlie

    I keep reading your blog entries and thinking, “YES! THAT! Wow. There are others.”

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  • Yevonnie

    Yes…I remember being “on fire” in college and some years after. Several years later, I am in the “I don’t know” place…if that makes sense. I am seeking God in stillness, quiet, and in the small, everyday things. I don’t have answers and often I don’t know which way to turn. You know, I DO appreciate those “blazing” days. I learned a lot about myself and about God. I think now, I still carry a flame that resembles more of a candle in a lamp. I’m not a wildfire, but I’m steadily burning–flicker here, flicker there–yet ever burning.
    Thank you, Addie, for your post. Grace and peace.

    • Addie Zierman

      “I’m not a wildfire, but I’m steadily burning–flicker here, flicker there–yet ever burning.” I love that. The burning has changed for me too…and this one feels so much more sustainable than the “wildfire” one. Thanks so much for sharing.

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  • James Verner

    Your zeal was not misguided. You did well to join a team of visionaries to seek how best to burn for God. Too many passengers on board these days,. We need extraordinary techniques to push them off and bring on board only those who will do the work of an evangelist. Peter, in Acts 2 and 3 made no apology for “tongues of fire” and holy boldness. The main trouble between you and Peter and the early church, may be that Peter had the real thing and you really did have a “wild fire” vision which, of course, petered out. I was saved at 15, baptized in the Holy Spirit at 19 and haven’t stopped evangelizing in Ireland, UK, Canada plus 48 years in Thailand and Cambodia, for Christ. I still pray: “Christ of burning cleansing flame, send the fire…” I have seen God bring revival to unreached peoples. I can testify that there is genuine fire. Go for it brother ! James

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  • Alena Belleque

    You know, I often think about this, remembering the fire of my youth, and wonder what’s wrong with me, that now at 27 I feel nothing but an ache of wistful memory. Then I realize – I don’t read my Bible. I don’t study, or dive in like I used to do. I pray, but my prayers, while heartfelt, often feel like a poor excuse for avoiding eating the meat of the scriptures. I’m not saying this is you, please do not misunderstand. These are just the thoughts that arose as I read your post.

    • http://howtotalkevangelical.addiezierman.com/ Addie Zierman

      Thanks for commenting Alena! I think that we go through seasons of learning and study. When I felt myself “burn out,” I kept pressing in like I did in the old days, and yet it felt different. Lonelier. I couldn’t seem to replicate the passion I once had. I’ve arrived at this place where I think that we experience God in different ways during our lives. I figured out that I can’t muster up those old feelings of zeal and passion by trying harder and I’ve learned to be okay with that. Instead, I’m finding that my relationship with God reveals itself other beautiful (if quieter and less ON FIRE) ways.

      • Alena Belleque

        Good point, about seasons. I know that, right now, a lot of my discontent is coming from relationships that are strained over degrees of conservativism. I feel stifled and disrespected, and that makes it very hard for me to relax enough to feel comfortable being outwardly vocal about anything.