That Burning Fire


Recently, I shared with you that I’ve been given the opportunity to write a book. I’ll be doing this over the next several months and engaging in a period that I’ve heard authors refer to as a sort of pregnancy—the time when your ideas are privately taking shape, growing unseen, and are eventually birthed to a waiting world. So I suppose, taking this perspective and given the length of the gestation period (the book’s due to release in spring 2014), it looks like I’m expecting a baby elephant.

I also shared with you my firm conviction that the dreams that we hold dearest are often the very ones that God intends to use, that they are in our hearts precisely because He placed them there. I realize that this could have come across as overly simplistic--that it could have sounded a little too “Pollyanna/Mary Poppins/Climb every mountain”-ish—especially to those of you who are struggling through a low point right now. And yet, if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that the path of dreaming “never did run smooth.”

There are days when things are not working out as you planned, when you feel less than enthusiastic about the dreams stirring inside of you, when you want to pitch the whole thing and walk away. There are days when all you want is to escape your calling, and to do so, you wish that you could become someone else entirely.

There are days when you feel like Jeremiah.

The opening chapter of the book of Jeremiah contains a beautiful text that confirms that God sovereignly plans and ordains our callings. When God comes to Jeremiah, He assures him of that, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” (ESV)  And yet, twenty chapters later, Jeremiah curses the day he was born. The very thing that gave him comfort at the beginning of his ministry was the very thing that he wishes had never happened.

Jeremiah feels like God has tricked him—that by making him the way He did, by appointing him a prophet from birth and placing that “burning fire” deep inside of him, He has doomed him to a life of misery. So that as much as Jeremiah wants to escape his calling, for all the trouble that it has caused him, he simply can’t because God had made him that way. The very thing he is resisting is the very thing that he can’t stop doing. He calls it a “burning fire shut up in [his] bones.”

When I was in college, I attended a church whose pastor routinely gave this piece of advice to anyone considering vocational ministry: “Only do it if you can’t do anything else.” He wasn’t denigrating the value of ministry so much as emphasizing that ministry (like any other calling) is fraught with hardship, discouragement, and heartbreak. And in those moments, the only thing that will keep you going is the sure knowledge that God has made you for this—that there is nothing else you can do because you have that “burning fire shut up in your bones.”

It is so much a part of you that it is knit it into the very fabric of your being.

And if it is, there will be plenty of times that you will find yourself precisely in Jeremiah’s position—both hating the struggle and knowing that you can’t escape it because God Himself formed you this way. There will be plenty of times when it feels like a burden, times when you want to walk away, times when you will shake your fist at Him and say, “I didn’t ask for this. Why have you made me like this?”

For me, the “burning fire” has been a combination of being analytic and outspoken. It is both my greatest strength and my greatest weakness. It is the very thing that drives me to write, but it is also the very thing that leads me to be overly critical, noisy, and self-righteous. And I’ve hated myself for it. I’ve always wanted to be the quiet, demure one—the girl at the party whose very presence lends an air of sophistication and elegance–and yet, I always end up being the girl animatedly arguing some political or theological point. I inevitably wake up the next morning with a mental hangover and mountains of regret. “Why did I have to do that? Why couldn’t I have just kept my mouth shut?”

Ultimately though, it’s not about keeping my mouth shut. And it isn’t about achieving some mystical balance between the extremes of not caring and caring too much. Instead, it’s about finding a way forward, about transcending that type of one-dimensional thinking, so that you can pursue a greater reality--the reality that despite your frustration with yourself and despite your disappointed dreams, you know that God has “made you thus” for a reason. You know that He is shepherding and guiding you, that His Spirit is actively maturing you, and that even in the darkest valley, He is walking beside you and will bring you back into the light.

And this is requires faith. Not faith in your dreams or yourself, but faith in His providence and faith in His goodness. This requires believing that He has made you fearfully and wonderfully, that He did knit you together in your mother’s womb to fulfill a specific purpose, and that everything about you–even your dreams--are ultimately from His hand. So that in your darkest moments, this faith will manifest itself in obedience; an obedience that some days will simply mean putting one foot in front of the other and continuing down the path that He Himself has laid for you.