And they said to one another, “Did not our heart burn within us while He talked with us on the road, and while He opened the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32)
It’s a simple matter to know when we have spent time with Christ or been graced with revelation from the Word. We are ignited. That is a natural result of any kind of fellowship or communion with Jesus. The flame that is our spirit is stirred up and set ablaze, our boundaries are stretched, our faith expanded, and our expectations shift to include the plans and purposes of God. We have absolute certainty that, though we may only be a small candle, our glow will penetrate any darkness in which He places us, because we burn for God. Our little flame is infused with the very power of Jesus Himself, and nothing can snuff it out or block it’s purpose. But a heart set aflame for God has an equally powerful purpose, one we may find a lot more difficult to accept.
To burn for God with a pure flame includes being willing to bleed for Him.
This is perhaps why it is often so difficult to sustain the flame that God ignites. We have all of us, no matter how bold or strong or faithful we are, had the experience of burning bright, of leaving His presence infused with a sense of divine power and expectation, transformed by the a burnin for God deep within us. At that moment, anything is possible, despite our inadequacies. We can do all things through Him. But as we draw apart from the holy fire of God, as we return to our work in the world, the flame begins to flicker and dim. It fades into the shadows, and is smothered by the realities of life. We burn for God one moment, but in the next, wonder if it was all simply an illusion.
This is because we so easily get sidetracked by human and worldly expectations. Somehow, in that moment of being set ablaze, we begin to imagine and assume that nothing can go wrong, that no hardships will delay or distract us, or that we’re ‘on a roll.’ In short, that we’re invincible. But invincible means ‘cannot be defeated,’ not ‘will never fight a battle.’ That’s our first error. There can be absolutely no doubt that, if we burn for God, if we’re ignited by His holy fire, we’ll walk straight into battle. Yes, we’re ‘invincible’ because we already have the victory in Christ, but part of keeping the fire burning is engaging in the battles. The self, the world, and the devil, would dearly love to extinguish that flame, because that’s the only sure way of preventing it being used in His service.
As I mulled over this problem of how to burn for God – to burn in a way sustains and fuels the flame for His purposes – I realised a startling truth. I was reminded that, though we may be the candle, He is the flame. Any pure fire in our hearts is from the holy fire of God. We cannot ignite ourselves – though many try through emotionalism and hype, creating a ‘fire’ that burns out fast and wreaks spiritual destruction. Nor can we determine how and for what purpose it burns. This single truth emerged: A candle is designed to burn up completely. If a candle is working as it should, it will ultimately become nothing at all beyond a smear of wax.
This is a principle that may be very difficult for us to accept. Many of us, consumed by the wonderful imagery contained in expressions like ‘ablaze for God’ – imagery that contains great victories and sweeping power and glory, God in our presence, empowering us – never fully understand that to burn for God means also to bleed for Him. This is an obvious contradiction, isn’t it? We need to look at the few verses preceding today’s verse to find the answer.
Luke 24:25–27 say: Then He said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?” And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.
In these verses, Jesus is expounding an important truth – that of identification at the cross. Identification is the fundamental principle that underpins salvation and our life in Christ. To save us, He had to identify fully with us – become a man, the perfect sacrifice, and literally, on the cross, shed the blood that should have been demanded of each one of us. To be saved, we have to identify fully with Him – to believe that, in Him, in that moment on the cross, our punishment was received and mercy given to us. As we live our lives, we walk in Him and Him in us. This process of full identification is continued every step of the way. When God looks at us, He sees Jesus. That is the cornerstone of our faith.
When we identify with Jesus, it has to be in full. We cannot leave out certain parts that make us uncomfortable or which we don’t like. With God, it’s an all or nothing exchange. In our communion, we remind ourselves that His body was broken and His blood poured out for humanity. He is our Master, Saviour, Teacher, and living example. If His purpose was to be ‘used up’ like the analogy of the candle, we can expect no less. If we truly want to burn for God, we must accept – up front and before we take hold of it – that we will bleed for God as well.
We’ve said that the flame is God’s fire. It was the same holy fire that filled, empowered, and sustained Jesus in His ministry. Over and over, we see a heart that burned for God with a pure flame. His total obedience to the commands of His father, and His constant communion with Him, kept that flame alive. Even to the point where it burned out entirely and was gone. That, in essence, is our purpose in Christ – to identify so fully with Him that we burn brightly until our time on earth is done and this fleshly candle is no more. It is that we identify so fully with Jesus that we bleed and weep as He did. A candle that burns strong cannot prevent the wax from melting and flowing freely. When we burn for God, we will bleed for Him too, sharing His sufferings as He shared ours.
The other truth is that God’s fire is holy fire. What this means is that everything that is unholy will be burned away, leaving only what is pure. If we want to burn for God, we cannot expect to hold onto things that are not holy. Part of God’s purpose in igniting His flame within us is to purify us. One of the greatest dangers is that we allow our self-seeking and self-gratifying behaviours to snuff out the flame. It’s easy to burn bright in the reflected glory of God. But ‘back home,’ unless we yield the things that are not of God, unless we willingly throw them into His holy fire, we will slowly start to snuff out the flame. We allow self and the world to throw dirt on the fire and put it out.
One of my earliest lessons in life was putting out a campfire. To be sure, we’d cover the remaining burnt-out coals with sand and soil and stomp on them. The principle is the same. Enough dirt will suffocate our flame. To burn for God requires more than a supernatural igniting and a wonderful sense of divine power. It requires us to first be willing to bleed – to identify fully with Jesus and His heart for mankind. It also requires us to be willing to burn – to yield everything to the fire so that God can purify, cleanse, and empower. It means being willing to be nothing but a candle in the hand of God. If we are willing to do this, He will ignite in us an eternal flame, one that will burn despite the battles, and reveal His glory in remarkable ways.
We don’t have to burn for God in our own strength, nor do we have to find ways to sustain the flame that He ignites. A willing heart will burn with the holy of fire of God Himself, lighting the way to eternal glory in the presence of our conquering King. We may flicker and fade in the buffeting winds of life, but God Himself sustains a flame that burns only for Him.
Heavenly Father, help us to draw near in faith, to set aside our own expectations and to willingly identify with Your Son. Help us to accept that to burn for You we must also bleed for You. Help us to share Your heart and continue to shine, revealing You to all the world no matter how small or insignificant we are.