Smothering the Fire
Considering we’re all human, at some point in our lives we are going to have to admit that the spark has gone. Before we can get it back though, we need to consider what we’re doing that might be smothering God’s fire. The good news is, however, whatever we’re doing can be undone.
But before we can seriously consider reigniting the fire, a valuable process is looking at what we’re doing to put it out. Otherwise, we could be committing to returning to the same dampening cycle.
And before we look at what puts fire out, we need look at what fire requires.
All three are needed for a fire to start and keep going.
Heat Oxygen and Fuel
When we are talking about relationship with God and the fire that burns within us, what are these three elements: heat, oxygen, and fuel?
When the Spirit stirs within us, our eyes are opened. And in this moment, we see in truth who we really are, wretched sinners without hope permanently distanced from God. But through the power of the Spirit, we also see, in truth, what the Son has done and who our Father is; perfect, all-powerful, victorious, love – it is then we are shown the answer to our wretchedness and a way back to Him.
Because He has loved and drawn close to us, we are invited to draw close to Him.
It is the touch of the Living God which initiates the fire within us. When we accept His invitation to relationship, His presence in us provides the heat, for it is a by-product of His love for us. This heat fills and surrounds us and is the first element we need for the fire.
Q: There is a fire in your house. What’s the first thing you’re going to do?
A: Smother it.
Effectively, we’re removing the oxygen from the equation. Starved of oxygen the other elements can’t react. This is the same with our relationship with God.
Let’s look at Martha Luke 10:38-40. We all know her story. She is often used as an example of what not to do, or rather, who not to be. But before we jump on the bandwagon, let’s take a moment to become reacquainted with her story.
38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” Luke 10:38-40
Martha, Lazarus, and Mary were staunch supporters of Jesus. Whenever he came to Bethany, they hosted him and his disciples. Hospitality was a crucial obligation in Jewish culture. The host had to feed the traveller who had graced his or her home by coming to spend the night. There were many expectations and covenants set around hospitality. Table covenant-fellowship covenant is one of them. We’re not talking ‘tea and biscuits’ hospitality. But rather, sacred law, cultural identity, and lifelong covenant, hospitality.
A Bit of History
In ancient times, hospitality involved a non-verbal, binding contract. The protocols were complex with expectations from both parties. The host would provide for and protect the guest whilst sheltering under his/her roof. The guest would graciously accept whatever fair was produced and enter a life-long, covenantal alliance with his host. To betray this contract was considered a heinous offense (Psalm 41:9, Obadiah 7, Luke 22:14-23).
To not be hospitable was seen as a cultural disgrace. When Jesus tells the parable of the midnight friend
5 Then Jesus said to them, “Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; 6 a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’ 7 And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ 8 I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need. Luke 11:5-8
The man who refused bread for his neighbour’s guest not only shamed himself, but the whole village.
As good Jewish girls, Martha and Mary understood the importance of hospitality. Jesus, their guest–the man they believe to be the Son of God, had come into their house. Regardless of the cost–financial, time or resource– it was both a privilege and an honour to host him and his party.
But it was a lot of work.
- Making sure there was enough–to run out of food or wine was huge disgrace –think the wedding at Cana.
- To ensure all cultural laws and requirements had been met and religious rituals had been carried out
- To make sure everything was cleaned and prepared correctly
- That everything was served abundantly, timely, and perfectly
The honour meant the world to this family. As the head of the house, Martha was doing her utmost to provide hospitality. But she’s a bit put out because her sister, who should be helping her, is sitting at the feet of Jesus, listening, and learning. That was a man’s place. A man’s role. Mary’s was in the kitchen helping her sister fulfil the obligations of hospitality.
Not only was Mary dishonouring herself by climbing above her station, but she was also dishonouring her family by not helping to serve and honour this great man.
But, once again, Jesus goes against tradition, culture, and religious norms by demonstrating his radical teaching.
41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one.[f] Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:41-42
Paraphrase: “Martha, I’m only here for a short time, and Mary has chosen to draw close to listen and learn, to make the most of this precious opportunity.”
Jesus appreciated Martha’s efforts, but he commended Mary’s priorities.
It’s not very different in our culture. The stereotypical expectation for women today is to
- Work full-time
- Have children
- Be the primary carer for those in her house
- Nurturer those under her wings
- Main housekeeper
- Provide hospitality
- And if you are a member of a church, to serve in some, or multiple, ministries
- To use her gifts to build up and encourage the body
- Offer and participate in fellowship gatherings
Wherever we live there are cultural, societal, and church expectations to fulfill.
We know these are all good things to do. Everything we have mentioned are all good things to do.
When we’re fulfilling expectations, whose are we fulfilling? Whose advice and guidance are we following? The world’s? the Church?
Again, all of this is good and most of it is true.
However, we can tend to be gathers to demonstrate we are good, upright, moral, responsible human beings. We collect tasks, responsibilities, and jobs. But sometimes, some of us just keep picking up and gathering until our arms are full.
Have you ever tried to come close to someone, or hug them when your arms are full? Have you ever tried to sit and listen, to focus on what someone is saying when your mind is buzzing with a to-do list of responsibilities? It’s impossible.
There is nothing wrong with us fulfilling our responsibilities.
Tuning out the Chorus
The key though is whom we listen to.
Remember, Jesus appreciated Martha’s efforts, but commended Mary’s priorities and actions. Mary chose to draw near and listen to Jesus, going against her sisters wishes, bucking cultural norms and society’s expectations.
It is too easy to gather good things rather than listening, and potentially going against the tide, to do God things. God invites us to join Him outside the box to be radically holy. But we can’t do this if we smother the Oxygen of God’s fire by picking up too many things.
- What expectations influence your life choices: family, society, culture, church?
- What impact does this have on your life?
- How do you discern whom to listen to and which to pick up?