Fire and Love

Let heaven roar and fire fall.
Come shake the ground
With the sound of revival.
In the week following the Knysna fires I felt myself squirming a little at the number of songs we were singing about wind and fire. I know these are the main metaphors the New Testament uses to describe Holy Spirit falling in revival, but it just seemed tactless that we sing so glibly about something so powerful and uncontrollable (and potentially destructive). Do we realize what we are praying for?
In a broader sense, fire in the Bible is often a means of purification. Our God is a consuming fire – one touch from the altar can take away the sin of my lips and cleanse the passions of my heart. Even in the natural world fire is the fastest way to get rid of the dead wood from a past season – those of us who live in Natal have often smelled the delightful aroma of burnt toffee as the sugar farmers burn off the cane stubble. Fire in that sense seems destructive but brings life – the Knysna forests will grow again. It may take a very long time – but nature resists barrenness with a fierce passion. Plants often survive where man-made structures do not. In the Cape there are some fynbos whose seeds are germinated under intense heat and we saw in Knysna, too, human seeds of mercy, compassion, kindness and love for strangers burst out spontaneously and miraculously in a country that is often dry and hardened by donor fatigue.

It feels like many of us have been through a season of fire lately and it is not always easy to see beyond the initial devastation. In a fire we can lose items of great personal and sentimental value – we have to mourn these losses even though we might feel guilty that others have lost more practical necessities or even beloved relationships. No grief or loss is actually comparable to another but sometimes the loss of a much loved person is so close that we feel it with the shock of a severed limb – numb at first, then persistently debilitating as we try to adjust to life without that functional part. The pain of a phantom limb is particularly hard to treat because the limb is no longer there to heal itself or be healed by others.

Hillside has also been through a season of fire – we have lost some people (good and precious people) for all kinds of reasons, some relationships have changed and some of the old structures have been burned to the ground. All of this has been very painful – the more so, the closer we have been to the heat! I can assure you that nothing and no one was relinquished lightly – we have fought very hard not just to keep people and maintain relationships (sometimes it is right in God to let go of people), but to maintain honor and dignity – to value the past and to speak life and hope and blessing over the future of everyone who has ever been part of this family. If some have wondered what was going on – the reluctance to speak has not been any kind of “cover-up” but more a covering-in-love of painful relational dynamics. Richard spoke last Sunday of his own pain in the process – we don’t have the right to speak of anyone else’s.

But we do speak of the new life and growth that is fast emerging from the ashes of the old. We are thrilled and humbled by the goodness of God in guiding us through to a new leadership structure and filling that structure with amazing people that we would love to introduce and highlight and honor this coming Sunday. We are full of faith that the new season will be even more fruitful than the last because that is the nature of our God – he prunes what is fruitful to make it more fruitful. We will continue to declare the goodness of God in the face of not always experiencing it because it is the truth. We will continue to declare that God heals, and pray for the sick, even in the face of people sometimes dying, because that is truth too. We will continue to declare a culture of honor and a culture of love that fights for connection because that is also what is true – even if we have failed to achieve it fully in the past. As Bill Johnson says, we won’t reduce our theology to the level of our experience but we risk and fail and move on because our Father has so much more goodness for us to experience.

So back to Daniel Bashta, an apt song for the new season:

Let love explode and bring the dead to life
A love so bold to bring a revolution somehow…
My God’s not dead, He’s surely alive
And He’s living on the inside, roaring like a lion.