I’m sitting here at 5:15 am, as usual, with a hot mug of coffee, candles lit in my little corner of the world, not a bit of light outside except for the stars, and still more than two feet of snow on the ground. It’s cold. It’s Wisconsin. Steady heat doesn’t come here till June’s end.
So today I’ve got warmth on my mind. A lot of it. Like wildfire.
This summer will mark the 25th anniversary of the historic wildfire that threatened to destroy Yellowstone, the world’s first national park and my favorite. I was there once as a teenager before the great fire and again a few years ago when all five of us rode horses through parts of the park they say less than two percent of people ever see. We saw elk up close and moose and bison in abundance. We saw towering trees, gushing geysers, bubbling mud pits, vast stretches of landscape untouched by humanity.
And we saw scorched and stripped trunks. We saw sweeping sections of charred sticks, still standing, still reaching tall, with new life in abundance beneath. And we saw the film.
I remember the summer of 1988. I remember the film clips on the news. I remember how the National Park Service couldn’t manage the wildfire alone and the nation watched as U.S. military were called to assist. I remember seeing walls of fire and billowing smoke moving so quickly that they thought the historic great lodge would be lost. I remember seeing animals running for their lives. The nation sat nervous wondering if this would be the end of Yellowstone, our national treasure. And we waited. For months, we waited. The park continued burning and we prayed for snow to stop the destruction. Finally, well into the fall, by God’s grace, the flames ended. And the ground cooled. And snow came. And winter calmed. And then . . . spring surprised. . . .
Shockingly, what we thought would destroy our treasure actually brought new life in spring of 1989. Lodge pole pines, the dominant tree in Yellowstone were stripped of their branches and needles and cones. But the stripping allowed light to come into the forests and the ash made fertile soil beneath.
In the first spring following what we thought was devastation, new seedlings were visible. The forest floor became a carpet of new green.
And surprisingly, few animals were lost to the smoke and flames. Spring brought new births. And tender new shoots fed the mamas to help them make milk for their babes.
And the most fascinating of all?
Lodge pole pine cones laid open and empty, finally. Lodge pole pinecones remain tightly closed, covered with sticky resin, until exposed to extreme heat. Fires cause them to open and spread seed, bringing new life.
Such is the process of life in the forest. Fire consuming, allowing light in, fertilizing, opening, spreading, growing new life.
Such is the process of our lives.
People ask, “How could a good God allow such suffering?”
Could it be that the fires of life strip us of everything that keeps the Light of life from penetrating? Could it be that fires of life create fertile ground for us to grow and others to grow around us? Could it be that the heat of life is necessary for our opening and spreading and bringing forth new life within and around?
I know this as truth from experience.
I have weathered many firestorms in this life so far, often thinking they would destroy me. A turbulent family ending in divorce. A heartbreaking marriage in my twenties where I watched a wonderful, gifted Christian man become devastated with bipolar illness that eventually ended in suicide. Home invasion and devastating robbery. Suicide of several in my family and step-family. Murder of a cousin. Clinical depression. The sudden death of my mother on Mother’s Day due to medical malpractice. There have been more fires—one such a nightmare—the worst fire of all—that I can’t even express vaguely because people involved are still alive. It has been dealt with appropriately and completely. But the memory still lingers.
How do we weather such firestorms when we fear they will destroy us?
I watch nature—how God designed His creation—and I learn and apply.
1988. Yellowstone fires raged uncontrollably as my first marriage burned to the ground. Stripped and charred. That’s how I felt. Wondering if I had a future—if there was hope for me. Clinging only to a flimsy thin page of black on white, I memorized Jeremiah 29:11 as a life line.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
So often, when life heats up and we begin to feel the flames, we wonder—does God see? Does God care?
He cares so much that he allows fires to burn in our lives. He allows them to burn the chaff, the unnecessary, the things to which we cling that hinder our growth no matter how beautiful, no matter how wanted. He knows how tightly closed we can be. He knows the hard resin surrounding our hearts. He knows that without heat, we won’t open and grow. So He allows fires to come. And He watches them burn as we cry out for mercy, fearing complete destruction. And He answers, always.
God’s merciful hand is always on the hose. He will never allow fire to consume what’s good unless there is greater good coming. God is fire. And He is sovereign over all fire.
I know. I am an eye-witness and a survivor. And I haven’t just survived. Just like the Yellowstone fire of 1988, I am thriving. And so is everyone I know who has trusted God through the fire.
Fires are good for those who love God. Fires are necessary for those who love God. Fires are certain for those who love God, and for those who don’t. One will always bring new life and blessing, here and hereafter. One will bring enduring pain, here and hereafter. The choice is ours. Will we allow the fire to do its holy work, painful though it is?
I keep remembering the purpose of my life here on earth—to become holy as He is holy, to spread the gospel good news of His love and salvation, to glorify God by loving him and loving others as though they were me.
Salvation does not mean we escape the fire. Not at all. Salvation assures we will not face the fire of hell but we still must face the fire of heaven—the holy God who IS a consuming fire, burning everything unholy and preparing fertile ground in and around—ground for a new us on a new earth on which we will walk and reign with Him one day, completely purified.
Can we even imagine that future?
I must imagine that future to keep me standing in the fires of here and now—to keep me yielding willingly to the flames that consume.
What about you? Do you imagine, hope, and trust? Will you?
We who believe are not just hoping wishfully. We’ve seen what holy fire can do, right here on earth. And He who began this good work in us is faithful to complete it. (Philippians 1:6) And He is faithful to bring us through the flames, stronger—healthier—pure, straight into His holy presence where we will share in His holiness. (Hebrews 12:10) Righteousness, peace, and healing come through fire, so stand strong through the flames! By God’s grace, stand strong! (Hebrews 12:11-13)
Do you see what we’ve got? An unshakable kingdom! And do you see how thankful we must be? Not only thankful, but brimming with worship, deeply reverent before God. For God is not an indifferent bystander. He’s actively cleaning house, torching all that needs to burn, and he won’t quit until it’s all cleansed. God himself is Fire! Hebrews 12:28; Deuteronomy 4:24 (The Message)
Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.” Hebrews 12:28; Deuteronomy 4:24 (New International Version)
Forest fire photo courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons
Lodge pole pine photo courtesty of Flickr Creative Commons