Fan the Flame

By Chuck Griffin

One of my favorite movies is “Jeremiah Johnson,” the story of a man in the mid-19th century who sets out to be a trapper in the Rocky Mountains. His first winter is bitterly cold, with knee-deep snow his constant environment.

Early on, he attempts to start a fire in a driving snowstorm, his only shelter some bent pine boughs. With nearly frozen hands, he gets the fire going using flint, steel and tinder. Then he fans the flames with his hat, creating enough of a blaze that he can begin to add larger pieces of wood.

   It is of course at this moment that a chunk of snow breaks loose from the trees above, smothering the flame.

   The scene reminds me a lot of the Christian life. The flame inside us rises. It even burns brightly!

   And then out of nowhere, something in the world turns it all into a steaming, hissing mess. Despite the old saying about a snowball’s chance, there must be giant snowballs in hell, because the devil seems to throw a lot of them.

   I thought of the scene as I read some words the Apostle Paul wrote to a young pastor named Timothy.

   “I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline,” Paul writes in the first chapter of his second letter to Timothy.

   Scholars debate this, but I think it’s pretty clear that Timothy received his letter because Paul got word that the young church leader was not standing up for the truth about Christ as strongly as he should. The letter states plainly that there were troublemakers in the midst of Timothy’s church, people who got others upset with their “profane chatter” about their improper notions regarding the resurrection.

   Paul simply was reminding his protege that while God gives us the fire within—our salvation and the ensuing gifts from the Holy Spirit that empower us—we are responsible for fanning the flames so they burn fiercely. We fan those flames by staying close to God and using whatever gifts we are given to fulfill the roles God assigns us.

   Paul’s message tells us to have a little grit, some gumption, when facing people and a spiritual realm opposed to God. What do you do day-by-day in your own special way to challenge that snowball-tossing Satan and his minions?

   By the way, Jeremiah Johnson, while frustrated, brushes away the snow and begins the fire-making process again. He knows he has the spark and tinder in hand; he also has the fortitude to keep using it, fanning the flames.

   That’s why he survives, and later even thrives.

Dear Lord, source of all real strength, may your Spirit lift us up and empower us when faced with adversity. Amen.

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