“Fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you…
For God did not give us a spirit of fear, but a spirit of power, of love, and of self-discipline.” —II Timothy 1:6-7
One of the neatest parts of going camping when I was growing up was the campfire. There’s something entrancing, it seems, about sitting around a fire. The fire was our focus, and because of it we can see all around us in the light of those flames. That fire was the place where we were warmed. The camaraderie was around the fire, because that’s where we talked and told stories and pondered the deep questions of life.
Nowadays, other than an occasional Cub Scout outing, that campfire has largely been replaced for me by the church, and in particular, the Clarks Mills congregation. It is my hope that this congregation is a place for you and me to be warmed spiritually as we praise and pray together. The church is intended to be a place to safely come together with others in a “fellowship” where we enjoy the camaraderie, explore the deep questions of life, and are able to find our focus again. We should be able to see the dark world around us more clearly because of the light of our “fire.”
In the physical campfires of my youth, the flame would occasionally burn low, and the fire would appear to be in danger of going out. Yet, with a gentle blowing on the embers, I could “fan the flame” and reignite the fire that was still there. In the Scripture passage above, we are called to do that same thing with the “fire” of our faith and of our churches. We are to fan the flame. But how do we actually do that?
First of all, in our personal faithwalk, as spiritual descendants of John Wesley, we recognize the “fanning the flame” that comes from the spiritual disciplines of daily prayer, daily Bible reading, Bible study, fasting, church attendance, communion, tithing, giving to the needy, and personal self-examination of our own hearts and our motives.
Secondly though, as a congregation, what can we as individuals do to keep the flame burning brightly? To stick with our campfire image, let me ask this: Is it enough to fan the flames of the campfire when there are no more logs to use as fuel for the fire? Of course not. The fire needs more than just “fanning,” it needs fuel.
I believe this passage tells us that God has already taken care of the fuel, by giving us the spirit of power, of love, and of self-discipline. That’s the fuel for the fire. The spark that starts the fire is the power of God Almighty, through the blood of Jesus Christ; the power to resist evil, take authority in His name, and to enter boldly into the very throne room of our Heavenly Father. The kindling that catches fire first, is our self-discipline. We accept Christ and He begins to affect the way we make choices and the way we behave. But the logs, the fuel that keeps the fire burning is the love; the way we relate to the others around us.
In His book, The Five Love Languages, author Gary Chapman writes that people express and understand that we are loved in five different ways. For some, they really know you love them when you spend quantities of time with them. For others it might be gifts or physical touch. Affirming words or acts of service might make the difference for others. Chapman applies these ideas to both marriages and parenting. I want to extend that to those of us in the church… because I believe each one of us has a “log” from each of those same five love areas that we can choose to put onto the fires of our congregational “fire.” And if we are to keep the flame burning, we need to avoid stacking our logs up for ourselves, out of reach of the fire, but rather give them up and put them into use in the midst of the fire… by sharing them with each other.
How can you and I use the “log” of our time to show each other love? How about the “logs” of giving gifts or doing things to serve each other and the church? Are our words affirming, building people up with encouragement? Can we be real enough with each other to actually touch… whether in a hug or as a shoulder to cry on…? God has already given us each one of these “logs” as a gift. As we share them, the fire will grow brighter and warmer. Throw another log on the fire… and fan the flame!