One fall afternoon when I was eight or nine years old, my twin brother, Micky, and I began piling up the dried cornstalks from our Daddy’s garden in back of our house. We had a pretty tall stack when Micky said, “Wouldn’t it be fun to see those things burn?” I had found a box of matches earlier in the day, so Micky said, “Why don’t you light the pile? Nothing will happen. Mother will never find out.”
I was old enough to know better, but my curiosity got the better of me. So, I lighted those dried leaves and in just a few minutes the pile was consumed by an inferno. Before we could think to douse it with water, it had spread. Now the entire garden was in flames. And the woods behind our house stood in the path of the ever-growing fire.
“Go get the water hose,” I yelled to Micky.
“You started it, you go get the hose,” he shouted back.
We stood wide-eyed in wonder just yards away, mesmerized by the dancing flames that crackled and popped as they were now spreading into the woods. We stood transfixed, nearly oblivious to the searing heat until Mother came rushing from the house, screaming for us to move back to safety.
Soon people from the town were coming to watch. I wanted to get lost for a week. Fortunately, someone had the good sense to call the volunteer fire department, and they put out the fire before burning down the woods.
After the fire was extinguished and the crowd had disbanded my mother asked who had started the fire. I did the brave and noble thing. I said, “Micky did.”
Eventually, I confessed. Later that year Daddy had a man come with his bulldozer and remove the small trees and underbrush from our woods. Daddy said it was because he wanted a bigger garden. I think it was because I almost burned to the ground our little town.
I learned some critical lessons from this experience. One, don’t play with matches. Two, don’t do everything your brother tells you to do. Three, mothers always find out. And, four, fire consumes, spreads, and attracts a whole lot of people.
I imagine that it was on a beautiful fall day that Solomon and the people of Israel came together to dedicate the temple. They had worked long and hard to build a permanent and magnificent structure to house the Ark of the Covenant. Finally, the day had arrived for the temple dedication. The people gathered, and Solomon prayed. “When Solomon finished praying, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the Lord filled the temple” (2 Chron. 7:1).
The thought of fire falling from the sky boggles my mind. I know what out of control fire can do to some cornstalks. In my wildest dreams, I cannot imagine what it would be like witnessing God’s igniting the sacrifices on an altar.
God has always used fire as a way of identifying his presence. When the fire fell in the Temple Solomon built, God was stating that this was a holy place. The consuming fire was God’s presence making something holy. Only God can do that.
When the fire falls on our lives, be it personally or corporately, all we can do is fall to the ground and worship a holy and living God. We are mesmerized by the sight of his consuming glory and grace. That’s what the people of Israel did. “When all the Israelites saw the fire coming down and the glory of the Lord above the temple, they knelt on the pavement with their faces to the ground, and they worshiped and gave thanks to the Lord” (2 Chron. 7:3). Worship is expressing our love to God for who he is, what he’s said, and what he’s doing. In genuine worship the warmth of God’s presence is felt, the cleansing of God’s pardon is offered, the burning of God’s purpose is revealed, and the flame of God’s power is displayed.
Worship is not a weekly pep talk to rally the troops to win the contest. Worship is not the Christian’s alternative to a Saturday night rock concert. Worship occurs when people who have fallen in love with the God of the universe meet him in his consuming glory. Worship is a meeting between God and his people. Worship does not lead to an encounter with God. It is an encounter with God.
As a young boy, I learned that fire consumes, spreads, and attracts a lot of people. May we all learn that the fire of God’s presence has the same effect.