The air is sticky right now in my home state, but I am already dreaming of fall, still months away. I am more than happy to skip over the heat, humidity and general mugginess of summer, and head straight for the crisp air, sweaters, and bonfires of autumn.
If I could find a place on Earth where it was perpetually fall and all that goes with it, including Saturdays spent watching college football and the smell of hot apple cider, I would move there in an instant. It is perhaps, though, the changing of the leaves, like a changing of the guard, which summons the return of fall and reminds me why I love the season. Trees formerly a monochromatic green suddenly seem to burst into flames. Deep reds. Vivid yellows. Vibrant oranges.
As those hues shift, I have spent many an autumn whispering to myself, shaking my head somewhat in disbelief, “I swear, it is like they are on fire.”
I fall into a trance, just staring, captured by this involuntary thought, followed by a moment of wonder, trying to memorize the colors on the leaves, marveling at the rich hues, wanting to linger in the moment.
While these leaves are the tell-tale sign of yet another season passing, I have often found myself in seasons of life wanting to pull a Heisman-like move and keep God at arm’s length. It seems easier, safer that way.
Jennie Allen wrote in her book Anything about how she began praying the prayer, “Anything you have for me, God. I’ll say yes to anything.”
The book sat on the floor by my recliner for the longest time and I quietly kept avoiding it. I did not want to be confronted by such challenging words and such prayers. Because, quite frankly, I know I am not always willing to pray anything. Far too risky.
What if I am not ready for anything? What if God hands me anything and I fail miserably? What if everything spins out of control? And what if I no longer get to call the shots?
So at arm’s length he stays, as if I have control over God somehow. Isn’t it crazy the things we delude ourselves into believing, these warped and out-of-whack concepts of who God is?
Every time I see the leaves of fall, and see the colors bursting forth, I am reminded of Moses at the burning bush, found in Exodus 3:1-3:
Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.” (emphasis mine)
Far too often in our pursuit of God, we want to be just like that burning bush—on fire, but not consumed. We want the flames and we want to feel his heat, but not so strong that we find ourselves disappearing altogether in the blaze. We like to keep self intact, don’t we? We want to hold self close, making sure everything is manageable, tidy, orderly, just the way we like it.
That is what I find myself foolishly and selfishly wanting—to be on fire, but not consumed.
I want just enough of Jesus, to get just close enough to Him that I might look a little bit different — a little less impatient, a little more loving. I want to be a little less arrogant and a little more humble. I want to be a little less lazy, and a little more disciplined. I want to get just close enough to sound good and godly and holy.
But maybe—just maybe—when I am honest with myself and others, deep down I realize I do not truly want all of him. Because all of Him might require anything of me. And that feels terrifying.
As I stood staring at the trees one fall, I began thinking to myself, “You may want to be like the burning bush, on fire, but not consumed. But the reality is that God is an all-consuming fire. You don’t get to be near him and not be consumed by him.”
It simply does not work that way. You want to know him? You want more of him? You want his Word and his Spirit to change you? You want to look more like him? That requires you to be close to him. And being close to him means he consumes you. You—the foolish and selfish version of you—has to be consumed in the fire if you are ever to truly meet the God of the Burning Bush.
“For our God is a consuming fire,” Hebrews 12:29 says.
Consuming. Not the kind of fire you warm your hands over; not the kind of fire you melt s’mores with; and not the kind of fire we all crave to keep us cozy in the depths of winter.
Those kinds of fires are safe within the confines of fireplaces and fire pits. Thoses kind of fires have boundaries and are easily manageable. But I am not talking about those kinds of fires.
I am talking the kind of fire that purges the dross, melts the mountains like wax, annihilates sin, and is meant to make you more like his Son. God is that kind of fire.
You do not want to be consumed? Then stay far, far away from him.
But maybe being consumed by the flames is exactly what we—what I—need more than anything. Maybe setting self ablaze is what we need most. Maybe letting God strike a match to our hearts and throwing gas on the flames is what we should long for. And maybe we will find on the other side of those flames a God who whispers through the blaze, “I was with you all along.”
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.
For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior;
I give Egypt for your ransom,
Cush and Seba in your stead.
Since you are precious and honored in my sight,
and because I love you,
I will give people in exchange for you,
nations in exchange for your life.
Do not be afraid, for I am with you
— Isaiah 43:1-5 (emphasis mine)
Courtney works as a project manager for a state agency in Ohio that focuses on creating quality lives for individuals with autism spectrum disorder and their families. She graduated from William Woods University with a bachelor’s degree in history and a master in business administration. She is a lover of all things Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and Sheldon Vanauken’s A Severe Mercy, and relishes a life free of social media accounts.