Walking through my favorite park on a recent afternoon I happened on a large swath of forest charred black as far as I could see.
The air smelled of soot. Stretched before me was torched earth, pine tree bark blackened a few feet up trunks, limbs clinging to singed leaves.
This was no wildfire accident. The burned area was bordered by green grass, the evidence of fire only within that boundary.
Clearly, park rangers had intentionally set fire to the woods. The parched ground stood in stark contrast to the lush green woods along surrounding paths where a tangle of kudzu-like vines smothered many trees and pine needles and undergrowth carpeted the forest floor.
Ground cleared to rocks and roots stood waiting to be reborn as if saying, “Now, I am ready for the next thing.”
I read that fire management experts practice something called “prescribed burning” which “may be defined as fire applied in a knowledgeable manner to wildland fuels on a specific land area under selected weather conditions to accomplish predetermined, well-defined management objectives.”
Don’t miss that: Applied in a knowledgeable way, to accomplish predetermined, well-defined objectives.
Gazing into those smoke-scented woods, I realized this principle from the natural world of forest management has a spiritual application.
There are no random fires in God’s kingdom. Our all-knowing God has good plans for us. He sits as king eternal and manages our lives in sovereignty. Sometimes He lets a fire purposely burn through our lives.
Things get hot, go up in smoke; and we are left with ashes. It seems the flames will destroy everything meaningful and dear: our health, our hopes, our relationships, the futures we had planned. But God-ordained fire is always controlled. Not everything is lost.
Those who trust Jesus Christ are promised: “a crown of beauty instead of ashes.” How can that be?
The power of fire is that it destroys but it also regenerates. Heat and pressure are a catalyst for new growth, releasing new seeds into the nutrients left behind. From the ashes a new forest develops. Our lives can get cluttered with things that retard our growth. Fire has a way of making space.
In the Bible, fire is a method of purification, a tool of judgment (Ezekiel 28:18) and a means of testing the value of our work. Fire also symbolizes the presence of God Himself. God stood sentry in the pillar of fire by night as Moses led the Hebrews out of Egypt.
The park fire opened a formerly dark patch of wood to penetrating light by eradicating well-established, honeysuckle, poison oak and other vines by literally consuming their roots. In this same way, God’s fire incinerates entrenched habits, mindsets and entanglements that keep Christ-followers from being salt and light.
The aftermath of a controlled fire looks bad, but the burning ultimately can accomplish a great good. Our God “is a consuming fire” (Deu 4:24) cleansing our hearts to make us more holy, in the likeness of Christ, and more fruitful in His service.
“Everyone will be salted with fire.” Mark 9:49