Fire & A Prayer

March 10, 2017

“For our God is a consuming fire.” Hebrews 12:29

The campfire prayer has, in recent years, been ridiculed. Brushed aside. Dismissed.

As if a single campfire prayer could change the path of a life, could sway the course of someone’s world!

I am here to tell you today that there has been at least one life – the life of one quiet, very serious 12-year-old girl (a girl who got the rules bent for her so she could get into teen camp before she turned 13) – that was forever changed by a single campfire prayer.

There was this big, blazing bonfire that snapped and stretched upward in between the pines – up, up, up – straining to lick the stars. There was a deep, dark lake, its ripples glittering in the moonlight behind the fire.

There was a man – some man – standing and praying next to the big fire.

The man was praying a huge, hard prayer; and he was inviting me into this prayer.

The man told the story of how this prayer had, for him, been the beginning of the most difficult and wonderful journey he ever could have imagined. He said this prayer had led him to places he had never expected to go, to people he had never expected to meet. To joys he had never known he could experience.

He said the journey had been difficult, and sometimes painful, but that it had led him to a place of deep satisfaction and wonder. It had led him to abundant life with God.

I remember him asking me to join him in the prayer. He entreated me to give God my hands, my feet, my mouth, my mind. All of me, every part of me – my whole life – all of it, to Jesus.

Lord, my life is Yours. Use me for Your glory. Use me however You want to use me.

Through the words of the man…and through the soft breeze from the lake brushing against my cheeks…and through the bursts of light from the popping sparks of the fire…I sensed this Heart – this big, giant, gentle Heart that I knew but didn’t yet know well, a Heart I wanted to know more – pulling me toward the fire. Asking me to trust Him. Asking me to trust His goodness. His realness. He was inviting me to take a different path than anyone I knew, asking me to go on a wild adventure with Him.

My entire body trembled; because other teenagers were praying this prayer, and they were walking down to the fire.

They were throwing these little sticks into the fire. And the little sticks were burning. They were burning up in that great big fire.

They were disappearing in the fire.

The little sticks were being completely consumed by the fire.

In my serious and quiet little heart I understood that if I prayed this prayer there would be burning. A burning of my own desires, my own plans. A burning of my own way. I trembled because I was desperately afraid of the burning.

But the pull of this warm, giant Heart was stronger than my fear. He was pulling me toward the cheerful fire. He was promising to my heart a life – in all its burning – of richness and beauty. Of wonder and joy and of wild adventure.

I both believed it was true and at the same time was determined to find out if it was true. If God truly offered His children not just a ticket into heaven but an abundant and fulfilling life here on earth – as this man by the fire was saying – I wanted it. No matter the cost. No matter the burning. I wanted all of it. I wanted all of God that it was humanly possible to get.

And so a quiet, 12-year-old Leah, who had broken the rules and wasn’t even supposed to be at the campfire that night, prayed that big prayer and listened to that giant Heart. She gave Jesus her hands, her feet, her mouth, her mind and her heart. All of her.

Lord, my life is Yours. Use me for Your glory. Use me however You want to use me.

She threw her little stick into the great big fire next to the lake under the stars.

The little stick caught fire and flared.

Her little stick was consumed by the flames.

Microsoft Word - Christmas in Kansas.docx

So began the adventure of all adventures. The great adventure of slowly learning to live a holy life in a cursed world. The adventure of living life backwards; because the Kingdom of God is so opposed to this Fallen world that you have to live your life backwards to find it.

I said: All I want, God, is to be the kid who stays in beautiful Vermont forever. I want to be the kid who never leaves.
God said: Leah, I need you to be the kid who does leave. I need you to be the kid who leaves and never comes back.
And there was burning.

I said: God, I want to go to college in a quiet, rural location. With trees. Close to home.
God said: Leah, I need you to go to college in the big, noisy city. With skyscrapers. Far from home.
And there was burning.

I said: God, I will serve you anywhere. I am willing to follow You anywhere. Anywhere except Asia. Please don’t ever send me to Asia.
God said: How about China?
And there was burning.

I said: Okay God, You were right. You are always right. I love Asia. I want to stay here forever.God said: Leah, you need more training. I want you to turn around and go back home.
And there was burning.

I said: Any state except Texas, Lord. I am not a Texas kind of girl. Please. Not Texas.
God said: Well, it is written right here in My Book that some of the greatest gifts of your life will be given to you in Dallas. Pack up your bags and move to Texas.
And there was burning.

I said: Fine. You’ve got four years, God. Tops. I will live in Texas for four years, not a day longer.
God said: I need you there for six.
And there was burning.

I said: God, I want to glorify You by working hard to make my marriage healthy and beautiful and strong.
God said: I need you to glorify Me by failing at this endeavor. I need your marriage to be a living demonstration that I alone Am He who heals and makes beautiful and strong.
And there was burning.

I said: God, I want You to display Your power in my life by removing all my anxiety, weariness, insecurities and fear.
God said: Not yet. My grace is sufficient. I will display My power in your life by giving you hope that is bigger than your anxiety. Rest that can only be found through your weariness. Boldness that outweighs your insecurity. Faith that shouts louder than your fear.
And there was burning.

I said: God, you made me a lover of pretty things. It’s Your fault I am this way. I need my pretty things. I want to keep all my pretty things.
God said: I need you to trust Me. I want you to give all those pretty things back to Me. Sell everything you have. Everything. Sell all your pretty things.
And there was burning.

I said: I think it’s time to write a book. Isn’t that what You’re telling me? I want to set everything else aside and focus all my time on writing a book.
God said: No. I want you to move back to China with your babies and focus all your time on studying Mandarin, changing diapers and leading Bible studies.
And there was burning.

I said: God, thank You for showing me the calling of my life! I love my calling to China!
God said: Leah, your assignment here is finished. I need you to embrace a deeper calling I have for you. I need you to go back to your own people.
And there was burning.

I said: Okay, God. I want Your path. As long as Your path leads to the mountains. I will live anywhere that has mountains.
God said: Leah, I Am waiting to speak to you in the plains.
And there was burning.

I said: God, I’m ready to write again. I will write anything You want me to write and say anything You want me to say. But just so You know – I’m done with blogging forever. And I won’t touch politics with a 1,000- foot pole.
God said: Leah, I want you to start a blog. And the very first thing I need you to write about is politics.
And there was burning.

I said: God, you made me quiet on the outside. What I really want is to hide away and live the rest of my life quiet.
God said: But Leah, on the inside I have made you loud. I need you to live your life loud.
And there is burning.

Microsoft Word - Christmas in Kansas.docx

I’m kneeling on the floor of my little closet sanctuary this morning as I type this blog post. After China, when we were searching for a house in the plains, I prayed for a sanctuary…and God gave me one. He gave me a gigantic, bright closet that is plenty big enough at one end for a beautiful rug and my writing desk. All along the top of the closet are windows that let in cheery colorful light. The previous owner of the house covered these windows with thin, flowery paper that makes the windows look like stained glass.

Where I like to kneel down on the carpet next to my desk in my sanctuary, there is a cream-colored door that stands directly in front of me. The way this door was designed left an embossed cross in the center of the door. I get to look up at this cross in the door of my sanctuary every single morning when I pray.

I’m both laughing and crying this morning as I gaze up at this cream colored cross in the door, because words seem small to describe what it is that all this burning has left in my life.

One might think the burning has left a pile of ashes. A long trail of dust and ashes.

It hasn’t.

What the Fire has left me is a trail of diamonds.

Abundant life.

What I see when I look back behind me is a long trail of impossibilities that have come realities. Obstacles that have become miracles. Tears that have been turned into joy.

I see a trail of vivid, powerful, beautiful moments when the Great God of the Universe has met with me – me! – in the midst of each flame.

The holiness of His presence keeps on burning. It keeps burning away all the empty, superficial things I think I want, and all the flimsy things I lean on; and in their place He gives me what He knows I really want and need more than anything else: He gives me Himself.

I can’t imagine any greater tragedy for my life than if the Big City had never happened. If China had never happened. If Dallas had never happened. If falling on my face into the sufficiency of His grace had never happened. If Mandarin study and diapers and Bible studies had never happened.

In each of these places my capacity for an awareness God’s presence has been ripped open wide.

With each passing year, I have this growing, overwhelming, deeply satisfying realization that by living life backwards, I have drunk down almost every drop of life I could possibly have drunk out of the last 25 years of my life. I don’t know if it could have been possible to suck much more life out of those years. What a tremendous gift. This makes me rich.

When we live or lives backwards; when we lay down the stick of our lives in the great, blazing Fire called God; when we lie still and allow His holiness to surround us and to overtake us and heat us up – even when it hurts – His Fire meets our pride, our human wisdom, our lofty plans, our illusions of power and control. These flimsy apparitions ignite when they touch the presence of a holy God. When they ignite, they flare up. They flare up into a great, bright, burning flare. And then they are consumed.

What the Fire leaves in their place – what He leaves in us – is Himself.

A greater faith in the reality of His presence. A deeper understanding of His abiding Truth.

This is abundant life. Abundant life is walking with the living God.

The world knows nothing of backwards living. It stops to wonder when the bright flare happens. The Great Fire consuming our old selves is what makes us different. This flaring up is what makes us light.

And the crazy thing is…

God dug up all my deep roots, but He showed me the great joy of what it means to replant all of them in heaven.

When God showed me I couldn’t do a single thing to heal myself or fix my marriage – except look to Him – when I finally stopped trying – He healed me and my marriage and made my marriage beautiful.

At the end of that long year I spent studying Mandarin and changing diapers and leading Bible studies, l woke up one day to find that through leading the Bible studies I had literally written my first book without realizing I was writing it! What a gift of love!

After I sold everything I owned and learned that I don’t need pretty things to have abundant life, God gave me back even prettier things than I had before.

He has led me to places I never expected to go, to beautiful people I never expected to meet. To joys I never knew I could experience.

Microsoft Word - Christmas in Kansas.docx

What I don’t understand, truly, is how I got the great privilege of being invited to pray that prayer when I was just 12. I don’t know how it is possible that now, at almost 37, I have this beautiful gift of 25 years of ever-increasing abundant living forever transcribed in my heart.

I just know I haven’t been given this gift to keep it all for myself.

So today…if I could invite you to our pretty little house in the plains, I would invite you to sit down with me and my family next to our fire pit in the green grass. I would invite you to gaze into the cheerful fire with us under stars that hang low in an impossibly vast prairie sky,

I would feed you s’mores. {Because that’s what I do.}

Then I would hand you a little stick to hold in your hands.

I would tell you – with tears, probably – this story of burning. But the tears would make my eyes shine.

So with shining eyes I would tell you about the all-consuming presence of the living God which is abundant life.

I would invite you to close your eyes and listen through my words. To listen through the breeze kissing your cheeks. To listen through the loud pops of the fire. I would invite you to listen for the sound of a giant, gentle Heart.

I would invite you into the adventure of all adventures. Into the life of all lives.

Lord, my life is Yours. Use me for Your glory. Use me however You want to use me.

I would invite you to throw your little stick into the fire.

To watch as it flares up to make a great light.

To gaze in wonder as it is consumed by the flames.

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.’

When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, ‘Moses! Moses!’

And Moses said, ‘Here I am.’

‘Do not come any closer,’ God said. ‘Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.’ Exodus 3:1-5

“As soon as they had come to land, they saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid on it, and bread…

So when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?’

He said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.’

He said to him, ‘Feed My lambs.’

He said to him again a second time, ‘Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?’

He said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.’

He said to him, ‘Tend My sheep.’

He said to him the third time, ‘Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?’

Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, ‘Do you love Me?’ And he said to Him, ‘Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.’

Jesus said to him, ‘Feed My sheep. Most assuredly, I say to you, when you were younger, you girded yourself and walked where you wished; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish.’

This He spoke, signifying by what death he would glorify God.

And when He had spoken this, He said to him, ‘Follow Me.’” John 21:9,15-19

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  • Beth Spisiak March 10, 2017 at 10:06 pm

    Leah, thank you for writing this. It is beautiful writing but more importantly, the life of surrender you describe is even more beautiful. I struggle still with surrender, but there is such a good God waiting on the other side….bless you.

  • Nancy March 10, 2017 at 9:06 pm

    Leah your story resonates so closely to my story but you’ve worded it so much better than I could. There has been a great burning in my story too, so many similar “deals” I made with God that went exactly opposite of what I asked for. Thank God He gives us what He knows we need instead of what we ask for.