General William Both, father and founder of the Salvation Army, had a vital and lively faith. He worked in the London slums for many years, ministering to the physical as well as the spiritual needs of the “down and outers”. In one of his sermons, he said, “If we’re not careful, the fire will go out in your spiritual life, so keep the fire going in the altar of your heart.”
There are times when we may feel empty and there are only a few embers left. Our faith has grown cold, and there’s not much, if any, fire left. God seems out of reach. There are many ways to stay close to God, and one good way is to set aside 15 minutes a day for meditation and prayer using devotional material. Our way of life is not very conducive to spiritual growth. We are so busy, so hurried, so stretched in our schedules that we have to be intentional about being “still and knowing that God is God.”
If there is ever a time when a strong faith in God is needed, it is now. The world needs people who are passionate about their faith, who want to serve God by trying to make this world a better and safer place in which to live.
One of the things that we learn very early in life is that some things matter more than others. This is a life-long process as we try to determine what is most important or what deserves our attention. You hear people say, “My passion is _____,” or, “She has a passion for _____.” I know a man who quit a well paying job so he could pursue his passion for art and music. Jesus of Nazareth illustrated this time and time again. He had a passion for things that matter; for things that were true and honest and worthwhile. The fire to help those around him never burned out.
Someone has said that the ultimate tragedy of life is not death, but to die without finding the best in life; to die without living up to your potential. How many folks die with their music still in them? I heard about a boy who went with his parents to the Grand Canyon. At the end of the day, the boy was asked, “Well, what impressed you today?” The young man thought a moment and said, “Would you believe that today I spit a mile?” We can look at something beautiful and really not see it.
So, what do you get excited about? Your life is the sum total of the things you care about, the things that occupy your mind and the energy you invest throughout the years. I have a friend who refers to the little book Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, and he says, “God is in the small stuff, too.” There’s an old saying: “God never sends a thirsty soul to a dry well.” When we truly seek God’s Will, God is there.
I admired the way Antoinette Tuff handled the situation in Georgia with the alleged gunman recently. That was “big stuff” because the young man was ready to kill. She looked upon the would-be killer as a troubled human being who needed help. You could tell that she had a passion for God’s Will in every situation, and she reached out to him with compassion, although she says she was “terrified”. Sometimes we stand in our own way in seeking God’s Will. It’s like the cartoon of a young woman speaking to her doctor. “What can I do to feel better without giving up the things that make me feel bad” she asked. That’s like asking, “How can I make an ‘A’ without studying?” Or, “How can I have a better marriage without changing my attitudes or habits?” Jesus was talking about priorities and passion when he said, “Seek you first the Kingdom of God and other things will be added unto you.”
We live in a “having” society, where we are caught up in having, possessing and accumulating. Material things are great until they begin to own us. Our passion for “things” will soon wear thin. Not long ago, a friend passed away and someone said, “He was worth millions.” Not so. A person’s worth is not what they leave when they depart this world, but the life they live and the good they do while in it. As Matthew Arnold put it, “We should be ashamed to live and to die unless we have won some victory for humanity.”
My youngest son, Chris, works in the Methodist Rehab Hospital in Jackson, Mississippi. He took me on a tour of the hospital, pointing out the latest devices used for paraplegics. We went from room to room, where almost each one had a young athlete who became paralyzed playing a certain game. Some were paralyzed from their waist down. I was impressed with one young kid who was handicapped, but he was in a special chair that helped him open a door with his mouth. He could manage to do several things because of the latest technology. When I left, I prayed, “Lord forgive me for not thanking you for the ability to walk, to see, to open doors, to feed myself, to tell others about God’s redeeming love, and so on. Dear Lord, why do we take so many things for granted?”
So, as General Booth reminds us, “Keep the fire going in the altar of your heart.” Amen.