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November 15, 2014

Controlled Burn

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Last week I shared about our trip down into the Grand Canyon; this week I want to share about one more thing I learned in the Canyon, something I can’t seem to stop thinking about.

During the seven hour drive from Phoenix to the Northern Rim of the Canyon, our starting place for our hike, I was not a happy camper. I was wedged between my husband, whose frame took up a seat and a half (that translates as his seat plus half of my seat), and a precious young woman from Atlanta who was also a part of our trip. She was great about my continual drifting over into her seat, but it didn’t lessen the feeling of continual discomfort from the seat belt buckle wedged in my lower back or the cramped position of my body or knees.

By hour five, I was done. Canyon or no canyon, take me back to the hotel; no view is worth this middle-seat-wedged-ride. But about that time, our driver, a woman we nicknamed “Google” because of the unbelievable stash of information stored in her head about anything and everything Arizona, piped up about the surrounding scenery.

We left modern civilization about hour four of the drive, and the last three hours were spent making our way through deserts, plateaus, sandy rocks, Native American Indian reservations, and…forests. The closer we got the Canyon, the more trees we saw. Apparently, the desert had bloomed.

As we wove our way along the road, Pat pointed out burned patches in the forest scattered throughout the line of trees. Acres of the forest were scorched and charred, the trees pointing like black arrows towards the blue sky. (How I had not noticed the blackened trees before she pointed them out remains a mystery; perhaps it was the seat belt sticking in my side and my husband’s leg that kept traveling over into MY part of the seat.)

We asked if there had been a forest fire, and her answer is still something I am pondering: “No, Forest Rangers purposely set those trees on fire; it’s a technique they use called a Controlled Burn.”

She went on to explain that a controlled burn is a way to control the growth of the forest. What the Forest Service discovered after years of promoting the Smoky Bear campaign, “Only YOU can prevent forest fires,” and snuffing out every smoldering ash pile or lightening strike that occurred, they found that the forest was suffering. The forest actually needs fire to grow.

When Rangers light controlled burns in certain sections of the forest, the fire does two things. Number one, it reduces fuel buildup and consumes the undergrowth of the trees, things like leaf litter, dropped branches, and small scrub brushes, thereby decreasing the likelihood of a more serious, hotter fire coming and wiping out the forest in its entirety.

Number two, controlled burning is what certain types of pine trees actually need to grow. And I quote (I looked this up just to make sure Google knew what she was talking about), “Controlled burning stimulates the germination of some desirable forest trees, thus renewing the forest. Some cones are serotinous, meaning they require heat from fire to open cones to disperse seeds.”

Let that sink in for just a moment. Certain trees actually require heat from fire to open their cones to disperse their seeds. No fire, no growth. No fire, no seed dispersion. No fire, no future life of the forest.

Jesus says this in John 12:24, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains by itself alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”

Left to our own devices, we don’t do much dying. We like living. Breathing. Status Quo. Ease. Comfort. Wealth. Health.

But that’s not how a forest grows, and it’s not how a life grows either. Both forests and human lives take fire to disperse their seeds. So what does God do in His graciousness in our lives to help us along in our growth? He sets fires. Or, more accurately, He lights Controlled Burns.

If you want to know and understand the areas where God is doing the most work in your life, where He is helping to stimulate the most growth, look no further than the controlled burns in your own heart, your family, and the lives of those you hold dear.

Personally speaking, He has used fiery trials in my life to burn out more undergrowth, leaf litter, and scrub brushes, than I would care to admit. The fires He sets have burned up large portions of dross in my life – desires that were not rightly centered on Him, sinful patterns of anger, control, covetousness, and self-pity – and the ashy piles that remain have been the fertilizer for much future growth, deep growth, true growth, and life-bearing fruit.

The fires He has set have moved me from pride, arrogance, and independence into more reliance upon His Word, His Promises, His Presence, and His Hand. And the fires He has set have released seeds of life into my own personal journey, the lives of my children and husband, and the lives of those around me as I have surrendered in trust and let the flames do their deadly work.

Friends, I say this with utmost confidence and absolute faith: every fire every believer has ever walked through is a Controlled Burn no matter how hot or out of control the flames may feel. He never allows the flames to get hotter than that which He knows we can stand. He never allows us to be consumed by the flame just for the sake of suffering. It is always with a greater purpose in mind – our growth.

If you are in the middle of a fiery furnace right now, know this one thing: He is walking in the flames right along with you. He is aiding and strengthening you in the midst of the flames, giving you a testimony for a watching world of the faithfulness of your God. And He will not waste one single flame. Everything that is burned up belonging to our sin and our flesh, He turns into heavenly treasure, into eternal reward as we surrender it into His Hands. And every ash pile we see scattered around the edges of our lives is used for rich fertilizer to stimulate growth in our own lives and in the lives of those around us.

Take courage in the fires and hope in the flames. Our God is a jealous God, and His love is like a flame of fire, burning up everything and anything that stands in the way of complete trust, complete surrender, and true growth. I will close with this verse, food for thought to meditate on and treasure in our hearts today: “Put me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm. For love is as strong as death, jealousy as severe as Sheol; its flashes are flashes of fire, the very flame of the Lord” (Song of Songs 8:6).

Let the fires in your life stand as proof as His burning, consuming love. “For our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:29). Let the fires burn.