I love to study the meaning of the Old Testament sacrifices, complete with the Law of Moses and the things which were established as signs or symbols of the promise of the Messiah and the action he would take in our lives at his coming. The Old Testament can be a bit hard to read through, especially since it seems like there is a lot of blood wars, blood sacrifices, bad things happening, and a whole lot of sinning going on! I take heart in all of this, though, because I see regular people, struggling to make a way in a regular world, and meeting with regular issues we all have to encounter. So, instead of slugging through, I look for the hidden truths and things we might otherwise overlook if we were just reading these chapters as "historical content". One such passage is this one I am sharing this morning. In the Book of Leviticus, much instruction was given to the priests on how they were conduct their daily business in offering of sacrifices. In the instructions given to Moses for the priests, sacrifices, holy days, and special feast days, there is rich meaning pointing us toward the one who would become the ultimate blood sacrifice, making ultimate atonement once and for all for all of mankind's sins. As Moses is receiving some of these instructions from the Lord and passing them onto the Tribe of Levi (the Levite priests), we come along this passage in Leviticus where we see the instruction to "tend the fire" of the altar - something which was never to go out. I don't know about you, but I have tended some fires in my day and keeping it so that it never went out was a chore. You'd have to gather the wood, keep enough alongside the fire to tend it even when bad weather made it hard to do so, and then you'd have to stir the embers frequently enough to infuse the fire with that "stoking" heat it often needed to ignite afresh. I don't think this is too different from what has to happen in our own spiritual lives each and every day if we are to have a continual "burning" within our spirit which keeps us "on fire" in our relationship with Jesus.
The fire must never go out, so put wood on it each morning. After this, you are to lay an animal on the altar next to the fat that you sacrifice to ask my blessing. Then send it all up in smoke to me. The altar fire must always be kept burning—it must never go out. (Leviticus 6:12-13 CEV)
The altar fire must never go out. It was to be tended - never left unattended. It had to be stoked - not left to burn down to ashes. It had to be able to consume what was placed upon the altar - so it had to burn hot. It had to be "mobile" or easily moved - as the Israelites were a "nomadic" people for quite a while until they settled into the land of Canaan. All of these important facts could easily be glossed over in this accounting of how the sacrifices were to be prepared and offered - but without fire, all the sacrifices would be nothing more than a rotting pile of flesh, putrid in the odor which it would give off, and festering with all manner of parasite and disease. I think this also speaks to the importance of fire - it had to be able to consume and turn what would otherwise be a rotting pile of mess into a savory delight.
- Your heart fire must be tended and attended. What gets our attention gets tended - plain and simple. If we turn away from tending that spiritual fire, it is easy for it to begin to go out. So, diligence must be maintained in ensuring we are consistent in tending it. Whenever we tend something, we are directing our attention toward the object we are tending - it means we narrow our focus to see just what we need to be paying attention to and then we do something. It is not enough to just look like we are tending our spiritual growth - we actually need to be attending to it! We need to be actively engaged in taking care of our spiritual lives - not just passively going about life hoping God will help us to grow.
- Your heart fire must burn hot. The only fire which burns hot is that which has sufficient fuel, a "heat source", and sufficient oxygen to burn. Embers produce a heat source - fuel is another matter which requires our attention. If you have ever tried to keep a campfire or fireplace burning through the night, you know just how much wood it requires. There is quite a bit of planning which must be put into keeping the fire "hot" throughout the night hours. The store of wood has to be sufficient - it cannot be spindly branches - for those will be consumed way too quickly. Although they help stoke the fire as kindling to reignite the embers, they quickly are consumed and burn out. We need the "large logs" in order to keep the fire burning. This means we cannot expect to go through life on short bursts of "fuel" for our fire spiritually. We need to plan ahead for those larger "infusions" of life-giving fuel. It may mean we need to take time to really get into the meat of the Word, or just get time alone with God to listen attentively to what he has for us that day. We need "logs"!
- Your heart has to be available. The altar was available to receive the sacrifices placed upon it - it had one purpose - to receive the sacrifice. Our hearts have one purpose - to be the throne of God's grace and love in our lives. I think we often get so focused on how we dress, how our hair looks, and whether we drive the right car to make us look successful and forget all the while that the heart is really the most important part of what is "on display" in our lives. The altar stood there, ready to receive. I think this is what makes us effective in our day - to be ready to receive what God lays upon our hearts. Then we consume it fully and it becomes that sweet savor which emanates from our lives.
- Your heart must be movable. This may be one of the most important parts of the the fire we might just miss if we gloss over these words. The Israelites were on the move a great deal of the time in their first forty years or so as a nation. In this time, they could not just let the fires die out and then make a "new one" later on when they settled somewhere. In fact, they'd stoke the coals, heap them into earthen jars, and then carry those burning hot embers to the next place they'd erect the altar. I think God looks for us to be ever-ready to move when he says "move" and then to be ready to get down to business when he says to "stay". The fire must never go out - if it is abandoned, it will surely die out. God's fire within can be abandoned by our neglect - but if we are constantly alert to his voice, we will be ready to move when called upon and eager to "dig in" when he shows us it is time to just settle into what he has for us to do.
We have a role in keeping the fire burning in our lives - God may give the initial spark, but we tend it ever so carefully, my friends! Just sayin!