learning the words: on fire

burning bush

Today’s guest post is from April, who blogs about “taking back the church” at Revolutionary Faith. “Learning the Words” is a series on the words many of us didn’t have in fundamentalism or overly conservative evangelicalism– and how we got them back. If you would like to be a part of this series, you can find my contact information at the top.

“Are you on fire for God?”

This question became the bane of my spiritual existence in my young adult years–specifically from 2000 to 2008. Every Sunday morning and every Wednesday night youth service, I heard how important it was to be “on fire” for God. Because according to Revelation 3:16, being lukewarm was the worst possible thing for any Christian to be. People cold in their devotion got a pass. Lukewarm believers received the distinct pleasure of being vomited out of God’s mouth.

In my view, Revelation 3:16 is one of the most misunderstood, misinterpreted “clobber verses” in charismatic, Penecostal churches–perhaps even more than Ephesians 5:22-24 (wives submit to husbands). I know that’s a pretty bold claim. But I had this verse shoved down my throat almost weekly, and it proved to be just as damaging, if not more so, to my walk with Christ.

See, according to my church, being “on fire” meant to be enthusiastic in worship. Very enthusiastic. Don’t want to raise your hands? You’re not on fire. Don’t feel like shouting? You’re not on fire. Don’t feel like dancing as King David danced? You’re not on fire. Don’t scream like a “Jesus groupie” whenever the pastor speaks the Savior’s name? You’re not on fire. And, someday, God is going to barf you straight into the Lake of Fire–because you once cheered louder for Michael Jordan than you did for the everlasting Son of God– who died for you!

One can imagine the intense guilt this bred in me over time. I couldn’t worship quietly without feeling judged by my pastor, youth pastor, worship leader, and peers. Nothing I did during worship was ever good enough for them or, I thought, for God. Simply meditating in His presence was not good enough. Folding my hands and bowing my head was not good enough. I had to prove to everyone that I loved God more than anything else, and that meant jumping higher and singing louder than the average tween at a Justin Bieber concert. If ever I showed the slightest reservation in this regard, someone was always there to remind me of my fate as God’s future spew.

Needless to say, worship soon became a miserable experience for me. I often left youth service feeling sick inside. I was stuck on an emotional roller coaster without a way off. I’d come to church desperately wanting to feel the Holy Spirit, spend the whole time participating in a big pep rally, and leave feeling even more empty, guilty and confused than when I showed up. Something seemed terribly wrong with this scenario. I began to suspect I was being manipulated. But how? The verse was right there in black and white, wasn’t it?

No, it wasn’t. Not like my leaders claimed, anyway.

I eventually stumbled upon Revelation 3:16 in my private studies and read it in its proper context. And do you know what I discovered?

“I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.”

Revelation 3:16 has nothing to do with the outward intensity of one’s worship. Not. a. single. thing. It’s referring to people who know Jesus in name only–who refuse to draw close to him because they find fulfillment in the power of their wealth. They are self-righteous people who have allowed their materialism to blind them to their spiritual shortcomings.

It’s entirely possible for a person to be blind to their spiritual shortcomings while dancing around the front of a church. Dancing, jumping and shouting do not indicate spiritual awareness (as a visit to any night club will clearly demonstrate).

So why did my leaders twist this verse so far out of context? Probably because my jumping around made their ministry look more spiritual than it really was.

Over the past few months, God has been showing me exactly what it means to be “on fire” for Him. And it has nothing to do with how much I jump up and down in the pews. Instead, it’s about how much I’m willing to abide in Him, trust Him, lean upon Him for strength, guidance, and transformation. It doesn’t matter so much how I’m worshiping Him as long as I am worshiping Him, as the Bible says, in Spirit and in truth (John 4:24). And the truth is, God isn’t easily impressed by people’s outward displays. As always, He’s looking into our hearts to determine our true attitude toward Him (1 Samuel 16:7).

Finally, in 2013, I can say with humble assurance that I’m “on fire” for God. No crazy jumping or waving required. And my walk with Him has never been more intense.

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