A few years ago, we came home from having lunch at my son and daughter-in-law’s place to find a large burned patch in the grass to the left of our house as well as damage to a neighbor’s fence.
As we talked with neighbors, we learned that the neighbor behind us had been burning leaves earlier in the week. She thought she had the fire completely out and left a few days later to go out of town.
But underneath the ash, fire had been quietly smoldering for several days. Finally it erupted into flame and then spread over the dry grass. Thankfully neighbors saw it and called the fire department.
It was frightening to me that all this could happen in just a few hours while we were out. Perhaps the fire had already started before we even left, but we didn’t notice it since our driveway is on the other side of the house.
Since the photo above is a panorama shot, it’s a little distorted. Our fence line actually turns a corner rather than standing in a straight line all the way down. Still, you can see how the fire neatly went around the fence.
Another evidence of God’s protection is that just a few months earlier, we had a row of dead trees rather than a fence. Some of you may remember our ordeal of having 50 trees on our property line die off. We had to find someone to cut them down and haul them off, and then someone else when the first crew didn’t fulfill their obligations. Then my husband found some used fencing on Craig’s List and spent several evenings and Saturdays putting up the new-to-us fence.
But imagine what would have happened if that row of dead trees had been in the line of the fire. I shudder to think about the possibilities. I’m grateful for God’s mercy and timing.
I don’t know what brought this incident to mind recently—maybe the sight of a different neighbor burning something in his yard last week.
James 3:5 came to mind: “So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire!” Just as an almost-put-out fire can blaze up and burn out of control, a small tongue can cause immeasurable damage.
Lust is another kind of fire. Job said that if he had been unfaithful to his wife, “that would be a heinous crime; that would be an iniquity to be punished by the judges; for that would be a fire that consumes as far as Abaddon, and it would burn to the root all my increase (Job 31:11-12). Proverbs asks, “Can a man carry fire next to his chest and his clothes not be burned? Or can one walk on hot coals and his feet not be scorched? So is he who goes in to his neighbor’s wife; none who touches her will go unpunished” (6:27-33).
Anger is not always bad in itself. God is angry at certain things. We should be angry at injustice, at mistreatment, and so on. But much anger arises from selfish reasons. Some of us have been on the receiving end of the quick flash fire of someone else’s anger. But a slowly smoldering undercurrent is no better. Psalm 37:8 says, “Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil.”
Gossip can easily spread like wildfire. “For lack of wood the fire goes out, and where there is no whisperer, quarreling ceases. As charcoal to hot embers and wood to fire, so is a quarrelsome man for kindling strife. The words of a whisperer are like delicious morsels; they go down into the inner parts of the body” (Proverbs 26:20-22).
Most sins are more easily dealt with when they’re small. If we let temptation linger without turning from it, if we fail to quench it completely, it can build up under the surface until it suddenly erupts and spreads.
But sometimes it seems we’re not only surrounded by temptation, but filled with it. We have an enemy of our souls who knows what our particular triggers are. And we have an old nature that fights against the new nature we received when we believed on the Lord Jesus as our Savior (Galatians 5:16-16). What hope do we have when the devil lures us and our own flesh betrays us?
I thought it was so unusual that the fire in our yard bypassed the vinyl fencing. I looked up whether vinyl was heat-resistant, and it is, according to this article. Vinyl fencing is hard to ignite, won’t spread easily if it does ignite, and can be easily put out.
How can we help our souls to be fire-resistant?
In describing the armor of God in Ephesians 6, Paul says, “ In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one” (verse 16). The word “extinguish” in the Greek means, according to the definitions at the bottom of this page, “extinguish, quench, suppress, thwart.” The shield of faith doesn’t just stop the fiery arrows of temptation from reaching us: it actually puts them out.
What kind of faith makes up this shield? The faith that acknowledges the one true God is righteous, kind, and good. The faith that believes His will and purposes are better than Satan’s lures or our desires. The faith that wants to please Him more than it wants to indulge self. The faith that believes and applies His Word. Proverbs 6:23-24a says, “For the commandment is a lamp and the teaching a light, and the reproofs of discipline are the way of life, to preserve you.” Jesus resisted Satan’s temptations with the Word of God (Matthew 4:1-11).
The Pulpit Commentary says of the shield of faith in Ephesians 6:16:
Withal taking up the shield of faith. The θυξεός was a large oblong shield covering a great part of the body, not the ἀσπίς, smaller and more round. Faith, in its widest sense, constitutes this shield – faith in God as our Father, in Christ as our Redeemer, in the Spirit as our Sanctifier and Strengthener – faith in all the promises, and especially such promises as we find in Revelations 2. and 3. “to him that overcometh” (comp. promise to Ephesus, Revelation 2:7) Wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the evil one. “Fiery darts” were weapons tipped with inflammable materials, firebrands, curiously constructed, adapted to set on fire. Metaphorically, considerations darted into the mind inflaming lust, pride, revenge, or ether evil feelings, emanations from the great tempter, the evil one. That such considerations sometimes start up suddenly in the mind, against the deliberate desire, sometimes even in the middle of holy exercises, is the painful experience of every Christian, and must make him thankful for the shield on which they are quenched. An act of faith on Christ, placing the soul consciously in his presence, recalling his atoning love and grace, and the promises of the Spirit, will extinguish these fiery temptations.
We can say with David:
For it is you who light my lamp;
the Lord my God lightens my darkness.
For by you I can run against a troop,
and by my God I can leap over a wall.
This God—his way is perfect;d
the word of the Lord proves true;
he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him.
For who is God, but the Lord?
And who is a rock, except our God?—
the God who equipped me with strength
and made my way blameless.
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