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Burning On Without Burning Up

And the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed.” Exodus 3:2

Whenever I hear this, my mind paints a picture of a bush on fire. That though, is not the extraordinary thing in the passage. A bush being on fire may in fact have been a most common event for Moses who, at this point in his life, had a lifetime’s experience in the desert. What drew Moses near that bush and what I’d like to put emphasis on is that last phrase of Exodus 3:2. The bush was not consumed by the fire. The account goes on to state “And Moses said, “I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.” Exodus 3:3

I’ve recently been reading through Kenda Dean and Ron Foster’s book “The Godbearing Life” where they bring up this point. And the more I think on it the more I see how significant this account has for our ministry to young people. In the book they state: “This verse implies that if Yahweh is going to use us to get youth’s attention, if the Lord is going to ignite our lives and our ministries in such a way that youth “turn aside” to look, then God is not calling us to identify with Moses. God is calling us to identify with the bush.

How do we do this as youth ministers? How can we be on fire for God without being consumed?

Feed Your Own Fire

The almost too ordinary yet neglected way to do this is to feed our own fire. Just as a bonfire blazing doesn’t go out if it is constantly fed with logs and fuel so we too will not go out if we keep our souls fed. We all know this but that doesn’t mean it is simple to do. As workers it can get easy to neglect our own spiritual sustenance as we feed others spiritually. Don’t get caught in the deception that giving to others and causing them to grow can substitute for our own spiritual growth. Instead set aside times for: personal communication with God; listening to His word; growing deeper in knowledge and wisdom; and placing ourselves into situations where we can experience His love. Indeed as the work ahead grows in demand let it not be a call to lessen our times with God but rather a call to increase them. Consider Martin Luther’s statement: “Work, work, from morning until late at night. In fact, I have so much to do that I shall have to spend the first three hours in prayer.

Let Work Become Worship

As I write this the Christmas season is in full swing. Where I live, the Christmas holiday is a great season of celebrating throughout the land and a wonderful pointer to all that Jesus has done. For those who work with youth here, this time is one of the busiest. Due to the workload, the many programs ongoing and events ahead still needing to be planned, the season could become less about celebration and more about fulfilling obligations and doing the work. Work stops being a God-ordained task and starts becoming a requirement of the job or something that just has to be done even if it is hated.

Christmas is just an example; there are many other times where the ministry becomes less about worship and more about work. If you can relate, if contemplating the days ahead fills you with dread or worse, apathy, consider these questions:

What if the work becomes transformed into worship? What if we offer what we do as an offering pleasing to God? Wouldn’t considering it as such make our fires burn brighter and keep the work from consuming us?

Back to the burning bush, and this time think of Moses. His day began ordinarily and probably with the same routine as he has had almost every day. And he spots what might have been the most ordinary sight, a common bush just like any of the hundreds he has seen before. But before this day ends, he will be taking off his sandals in worship.

I’m not sure how common you find your ministry becoming, but if it does allow that historic moment to inspire you. Look to the common things happening in your ministry and allow God to surprise you in them. Youth ministry can do this in many ways. A young person’s vibrant personality could refresh you, teenager will share to you a surprising spiritual insight, the success of the event could be God encouraging you, and a parent’s kind words could be a personal message from the Lord.

So, in all you do for the Lord, take time to pause. Look. Feel. Celebrate. Worship. And a beautiful thing happens when our work becomes worship: it becomes more meaningful to God and man as well. Especially in youth ministry, young people are keen to spot folk who are just doing their job and those who are genuinely enjoying what they do. And they are drawn and grow interested when we are the latter.

Listen for the Lord

Just as God can use our work to speak to us He can also speak to us even when the work breaks down. God could be calling to us not just when an event is successful but even when an event fails. Not only our superiors’ praises but their criticisms could be a personal message from the Lord. Mark Batterson says:

New chapters in our lives often begin with an orientation. You go through an orientation when you start at a new school or get a new job. But God begins new chapters in our lives via disorientation. Jesus didn’t do orientations. Jesus did disorientations. Doesn’t it seem like His disciples were in a constant state of disorientation? We think it’s because of spiritual immaturity, but maybe it models the way God makes disciples. Sometimes God needs to disorient us so He can reorient us.

What happened to Moses as he turned aside to observe the bush was certainly far from his expectations. It was a disorientation. And yet from that event his life took an incredible turn in the plan of God. May the same be true of your disorientations. My point is that if we understand it, if we see God’s hand not just in the good but in every situation we will live lives confidently aflame for God. What seems like cold water being drenched on our fires we will understand to be God’s way to help us burn longer or burn all the brighter for Him.

Whatever situation you find yourself in as you read this, may you be encouraged to feed your fires, worship God with your work, and listen for the Lord. This season may you burn bright and be a light for other people. May you “live so that they will see the good things you do and praise your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:16

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