There the angel of the LORD appeared to Moses as fire flaming out of a bush. When he looked, although the bush was on fire, it was not being consumed. (Exodus 3:2)
What a remarkable sight: a bush on fire, but not consumed. “I must turn aside to look,” Moses thinks, asking “Why does the bush not burn up?”
On fire, but not consumed. Have you ever experienced this?
We can be “on fire” for so many things: God, church, family, country, work, recovery, justice—anything that stirs our passion and “gets us out of bed in the morning,” to quote a beloved prayer. Catching fire is easy. Sustaining fire without being burned by it; that’s the tricky part.
Contrast this burning bush with another famous plant: The Giving Tree as penned by Shel Silverstein. “Once there was a tree,” it begins, “and she loved a little boy.” Unfortunately (and I know mine is not a popular take on this book) the little boy who enjoys eating apples and resting in the shade grows up to be the sort of person who demands all the apples, all the branches, and even the tree’s trunk, until she (yup, Silverstein’s tree is a she; don’t get me started) is reduced to a stump, grateful that the old man is willing to return and rest his weary, selfish bones on her. The tree, once “on fire” with love for a little boy, has been consumed by his greed and shortsightedness.
For what are you on fire? What fruit is that fire bearing, in and around you? Is it a generative fire—giving light and warmth where they are needed most—or a destructive one, burning you out and preventing you from giving over the long haul?
Besides “consumed or not,” the most important distinction between the burning bush and the giving tree is the source of the kindling; this makes it a rich tool for discernment. A flame that is of God is inherently sustainable. Mix in flawed human motives—desires for riches or honor or pride, in the language of the Spiritual Exercises—and the blaze quickly fans out of control. “On fire but not consumed” is a measure of sustainability, whether in ministry or any other passion.
Returning to the Exodus story, we read that Moses does indeed pause to ponder. His willingness to stop and contemplate allows him to hear God’s call, and to respond. “Remove the sandals from your feet,” God then instructs, “for the place where you stand is holy ground” (Exodus 3:3-5).
May the flame that animates your life always lead you to holy ground.
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