Yesterday was quite a day of sports in our neck of the woods – the Boston Red Sox, the New England Patriots and the Boston Bruins were all in action. It is a wonder to see all these professional athletes utilizing their talents, gifts and natural abilities. What we do not witness while watching these games is all the time spent of training: hours in the batting cages and fielding ground balls, innumerable sessions of weight-training and blocking drills or countless mornings of ice time practicing their slapshots. We celebrate the excellence of the players on the field or rink, knowing that those who are playing have worked harder than we can imagine in order to get to where they are.
The same is true for musicians, writers, plumbers, surgeons, sales representatives and every other vocation (and avocation, as well). Our effectiveness in any endeavor is dependent upon our efforts in honing the requisite skills for the task. It is not enough to have a gift – whether you are a piano prodigy or a math whiz – if you never put in the hours practicing your craft. That is why the Apostle Paul writes the following words to his protégé Timothy:
For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. 2 Timothy 1:6
Sometimes we are tempted to think that the spiritual gifts that God bestows upon us are effectively different than all the other gifts He gives us, but according to Paul, that is just not true. We need to fan into flame any and every gift we’ve been given by God.
That phrase – ‘fan into flame’ – is a hapax legomenon (it only appears once in all of scripture) and therefore is really difficult to contextualize. It is a single Greek verb formed by the combination of the roots forms of again, living and fire. It means to make a fire live again, to be rekindled or a flame to be revived. It is not the process of starting the fire, but maintaining it. When my family goes camping, it is my job (as the dad) to start the fire and I involve the kids in the process of keeping it going. When it comes to spiritual gifts, God’s job is to start the fire. Our job is to do what we can to keep it robust – adding more wood to the fire, blowing on the embers, making sure it is not quenched by rain.
Whatever gift, talent or natural ability you have been blessed with, let Paul’s words encourage you to fan that fire into flame. Work at your craft so that your passions never simply smolder. Commit to practice what you are already good at so that there is more sizzle than smoke. Do not neglect the spiritual gifts you have been given; practice them. Whether it is preaching or prophecy, helping or hospitality, leadership or giving, or any of the other gifts mentioned in Romans 12:6-8, 1 Corinthians 12:8-10, 28 or Ephesians 4:11, do whatever is necessary to rekindle and revive the fire that God started within your soul. Maintain whatever God has begun in you.
It all started on Tuesday with a question during the men’s Bible study: What is “fervor” in Romans 12:11? Actually, it all started last Sunday when I was announcing the men’s Bible study and said, “The topic will be ‘men and spiritual fervor’ – I’m not exactly sure what that means.” Interestingly enough, I discovered that ‘fervor’ comes from a Greek verb (ze’ō) which means “a burning passion”. So, in the context of Romans 12:11, we are commanded to remain aflame by the Spirit as we serve the Lord. We are called to burn with spiritual passion for the cause of Christ.
“Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.” Romans 12:11
When I think about burning passion, I think of the upcoming Valentine’s Day more than this week’s Sabbath Day. Am I the only one who feels slightly uncomfortable connecting passion and the Lord in any way? Am I the only one who sees passion as emotional, frenetic and earthy and the Lord as cerebral, peaceable and heavenly? For most people, mention of the word passion elicits feelings of romance and mention of the Lord in the same breath seems sacrilegious. As I sat in the Bible study with other men from the church, I sensed trepidation in attempting to reconcile the two disparate terms.
Yet, the truth of Scripture demands that I find some correlation between our fervor and our faith. It has to be something more than a cliché (‘are you on fire for the Lord?’) or a catchphrase (‘faith on fire’). In finding a connection between fervor and faith is perhaps to consider what we do know: there are things in each of our lives – relationships, actions and ideas – that, by their very mention, send our hearts racing. Perhaps the truth derived from Romans 12:11 is that those things can be used by God for God. Every aspect of our personality and personhood has been perfectly fashioned by God, including our passions. If God has given us a particular passion, He also intends for us to express it.
So express it. Perhaps you are passionate about logic and problem-solving; your heart may be set ablaze by deeply exploring the scripture and disclosing the deep truths the Bible contains. Perhaps you are passionate about helping people in need; your heart may be set ablaze by generously expending your time and/or treasure to lift up those who are downtrodden. Perhaps you are passionate about the arts; your heart may be set ablaze in worshipping loudly, dancing meditatively, painting gloriously or writing inspirationally. Perhaps you are passionate about sharing the good news of Jesus Christ; your heart may be set ablaze every time you sit in an airplane seat next to a fellow traveler. Wherever your fervor lies, express it in ways that exalt the Lord.
What are you passionate about? What gets your heart racing? How does God want you to show it and how can the kingdom of God be blessed through it? Perhaps, if we all do that, we can make church the most passionate place on earth!