Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Candles are cool.

“Candles are cool,” a friend commented as we set up for a prayer meeting. “There is just something about them.”

“Yeah,” was all I could really add as my eyes were drawn to the flame. There is something neat about that flickering flame. It is much more soothing than fluorescent lighting. It has a soft glow. The flame is somehow both gentle and effective, peaceful and strong. Beautiful.

Last month I helped facilitate a prayer service that involved the lighting of candles. Each individual lit their candle from a larger candle. It was a beautiful idea, quite symbolic, but we had the wrong kind of matches. They were not intended to be lit and re-lit over and over. There were some awkward pauses, the smell of burning wood, and slightly panicked moments when the “flame” got out of control. But as I watched person after person light their match and candle, God spoke to me about some of the similarities to our faith, our spiritual flame. Here are my observations:

Lighting the match required going to the larger candle. We couldn’t manufacture the flame or will it into being. We had to get it from the source. The same is true of our faith. It is a gift. We can’t manufacture it. We must go to the source and receive.

Sometimes lighting the match required time. Often the participants had to hold the match to the flame for a good 30 seconds before it would light. Patience was essential. The same is true of our faith. We are quite accustomed to immediate results, high-speed searches, fast food fixes, and instant gratification. Faith is ultimately about a relationship with God. Relationships take time. We must go to the source, and remain there, letting God work his grace in us over time.

Away from the source, the match’s flame would sometimes go out. If someone moved away from the larger candle too quickly, the tiny flame that had caught would go out. A flicker had begun, but it hadn’t had time to grow and gather strength. Sometimes we easily catch a flame of faith, a moment of inspiration, purpose, hope, or trust. But then we return to life as usual and the tiny flicker goes out. Again, we must remain with the Source (of all life, purpose, hope, trust) and let him strengthen us.

It was always possible to relight. When the match did go out, we knew exactly what to do. Go to the source. If only we were this logical in our spiritual lives. Sometimes when our match of faith goes out we panic. We spend so much time wishing it hadn’t, being ashamed of why it did, or trying to manufacture the flame again on our own. We wonder if we’re worthy and doubt if God is capable of re-lighting our flame. We can bypass that misery by simple putting our match to God’s flame. Over and over if we need to, trusting our heart to His.

And lastly, it was possible to light another candle with the new flame. This was, after all, the whole objective of the prayer activity. When we have faith and remain close to the Source we can (and should!) share our flame with others.

Today may we remember the faith we have been given. Care for it, fan it into flame, and always remain close to the Source.

Candles are indeed cool.

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