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Starting Fires

Laura Phelps
April 20, 2021

There is a path in town I frequently walk with my dogs. Perfectly paved and lined with wild flowers, there is one specific stretch that always catches my eye. Carefully placed, hand-painted rocks with words of positive affirmation are sprinkled along its curve: be awesome...be kind...you are brave. This morning, a new message appeared: blaze your own trail.

I was reminded of the final Connect Coffee Talk in Opening Your Heart, the most tried and true Walking with Purpose Bible study. Titled Outside Activities: Set the World on Fire, women completing this study are encouraged to recognize the battle and stoke the fire by going out into the world and doing something. Something risky. Something bold. Something that appears impossible, but with confidence in God, is totally possible. It is a call to find our holy discontent, check our motivation, and then peel our lazy selves up off our comfy couches and set the world ablaze.

And I wonder. Are we doing this? Because let’s be honest. Our couches are really comfy, Netflix is easier, and starting a fire is dangerous. Why reach for the matches when the remote control is so much closer, not to mention safer?

Oh, how the enemy of our souls loves Netflix.

Ever since my friend Mallory sent me a link to a talk on the cosmic battle,[1] I have been contemplating my own personal battle—examining where I fail to respond to God’s call, and in return, allowing the enemy to ever so slowly extinguish my fire. I have been tracing my own steps and actions, looking for the change in behavior, searching for signs of transformation. And while I am good to report that my branches are not completely void of fruit, I would like to report better than good. For God, I would like to do great. Risky, even. And bold. In the marrow of my bones I know that I have been called to set fires. Not sit by them.

So what trips me up?

Fear. Fear of offending. Fear of looking outdated. Fear of being ridiculed, mocked, hated, or misunderstood. Fear of not being intelligent enough to defend my faith. Fear of negative and mean-spirited comments. You see, I want to be obedient to God’s call, but out of fear, I tend to settle for a shallow faith. Oh, my faith runs deep in the privacy of my home or at Mass with my people or on a phone call with my best friend. But out in public? With the skeptics and doubters and lukewarm Catholics? Not so much. Why? Because I like to be liked. I hate confrontation. Plus, I am a busy woman, and I don’t feel like adding “radical discipleship” to my to-do list. And so I nod my head in agreement when you speak of “your truth” (as if there is more than one), and I have zero response to you when you put down my faith in the frozen food aisle at ShopRite. (And by “you” I really don’t mean you. Unless that was you. Then yes, I am talking about you.)

See? I don’t even like writing that. 

From the desire of being loved, deliver me, O Lord.

And yet, to ignore this call from Jesus would be detrimental. Not only to my soul, but to the countless souls He could reach if only I were an obedient disciple. Because, you see, without obedience, discipleship is incomplete. According to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, author of The Cost of Discipleship, “obedience is the first step of faith.”[2] When I choose to be “obedient enough,” there is nothing radical about my discipleship. I am not taking a full step. A devoted disciple understands that following Jesus is not on their terms but on God’s. We don’t get to choose how we follow and tell Jesus our plans. We are shown how to follow, and then He waits to see how we will respond. If we will respond.

And nothing is ever more important than responding in obedience to Jesus’ call.

Do you know what we call those with a negative response to Jesus’ call? The “would-be followers.”

How would you like that engraved on your tombstone?

Here lies Laura...Loving mother, wife, and would-be follower of Christ.

I didn’t make this up. It’s Scripture:

As they were proceeding on their journey someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus answered him, “Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.” And to another he said, “Follow me.” But he replied, “Lord, let me go first and bury my father.” But he answered him, “Let the dead bury their dead. But you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” And another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but first let me say farewell to my family at home.” To him Jesus said, “No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:57-62)

Deep breath now ladies, because this is insanely hard. And it is precisely why so many of us choose “easy Christianity.” True discipleship means we let go of who we used to be and step wholeheartedly into the woman God desires us to be. It means breaking old habits, letting go of comfortable sins, and stepping into a brand new life of obedience to Christ. It means embracing a personal relationship with God; trusting Him so much with our lives that we lose our fear of starting fires.

And if you are anything like me, your heart is leaping out of your body screaming, “yes to true discipleship,” while your head is simultaneously shaking, “no way!” There may even be a part of us that assures ourselves, “God doesn’t really mean this. He would never ask us to let go of everything and follow Him.” 

Oh, how the enemy loves it when we doubt that what God says is true. 

So, practically speaking, how do we do this? How do we lose the fear of being a devoted disciple? How do we connect our heads with our hearts? Honestly? I don’t have a complete answer for you yet. But I can offer one simple step that I am taking because it is what the first disciples did...and it worked.

We get on bended knees and pray in confidence to the Holy Spirit. We beg for the strength to live the Gospel with fervor, to speak the Word of God with boldness, and to increase our zeal for Christ. We ask for the help to defend the Church, to speak of the one and only Truth, and to fearlessly set fires wherever we go.[3]

The world has enough would-be disciples. We can do better. We must do better. It is time to quit reaching for the plow while craning our necks to look at what we are leaving behind. Time to trust that the kingdom we are after is far better than anything we give up here on earth. Are you ready to take your holiness seriously? To step into radical and devoted discipleship and become masters of an unquestioned obedience? Oh, sweet friend, I pray that you are. Because if we collectively do this, imagine the fires we’d set!

[1] Matt Chandler, “The Cosmic Battle,” The Village Church Resources, 43:03, March 15, 2021, https://www.tvcresources.net/resource-library/sermons/cosmic-battle/
[2]
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship. (New York: Macmillan, 1966).
[3] cf. Acts 4: 23-31

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