“Meanwhile, the fire on the altar must be kept burning; it must never go out. Each morning the priest will add fresh wood on the fire… Remember, the fire must be kept burning on the altar at all times. It must never go out.”
How long has it been since you checked the fire on the altar in your own personal temple? Is it burning, blazing, smoldering, or has it gone completely out? Your responsibility as a New Testament priest (which by the way is your eternal vocation no matter the location according to 1 Peter 2:9) is to maintain the fire of God on the altar of God so that the aroma of the sacrifice of God can continually draw men and women to God as they come in contact with you, the temple of God.
The sons of Aaron were responsible for maintaining the wood that was used on the Altar of sacrifice. Each morning they would clean away the ashes of yesterday and meticulously prepare the wood by stacking it in a manner that would insure the consumption of the sacrifice and also guarantee a fire that would last throughout the day. The flame of the altar was to be a perpetual reminder of God’s holy presence at this place where sin met grace and death gave way to life.
A fire of that magnitude required a great deal of wood. Wood was rare and thus the cost of maintaining a perpetual flame was expensive. The scrub bushes and vineyard clippings of Palestine were insufficient to produce a lasting flame with sufficient heat, therefore it had to be harvested, split to fit, transported great distances, and stored with great care. In essence, a great deal of planning and preparation was required.
Skill was required in preparing a fire that would burn at a high temperature to quickly consume a bull, a goat, or a lamb. The priest did not just pile the wood on the altar; instead he carefully arranged it in a careful order. It took time, effort, and great skill to achieve the desired results of a hot but lasting fire. It was costly!
The arranging of the wood also required dedication. Every day no matter how hot or cold, no matter the aches or the pains, no matter who got the glory, the priests in charge of the wood went quietly about their job and carried it out with precision and professionalism. Their God required it and their nation expected it. Their job description was simple: “The fire must be kept burning on the altar at all times. It must never go out.”
Our job is very similar. Although we no longer arrange wood on an earthen altar, we are still called to maintain the fire of God in our heart, which is the temple of God. The wood of passion, intimacy, obedience, sacrifice, and love is fuel worthy of our God’s holy flame. But too often we attempt to burn the spindly sticks of worldliness and the vines of vainglory on God’s altar and expect a great blaze to erupt. Instead the fire dwindles, smothers, and ultimately goes out.
Maintaining the fire of God exacts a cost and demands skill and dedication. An empty altar will never attract the fire of God and most of the individual temples (believers) that make up the corporate temple (the Church) have little or no wood on them. No wood – no flame. No flame – no fire! No fire – no power! No power – no presence! No presence – no God! No God – no life! No life – no hope!
Has the fire gone out? Then re-arrange the wood and ask the Lord to ignite it!