Perhaps you have heard some version of this story: Abba Lot, a young desert father in search of spiritual advice went to see Abba Joseph, an older, wiser one. He said, “Father, according as I am able, I keep my little rule, my little fast and my little prayer. And according to as I am able, I strive to cleanse my mind of all evil thoughts and intents. What more should I do?” Abba Joseph rose and stretched out his hands to heaven, and his fingers became 10 lamps of fire. He answered, “If you will, you can become all flame.”
The mature Christian life consists of so much more than tinkering about with spiritual disciplines or taming peccadilloes. Following Jesus Christ involves nothing less than becoming all flame. It is about being swept up into the life of our God who is a consuming fire (Heb. 12:28–29). It is becoming engulfed by divine glory, both inwardly and outwardly.
When I think of the inward dimension, I am drawn to the disciples on the road to Emmaus. They could only describe their experience through the metaphor of fire: “Were not our hearts burning [kaiō] within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32). The Greek term can also be translated “fiery” or “all ablaze.” Most fundamentally, becoming all flame involves an encounter with the living Christ. It involves a deep and gradual awakening to the reality that Jesus is not merely a figure from history, but is yet alive and active, right now.
Becoming all flame also involves growing in holiness through the refiner’s fire. “Fire tests the purity of silver and gold, but the Lord tests the heart” (Prov. 17:3). Fire and impurity cannot coexist for long. Please note, though, that it’s not about embracing legalism. Rather, becoming all flame entails surrender to God’s purifying work within us. It means allowing God’s fiery Spirit of love to melt away the dross of our sin, not so that we might thereby become more like him (we are already acceptable in Christ), so that we might resemble Christ more completely and burn more brightly in him.
Becoming all flame also necessitates outward expression. When well-tended, a fire transforms its surroundings. So too, when the fire of God burns radiantly within us, the world around us is changed. This is why Jesus instructed his disciples to wait before they witnessed. Wait for what? For the opportunity to be filled with God’s own Spirit so that they might become all flame.
The church today has more resources for mission than ever before, but we also know that the most powerful way for us to witness to God’s presence in the world is to be consumed by his presence ourselves. We each have before us the beautiful opportunity to surrender, day by day, to Christ’s ongoing invitation to us to become all flame.