Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Becoming a Burning Bush for the Glory of God

Exodus chapter 3 records the well-known account of an angel of the Lord appearing to Moses in flames of fire from within a bush. It says, "though the bush was on fire it did not burn up" (3:2). I want to take a closer look at this story with a slightly different approach. Usually when we hear this story we pause only briefly at the curious image of a burning bush, shrug our shoulders thinking ("God does weird things sometimes") and move on to the more important matters of God speaking to Moses and the events that followed (Exodus, Wilderness, Promised Land, etc.) Perhaps the image of a burning bush has something to say to us.

Often when we read Scripture we are so focused on the words that we miss the stories, people, and images themselves that are within the text. The Bible is excellent literature, and as such contains rich images to convey the story of God's interaction with the world. The image of fire is used throughout the Bible for a variety of purposes. Some of the more significant purposes for fire are to symbolize God's glory, holiness, judgment, wrath, and the presence of the Holy Spirit.

What is so striking about the image of a burning bush is that of an ordinary object that has undergone a transformation into something extraordinary. There is nothing all too exciting about a bush. We are not even talking about an amazing redwood tree, or a blooming flower. It is just a boring old bush. About the only thing more boring than a bush is a rock, and God already has big plans to reveal his glory through a rock later on (See Exodus 17). What was it about this bush that caused Moses to take notice? Ruth Haley Barton has this to say about the matter, "The burning bush was, after all, a most ordinary object that became extraordinary when it was on fire with divine activity."

So, the question I want us to ask is, "How can we become like that burning bush, on fire with the glory of God?"

For too long the church has answered this question with some form of the answer: "become a better bush." Maybe if I do the right religious stuff the fire of God will come down. We use the analogy all the time, stating that we want to be "on fire for God!" It sounds like a pious statement, but what do we really mean by that? Perhaps we mean that we want to be a better Christian, more effective in ministry, blessed by God, have a more "exciting" walk with God...

These things are not necessarily bad, but maybe we are too focused on the bush. I want to suggest that the answer to our question is not found in becoming a better bush, in trying harder, a new discipleship program, or reading the latest Christian book on how to have a better life and be a better Christian. I believe the true answer is found in humility. It is found in understanding that we are just a bush. Nothing in life is going to give us an extraordinary purpose except the fire of divine activity, the glory of God. We can seek purpose and fulfillment in all the things of this world, but at the end of the day we are just a bush. When we come to the place where we realize we are nothing we are approaching humility. Andrew Murray puts it like this, "It (Humility) is not something we bring to God or he bestows; it is simply the sense of entire nothingness which comes when we see how truly God is all, and in which we make way for God to be all."2

"But as God is the ever-living, ever-present, ever-acting One who upholds all things by the word of his power, and in who all things exist, the relation of the creature to God could only be one of unceasing, absolute, universal dependence."3 Once you realize that you are just a bush, you are nothing, then you are in a position to abandon your will to the One who can set your life ablaze with his glory. Then you are in a position for God to use you to accomplish his purposes.

1. Ruth Haley Barton, Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership (Downers Grove: IVP, 2008), p.64. (emphasis added)
2. Andrew Murray, Humility: Beauty of Holiness (Scotts Valley, California 2009) Copyright 1896, p. 16. (emphasis added)
3. Ibid, 14. (emphasis added)

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