I live at latitude 44.9778° north, longitude 93.2650° west. If you’re not a geography or cartography geek (I’m not either), those are the coordinates for Minneapolis, Minnesota. Perhaps all “Minneapolis” means to you is cold. Some think Minneapolis is a suburb of the North Pole. Not quite true, but it feels like it sometimes.
With the return of December, winter is now bearing down on us. We Minnesotans will spend a considerable amount of the next four months managing snow, ice, and frigid temperatures. Our furnaces have fired up and we’ve dug out our sweaters, coats, hats, gloves, scarves, boots, shovels, and (for those fortunate ones) snow blowers. Once again we’re allowing extra time to brush snow and scrape ice off our cars before driving anywhere. We veterans of the tundra understand this very well: It takes a lot of work to stay warm.
Fire: Key to Surviving the Cold
But 150 years ago it took a lot more work to stay warm during a Minnesota winter. I have great respect for the native peoples and settlers who endured the Lord’s cold (Psalm 147:17) before the days when natural gas was piped directly into homes equipped with automatic, thermostat-regulated heating systems. A sesquicentenary ago, most people had only one way to keep a house or teepee warm: Tend a fire.
Life during winter revolved around tending fire, because fire was key to surviving the cold.
And tending a winter fire was a lot of work. It began during the warm seasons, because you had to think and plan ahead for the winter fire. You knew unpredictable snowstorms and severe cold were coming. You’d still have to do nearly everything you had to do in the summer, but everything would take longer in the winter, and you would have less daylight in which to do it. If you ran out of fire fuel in the bitter cold, you would be in trouble. So you were cutting down trees long before the first flurries, chopping them into logs, and figuring out ways to keep them secure and dry.
When winter hit, the fire was always on your mind, no matter what else you were doing. If you didn’t fuel the fire, it went out. If the fire went out, the temperature dropped quickly and it took a lot more — more wood, more work, and more time — to reheat a cold room and cold furniture than to keep them warm in the first place. So every day, besides the rest of life’s demands, you split wood, restocked the fireside, kept the fire fed, and cleaned out ashes. The fire was the first thing you tended in the morning and the last thing you tended at night.
Tending the fire was a lot of work, but it was necessary work because fire was key to survival.
Cold Is a Stealthy Killer
If you wonder why some of us live up here where it gets cold (sometimes we wonder too), one answer is that we are given the privilege of living a parable of a spiritual reality.
The constant spiritual climate of this world in which our souls inhabit is much more like Minneapolis in December in 1865 than it is San Diego — whenever. The spiritual temperature is dangerously low and if we are not careful, our love, like many, will grow cold (Matthew 24:12).
And the thing about severe cold, which we Minnesotans know well, is that it damages us before we realize it. The effects of frostbite are typically not felt when it’s happening. Only later do we realize the seriousness of our injury. Every year people lose digits and limbs to the cold. And some freeze to death. Cold is a stealthy killer, for a heavy drowsiness descends on its victims and they lose consciousness, drifting off to death.
You Must Tend Your Fire
The key to surviving the spiritual polar climate we live in is fire. We’ve got to stay warm. If we don’t, it can result in injury or even death. And it takes a lot of work to stay warm. You don’t just wing it in the winter. You’ve got to dress for the weather and keep your fire burning, which requires preparation and maintenance.
The fire is your faith-filled love for, your desire for, your hedonistic delight in the Triune God. And this fire is fed with the Holy Spirit fuel of the kindling of the word and fervent prayer.
But I don’t mean a passive Bible reading and cool praying. Simply passing your eyes over words of Scripture won’t keep your fire going, and neither will minimal, distracted, disengaged praying. This is like going out to the woods of Minnesota and thinking that if you looked at the trees and said, “God, I need some logs to burn,” you would magically have logs for your fire.
No. You need to chop at the trees, you need to split logs, you need to protect them from the elements, praying earnestly all the while for the grace to keep the fire burning. Yes, the fire is God’s grace, and the work it requires is God’s means to obtaining the grace. Making firewood is hard work, but its reward is a warm, abundant life. The alternative is the damaging numbness of the cold.
The fire needs to always be on our minds, no matter what else we are doing. If we don’t fuel the fire, it will go out. If the fire goes out, the temperature in our souls drops quickly and it takes a lot more work to reheat them than to keep them warm in the first place. If you need some fresh help for Bible reading and prayer, take advantage of what’s available.
Spiritual cold is a stealthy killer. It lulls people to sleep and they lose consciousness not realizing their peril. That’s why our lives must revolve around tending the fire, because the fire is key to surviving the cold. And the fire should be the first thing we tend in the morning and the last we tend at night.