When We Were On Fire

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When we were on fire, we all were on fire. Even the kids who were cool enough to wear in-style clothes (instead of t-shirts purchased solely from Family Christian Bookstore), to date, and to go to secular concerts came around eventually. Youth leaders, even the middle-aged ones, used the lingo: “Be on fire for Jesus.”

And we were. My best friend and I started an early-morning Bible study back in middle school, naming it “Solid Rock” because, duh, Jesus is the solid rock on which we stand. We carried it on into high school but moved the time to Friday afternoons because we had grace enough for that. Not everyone can measure his or her devotion to Jesus by how early they wake up, right?

We prayed at the flagpole outside our school, not one Wednesday out of the year but every Wednesday. When it got too cold to stand outside, we’d huddle inside by the front door and pray. We never missed a beat. We really, truly believed our prayers meant something. We really, truly encountered Jesus there at the flagpole. Praying together wasn’t a chore. 

It was exciting when I became old enough to go on my first youth group missions trip because that’s what all the “on fire” youth group kids were doing with their July. We went to Brazil, and my heart really, truly got stuck there, so I went back summer after summer for a while. Another best friend and I made “plane buddy” t-shirts before the annual trip while simultaneously chatting about how we hoped we’d touch the lives of not only the orphans we’d work with but also the lives of ALL the Brazilians we met. We were thinking big. But the thing is, while at times we unknowingly got involved in an unhealthy savior complex, our hearts were full of genuine care for other human beings, and we wanted more than anything else to be Jesus’ hands and feet and to do his will. 

Here’s the thing: those “on fire” days typical of the ‘90s get a bad rap. For some, the bad rap is absolutely well deserved. For others, maybe those days are just another cool thing to antagonize. And for some, the time of Jesus-is-my-homeboy is looked on as beautiful and true. I fall somewhere in the middle of all this. My overly critical, brain-working-a-million-miles-a-second self can weigh all the pros and cons of my experience with the movement and present them to you in list format almost immediately. But you already know what they are. You’ve had your own experiences.

The thing is, for me, I look back on those days with fondness because I encountered Jesus in real, transformative ways more often than not. I learned how to give everything to what I believe in. I learned how to be disciplined in following through with my beliefs. I learned how to care about others more than about myself, and I learned that actually living selflessly is an all-the-time, forever learning process that I’ve yet to complete. I learned about healing and miracles and sacrifice. My on-fire days were real, and they were good, and they were even beautiful.

{Here comes the critical part.} But they did instill in my already black-and-white brain that we can, and should, be measured by our passion for Jesus. Which was not nearly as subjective as it sounds, considering that our passion for Jesus was exemplified by the length of our quiet times, how many foreign countries we’d visited (not for vacation but for missions), how many times a week we attended a church function, and on and on it goes. While I rarely hear that specific “on fire” phrase anymore in my own personal evangelical circles, I still sometimes see the metaphorical yardstick pulled out. And it hurts, it really hurts to come up short. Just as it hurts to feel the need to carry around a spiritual resume all the time in order to prove yourself to God knows who.

If we’ve learned anything from those days, it should be that Jesus is crazy about us, we are crazy about him, and he is sovereign. So who, who are we to judge. This somehow-ordained mess of transformation in the wilderness and transformation in the feel-good times and love and justice and hatred and injustice is too much to bear with a yardstick and a resume. Scrap them entirely. But before you do, rap yourself on the knuckles just once with that old yardstick. Because, remember, Jesus is the King of kings – he is the one we bow to – not each other.

Remember this shirt from the '90s?
Remember this shirt from the ’90s?


Linking up pretty last-minute with Addie Zierman’s When We Were On Fire synchroblog. When We Were On Fire just came out on the 15th, and given Addie’s gorgeous, nailed-it! way of summing up our communal on-fire experiences, I’m excited to read it. You can find out more about the book here.  

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2 thoughts on “When We Were On Fire

  1. Yes. It’s so beautifully complex isn’t it? Both beautiful and hard all at once. Loved this line: “f we’ve learned anything from those days, it should be that Jesus is crazy about us, we are crazy about him, and he is sovereign.” Exactly. Thank you so much for sharing this Laurin. So glad you linked up.

    1. Thanks for commenting, Addie! Just finished your book a few days ago and loved it. I couldn’t put it down. Your words ring so true and also hopeful – exactly what I’ve been needing. Thank you!

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