Stoking the fire

Stoking the fire

This song has my attention.

I suppose at this time of year, I should be listening to Christmas music.  But after all these Decembers of radio airwaves, television commercials, and mall stores filled with the ubiquitous holiday tunes, I have to be in just the right frame of mind for them.  It’s hard to hear the birth of the Savior sung by people who probably didn’t believe in him in order to encourage us to feel good and spend.  Come Thou Long Expedient Jesus.

I know: bah hymnbug.

I’ll admit it:  I not in the right mood.  I am, after all, alone in a car on a Pennsylvania highway, trying to get home after a cross-country flight.  It’s night. It’s cold. I have tried to shake the days-long, somber cloud of my mortality that has clung, unbidden, around me.  There are so many things I want to accomplish in the years remaining.  Will my body let me?  Is it worth the effort?

Then, unexpectedly, this song comes up on my phone’s shuffle, the familiar opening rhythm thumping like a heartbeat through my dashboard speakers.


It is More Than Fine, my favorite song by the band Switchfoot.  It means so much to me, I have installed it as the ringtone on my phone.  The lyrics, though simple, are profound.  They express a longing for life to be exceptional, not merely okay.  It’s about not settling.

The chorus grabs me like a pep-rally cheer as I sing along enthusiastically:

I’m not giving up, giving up, not giving up now.

I’m not giving up, giving up, not backing down.

It’s hard to keep one’s inner fires burning over a lifetime.  It takes a constant feeding of fuel.  Imagine how hard it must have been for God’s people between the Testaments, waiting not just a lifetime for the promised Messiah, but generations.

Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. (1 Peter 1:10–11)

They “searched and inquired carefully,” trying to peer into the mystery of who the Messiah would be. They were denied the answer.  But it didn’t dim their anticipation.  All the political turmoil of those passing centuries didn’t quench the fire of their hope.

This week, I came across a poem with the same stubborn longing of More Than Fine.  Written by Georgia Douglas Johnson in 1922, it could – if one replaces “Powers” with a more Biblical God – express the desire of those prophets of old, the ache of those people dwelling in darkness, for a great light.

Let Me Not Lose My Dream

Let me not lose my dream, e'en though I scan the veil 
      with eyes unseeing through their glaze of tears, 
Let me not falter, though the rungs of fortune perish 
      as I fare above the tumult, praying purer air, 
Let me not lose the vision, gird me, Powers that toss 
      the worlds, I pray! 
Hold me, and guard, lest anguish tear my dreams away!

I love that phrase, praying purer air.  Above the tumult.  Above the rule of the Romans.  Above the brokenness of society, the anguish, the grip of our mortality, the seeming silence of Heaven.

It is the purer air of an army of angels, exploding into glorious song, giving glory to God in the highest with hearts burning with pure joy.

That’s the song my soul needs the most.

Father, by your Spirit, you kept your people searching for your promised Servant through generations.  Keep our hearts burning for you throughout our lives.  Keep us from settling for “just okay.

Reader – Despite my Scrooginess about Christmas carols – is there one that encourages you?

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Bruce Van Patter

As a freelance illustrator, graphic recorder, and author, Bruce is on a lifelong journey to delight in the handiwork of the Creator. And he’s always ready for fellow travelers.