Recently, a pastor friend of mine read for me Judy Brown’s poem “Fire.”

Brown does a masterful job of capturing what our job as youth ministers should be: making space for God to do His work. She uses the imagery of building a fire, and notes that the fire can only grow if there is space between the logs. Anyone who’s built a campfire knows that a densely packed stack of wood won’t burn…there must be space.

She writes:

“So building fires/requires attention/to the spaces in between/as much as to the wood…It is fuel, and absence of the fuel/together, that make fire possible.”

This counterintuitive concept is one that we often fail to grasp: absence of “fuel” is needed as much as the fuel itself to make a fire grow. The reality is that a person is more like a fire than a car. Cars don’t need absence of fuel to work—just fuel. But like a fire, humans need both fuel and absence of fuel to work properly.

How many of us want our youth ministries to catch fire? To grow and to be a burning light for all the world to see?

Have you ever considered that sometimes the best way to let a flame grow is by creating space? By doing less? By not piling on one more event? By not filling our gatherings with words only from us, but rather with the space necessary for God to speak?

This needs to happen in our personal lives as well. Do we make space in our own lives to just…be? Space that doesn’t have an agenda? In an interview with the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon recently talked about the importance of “doing nothing” during his offseason. “I want more of an opportunity to do nothing, and I mean that in a positive way,” he said. “When you get this downtime, to be able to do nothing well, that’s my goal.” Do you have the ability to “do nothing well”? Trusting that in that space created by doing nothing, God will fill it with more of Himself?

There are implications for our ministries too. For instance, it may mean that, at your leadership team meeting, instead of a long talk, you give a short reflection, and then allow some silence, so that God can do the work that only He can do. Or it may mean that during a time of musical worship, you do one fewer song than you had planned, so that your students and leaders can linger in God’s presence. Or that you encourage your worship leader to not be afraid of instrumental music or even silence, so that God Himself can fill that space.

Sometimes our musical worship times can become so predictable that no one actually engages with God: we just sing one song after the other, and then sit down. We should have the freedom, then, to deliberately do things differently on occasion so that there is real space there for God to move.

Brown concludes her poem this way: “A fire/grows/simply because the space is there/with openings/in which the flame/that knows just how it wants to burn/can find its way.” The Holy Spirit knows exactly how it wants to burn, in our own lives and in our ministries. May we be those who make space between the logs to make this possible.

 

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About The Author

Syler Thomas is a native Texan who has worked as a pastor at Christ Church Lake Forest in Illinois since 1998. He writes a column for Youthworker Journal, has had articles published in Leadership Journal and the Chicago Tribune, and enjoys acting in the occasional play. He believes with all of his heart that the Cubs will one day win the World Series, and he and his wife Heidi have four kids.