“Fire in the Belly”

 

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us” (Hebrews 12:1)

Looking back over the time that we have been offering a variety of musings and experiences, I (Alan) have noticed a preponderance of focus on my background. It sometimes seems that the ramblings take on a self-absorbed, self-centered revelation of, what, personal therapy maybe? That has never been my intent. Jesus is my therapist. Personally, I grow weary of those whose Christian witness tries to outdo the last bad story with a “badder” one. We once had a preacher who, every week, had to retell his past “street life” of drugs and mayhem, which after a while seemed pathological. If anyone senses that I am being self absorbed and maybe self delusional, let me know; I can handle it, maybe. Anyway, we all have experiences that need to be shared about the great work of God in our lives, and that includes you!

I recently watched a group of Korean kindergarten guitar players on YouTube. There were about six or seven playing on stage using full sized classic guitars that dwarfed the little kids. Even with tiny hands that seemed way too small for the wide necked classic guitars, they played with such skill that I was spellbound. I don’t believe these were child prodigies, but rather kids who had practiced so much they seemed to play effortlessly. If you have read about the “Tiger Mom” in the news recently, then you know why Asians, specifically, achieve to a superior degree compared to most any group in the world. Students are taught to persevere until perfection, or as near as possible, is attained. We have fewer young people in the U.S. who have the “fire in the belly” to do so.

That “fire in the belly” is what separates the men from the boys or, in PC, the big mammals from the little mammals. Such perseverance is necessary if anything of significance is to be accomplished. Haley Barbour, governor of Mississippi, recently withdrew his name from possible presidential candidacy because, in his words, he did not have the necessary “fire in the belly” to run. Jeremiah, regardless of the repercussions, exclaimed that he must prophesy because, “…his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in: indeed, I cannot” (Jer. 20:9). Paul had a similar “fire in the belly” when he said, “…for I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel” (I Cor. 9:16). One of my religion professors once stated, “I would pay to preach.” It appears that the amount of “fire in the belly,” is related to ones degree of perseverance.

As I pondered this topic, I realized that my life has been, I believe, one of perseverance. I’m not sure why, and maybe I am ignoring the giving-up times. There have been those times that I have given up, but only after a realistic evaluation of my capabilities. Even then I didn’t like it. I have recounted, at another time, my utter fascination when I viewed my Arkansas relatives pull out the instruments after supper and wow me with their musical ability. Arriving back in New Mexico, I badgered my mom until she bought me the Sears Gene Autry guitar which sort of changed my life. Many a time mom would tell me to “put that guitar down and do what I told you,” or else. No one has ever had to talk me into playing. I had a dogged perseverance that would not be denied. After a slow start, I have done much the same in education. My perseverance has been a “fire in the belly.”

When the Bible instructs us to persevere, run the race (Heb. 12:1), or keep your eye on the prize (Phil. 3:14), I don’t seem to identify with that entirely. Once I met Jesus the die was cast. Yes, I have persevered (at this point some would knock on wood), but only to the extent that the Holy Spirit leads me on to the finish line. I don’t think I muster up any drive to carry on. I have no other desire, and can identify with the disciple who said, “To whom would we go” (John 6:68,69)? If I don’t persevere with Jesus, with whom would I persevere? If in fact there is no other, and there is no other, what then would I do, give up? Give up on what, Jesus? God forbid. Yes, we all know people who seem to have given up on their Christian walk, but if asked, they probably would say they are still Christian. I know some of them, and apparently it was too difficult for them to keep up the faith. The world and their past life was perhaps too great an allure. If I had to work at it, maybe it would become burdensome for me also. My “fire in the belly” for Jesus has never gone out. At times it may have been just a warm spot in my gut, but it has always been there.

Well, what is the difference between the “perseverers,” and the “non-perseverers? The “fire in the belly” folks and those with just normal heartburn. When our world view, as a way of life, is always looking through the prism of the light of Jesus and not popular culture, we have been transformed, have we not? Jesus’ parable of the sower explains it pretty well. When the Word is received in fertile soil, there is “fire in the belly.” We are compelled to walk as close as we can with Jesus because our hearts are connected. And being the people we are, now and then we may wander off carelessly but always end up on track because we miss our heart. Jesus has our heart and we cannot live without it.

In the passage of II Peter 1:5-7, Paul instructs believers to build on their faith by making every “effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly love.” He goes on to say that increasing these qualities will make one effective and productive in the knowledge of Jesus. There seems to be a progression here: after real faith, we try to be good, or at least better then we were. There is a desire for more knowledge where we learn what God desires, which inspires us to exercise more self-control. Gaining more control requires perseverance; if we persevere, with God’s help we look more like Jesus, and the closer we get the more we love.

And finally, James 1:4 sums it up. “Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” I’ve told many students that “if you do something enough times you can’t help but learn it” that’s perseverance. And, “show me your friends, and I’ll show you your future.” I want to hang around Jesus until I start to look like Him. He can’t ditch me because I won’t quit following. I want to have that “fire in the belly” that is real, and not just, well, jalapeños?

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