Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Lighting the Fire

Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.

This quote and its variants can be found all over the Internet.  It's usually attributed to William Butler Yeats, but one researcher traces it back to Plutarch.

A few days ago it popped into my mind for no apparent reason.  In that late-night drowsy state, I thought that it could apply to our faith, as well.  I scribbled a few notes and went to sleep.  Another day I came back to it.

Flickr user ViaMoi
If growing faith was like filling a pail, the accomplishment would be up to us.  We'd have to put in the time and effort, and when the pail was full, we could quit working.  Once we finished reading the Bible, or memorizing enough verses, or singing enough praise songs, or serving a certain number of hours in ministry--whatever it took to fill the pail--we would be finished.  We would have completed the job and could coast the rest of the way.  I would expect that pride would be a major pothole on that road.

Maybe some religions are like that, but I'm glad that, in Christianity, my salvation doesn't rely on my works.

Instead, it's like lighting a fire.  God provides the spark.  The fire is all-consuming.  Every day I surrender my will to His and let Him work through me.  (Easier said than done, I know!  Surrender is contrary to human nature, and every day I struggle to let go of what I want.)  Just as He created me, He has work for me to do:
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10, ESV)
But it's not about completing a checklist or striving to achieve for my own benefit.  As long as I'm on this earth, the Lord will have work for me to do.  No coasting to the finish line.  I am far from perfect--those of you who know me can confirm this--and the work won't be finished until the Lord calls me home.  I take comfort in knowing that I'm in good company, with the apostle Paul:
Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. (Philippians 3:12, ESV)
So ... are you filling a pail or fanning a flame?


  1. Beautiful post. So true. Great analogy.
    Thanks for sharing!

  2. I've always believed that God doesn't intend for us to retire from ministry - our work might change because of bodily limitations, but there is always something we can be doing.

    I especially liked a couple of your lines: "I would expect that pride would be a major pothole on that road." - See more at:

    If we were just filling our pails, then of course, we'd have pride for what a great job we did! LOL

    Also, I liked that you said, "God provides the spark." Our efforts will be nothing without His generating a fire!

    Great post, thanks for sharing.


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