I was praying for the world the other day, and asking the Lord to save it from those who deliberately stoke provocation and violence, and to bless those who are strategically involved in protecting and defending all such things as deserve to be protected and defended.
As I prayed, I was reminded of a passage in Bede’s great Ecclesiastical History of the English People in which he describes a vision that had been given to Fursey, a preacher-cum-missionary-cum anchorite in seventh century Ireland.
Some years before setting out on a missionary journey to East Anglia Fursey was taken up to Heaven and granted an extraordinary vision in which, having passed through fires of refining himself, he was instructed to look back at the world. Doing so, he saw a dark valley with four separate fires burning in the air over the Earth. As we shall see, these fires remain so relevant for the world today. . .
I was praying for the world the other day, and asking the Lord to save it from those who deliberately stoke provocation and violence, and to bless those who are strategically involved in protecting and defending that which deserves to be protected and defended.
As I prayed, I found myself reminded of a passage in Bede’s great Ecclesiastical History of the English People in which he describes a vision that had been given to Fursey, a missionary-cum-anchorite in seventh century Ireland.
Some years before setting out on a missionary journey to East Anglia Fursey was taken up to Heaven and granted an extraordinary vision in which, having passed through fires of refining himself, he was instructed to look back at the world. Doing so, he saw a dark valley with four separate fires burning in the air over the Earth.
He was told that, for those who confess Christ and renounce satan and all his works and vanities, all sins have been dealt with forever, but that satanic fires are raging in the world, and ravaging it. Worse still, the four separate fires that he could see were on the point of merging to form one gigantic sheet of flame.
Rather as many of the great wildfires we have seen devouring land and homes in recent years are given specific names, so too were the fires that Fursey beheld. Bede – who was one of England’s greatest ever writers and teachers, as well as the author of the first and perhaps the greatest history of the English people – recorded an account of Fursey’s vision. As we shall see, the four fires that he saw still have much to say to us concerning the world as it is today.
‘When he had been lifted up on high, he was ordered by the angels that conducted him to look back upon the world. Upon which, casting his eyes downward, he saw, as it were, a dark and obscure valley underneath him. He also saw four fires in the air, not far distant from each other. Then asking the angels, what fires those were? he was told, they were the fires which would kindle and consume the world. One of them was of falsehood, when we do not fulfil that which we promised in baptism, to renounce the Devil and all his works. The next was covetousness, when we prefer the riches of the world to the love of heavenly things. The third discord, when we make no difficulty to offend the minds of our neighbours even in needless things. The fourth iniquity, when we look upon it as no crime to rob and to defraud the weak.
‘These fires, increasing by degrees, extended so as to meet one another, and being joined, became an immense flame. When it drew near, fearing for himself, he said to the angel, “Lord, behold the fire draws near me.” The angel answered, “That which you did not kindle shall not burn you; for though this appears to be a terrible and great fire, yet it tries every man according to the merits of his works; for every man’s concupiscence shall burn in the fire; for as everyone burns in the body through unlawful pleasure, so when discharged of the body, he shall burn in the punishment which he has deserved.”’ cf classicalchristianity.com
We have seen on our screens how terrible a thing it is when wild fires merge together into one great inferno. I came close once to experiencing it personally in Spain, and it was a terrifying sight. For Fursey, though, an angel reassured him that, because he had not kindled the fires, he would not be consumed by them. For surely the Lord has promised that when we walk through the fire, we will not be scorched, and the flame will not burn us. (Ps. 66:12; Is. 43:2)+
He saw the angel advance and divide the fire, forming two walls that enabled him to pass through, whilst two angels stood on either side to protect him. On the other side, he met two friends who had been his spiritual mentors on Earth. After a precious time of fellowship and conversation, they told him he must return and go back to his body to continue his work in the world.
Bede writes that, as the angels escorted him back through the wall of fire, something extraordinary happened. He saw a face in the flames of someone he recognised. A demon threw the man at him, and Fursey’s face and shoulders were singed by the burning figure. The angel explained that this had happened because he had received the cloak of this impure man. It was not an eternal punishment, but Fursey’s body bore the mark of it throughout the remainder of his days, as he pursued his intensely fruitful life of apostolic labour in Ireland, East Anglia and France. (For more about Fursey see here, but do pass over the less than helpful title of a book by the novelist Mervyn Wall!)
What a reminder Fursey’s experience is of Paul’s warning not to share in the sins belonging to others, but to do our best to keep ourselves pure! (1 Tim. 5:22) We truly can become defiled when we come too close to those with an impure spirit, or who cause us to compromise our faith in the risen Christ. Jude is even more specific, telling us to, ‘Save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh.’
May the Lord grant us the discernment to recognise where we are danger of collaborating with sinful ways. After all, Jesus has given us so many clear warnings concerning the fire of God: ‘Everyone will be salted with fire;’ ‘Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire;’ ‘As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age.’ (Mark 9:49, Matt. 7:19; 13:40, cf John 15:6).
Pray for there to be many ‘brands’ plucked from the fires of gossip, fake news, false teaching, greed and the toxic polarisation that bedevil our times. (Zech. 3:2)
Pray for our post-truth, pre-revival neighbourhoods, for there will come a day when each one must face judgement, where the fire of God will consume all that is not of God. Pray that they may not be engulfed by the fires of falsehood, in which people lie without even thinking it wrong to do so. Pray for people to take active steps against being eaten up with covetousness and greed, or ravaged by the discord and other passions that are so prevalent.
But where people are feeling the heat and terror of these fires of hell, pray that their thirst may draw them to the One who forgives all that is confessed to Him, and who delights to gives the cleansing water of life and to send the pure and holy light of God.
Father, we read again and again in Your Word Father of the full force of the fire that must test everything, but we confess that we have lit our own fires of competitive destructiveness, and concocted many false truths of our own making.
We confess that we have given houseroom to spirits of falsehood, and have deviated from Your plumbline of truth. Forgive us, Lord.
We lift before you the great cupidity of this and every time: that love of power, possessions and property that causes souls to strive for the things of this world rather than the heavenly things above. Forgive us for finding so much of our security and comfort in that which is not of You.
Forgive the toxic and acrid dissension that comes down hard on anyone who disagrees or thinks differently from ourselves, or who deviates from the party line. Keep those who are strong from imposing their will on others without regard to the ways in which they violate hearts and minds in the process.
We recognise, Lord, that the iniquity and lack of God-seeking of our times cannot but cause these fires to spread more widely. Father, we have sown the wind and are reaping the whirlwind, and the wind is fanning these flames, even as forest and perma-fires have swept across every continent in recent years, just as the Fursey foresaw in the heavenly sphere fifteen hundred years ago. Show Your mercy to many, Lord, and snatch them from the fire, and cause us to hate all that leads to sin.
Hear our cry, O Lord our God.
NB: You may also like to pray using the Lorica attributed to Fursey.