I’ve always had a thing for secret societies.
Maybe it was growing up on National Treasure movies (still mad that there wasn’t a third), or discovering, as a young adult, that I did know people in the Masons (what that means, I’m still not sure), or the memories I have of pledging a sorority in college, but for years I’ve been fascinated by secret handshakes, password-protected meetings, private vows, and candlelit invitation ceremonies.
So, when I found out during my first year of seminary that there was a room in the basement of the seminary library that had a mysterious burning heart on the door, and when that news was broken to me alongside incomplete stories of a potential secret society, I just had to know more.
As it turns out, the story is much less “Presidential Book of Secrets in the Library of Congress” and much more “Seminary President Visions a Revival.” In Carl Lundquist, the group’s founder’s own words (and a former President of my double alma mater, Bethel University and Seminary), The Evangelical Order of the Burning Heart was “an informal and unstructured non-organization.”
Coming from Luke 24, the Order was intended to form a generation of people whose hearts burned within them because of their closeness to Jesus and their pursuit of Him.
The idea that the heart of a Christian might burn within them doesn’t begin and end in Luke; the flame on the United Methodist logo is intended to partially symbolize the time that John Wesley felt his heart “strangely warmed” in the rekindling of his faith, and many recite their own sensational experiences with faith, whether in conversion, prayer and revival meetings, or private worship and Scripture reading.
While sensational experiences isn’t the sole aim of our faith, but consistency in fellowship and discipleship with Jesus is, many of us rightfully long for a moving, breathing faith – one that impacts our life, that causes our heart to pull and long toward the Father, that results in an experience unlike anything else.
Lundquist longed for the same. In fact, in describing this “informal, unstructured, non-organization” he said:
“It represents a living, dynamic, daily experience with Jesus Christ. He’s not just an idea, not just an intellectual postulate, not just a theology to be studied, important as all that is, but He’s a person to be loved! Someone to enter in to experience with, someone to have such intimate fellowship with that we feel like these two disciples: ‘Did not our hearts also burn with us when He talked with us along the way and when He opened to us the Scriptures?'”
We long for that. We long for the type of closeness with Jesus that results in a real, lived experience with Him: a recognition of His presence, an ear tuned to His voice, a heart burning within us.
But, how do we get from here to there? How do we get from a believed faith, or a confessed faith, to a lived, dynamic faith?
Prayer and Scripture reading, says Lundquist, laying bare Luke 24: “Did not our hearts burn within us when He talked with us along the way, when He opened to us the Scriptures?”
It’s not sexy. It’s not mystical. It’s not secret handshakes or candlelit initiation ceremonies. But these two foundational elements are crucial to the life of a Christ follower, and constructed the building blocks of this “informal, unstructured, non-organization.”
“Did not our hearts burn within us when He talked with us along the way…”
Prayer is our foundational conversation with God. While we often worry about what we should or should not say, or how we should or should not say it, we really mustn’t fret much about the mechanics of prayer while conversing with a God who already knows our inmost thoughts (Psalm 139). After all, why watch your language or temper your honesty if what you would have said is already known?
Rather, treat prayer as a conversation. Bring to God not only your desires for what you would wish to see in your day or your life, but bring Him your concerns, your frustrations, your struggles and internal debates. Cultivate a practice of turning to Him throughout the day, creating a regular rhythm of conversation with the One who created both the Universe and you.
“…when He opened to us the Scriptures?”
There is no book as dynamic or interesting as the Holy Scriptures. Full stop. While one of my middle schoolers once called Leviticus “the sand trap of the Bible,” as in, “you start in Genesis, plow through the excitement of Exodus, only to get trapped in the confusing, often misunderstood book of Leviticus,” the truth is that Scripture contains the greatest stories known to man: stories of romance, intrigue, spies and kings, plots of murder and wild visions, a Man who walked this earth and resurrected again, and even a reluctant prophet being swallowed by a giant fish. But all of this is wrapped up in one mega-story about the God who loves us and wants a relationship with us, and will go to any length to do so.
Want to know God’s heart? Read Scripture. Want to know what He wants for your life? Read Scripture. Want to encounter Him daily? Read Scripture. Start in the Gospels. Start in the beginning, in Genesis. Start with the tale of God’s deliverance and justice in Exodus. Just start reading Scripture.
In fact, it was prayer and Scripture that first led to my own “was my heart not burning within me?” experience. As a young high school student, it was the opening of Scripture and praying together that drew my heart closer to Jesus in seasons where discipleship just didn’t make logical sense – and that closeness was, in all honesty, directly related to the proximity I was placing myself in relation to God and the practices that have sustained faith for centuries.
And what’s the output of engaging in these practices? Well, according to Lundquist, “those who have experienced the burning heart… are more willing to take risks with God. They are more likely to value the disciplines necessary to a journey toward a mature faith.” (The Baptist Pietist Clarion, Vol. 3 No. 1)
A faith that risks and a faith that’s mature is something we can all strive for. So would you join me in this “informal, unstructured, non-organization?” For the first time, or the first time in a while, explore with me this God who causes humanity’s heart to burn within them, and engage with me in the practices that lead to such a faith. And maybe we, too, can someday meet behind a door outfitted with a burning heart – but not for secret ceremonies or using whispered passwords to enter, but rather joining in the open fellowship of those whose hearts burn with a desire to know God.