My friend, Lim, came sauntering up to the house one afternoon carrying an old kerosene lantern. He often stopped by to chat in the late afternoon. “Brother Todd, could you help me fix my lantern?”
Of all the skills I had to acquire to thrive in a jungle village, fixing leaky kerosene lamps wasn’t one. Like most Westerners, I’d probably just go buy another rather than fix it. They are relatively cheap. On the other hand, I might learn something. I suspected that he knew how to fix it, just didn’t have the stuff.
“Sure, Lim. What’s the problem?” “It’s leaking right here (he said as he pointed to the seam along the base.” “Any idea how to sort it out? I painted it last time.” The verb “paint” is about as ambiguous in the trade language as it is in English. We can speak of painting something with oil, paint, or even medicine when speaking of treating a wound. I was trying to figure out what he was getting at. We walked into my little workshop and started looking around. He picked up a can of paint: oil-based paint that becomes gummy when it dries. Clever. I never would have that of that one.
Outside in the breeze we started brushing paint around the bottom of Lim’s oil lamp. He grinned at me. I suppose he’d had similar experiences when trying to teach his children lessons that seem so straightforward to an adult. We set the lamp aside to dry and took up the real work of the day, talking about what was going on around the village, in Lim’s life, and eternity.
I’ve often thought of Lim’s leaky lamp since then. When you only make a few hundred dollars a year, kerosene is an expensive commodity. How sad and stressful it is to watch it drip down the side of your lamp and spill onto the ground, especially with such an easy, if unorthodox, fix.
Missionaries, especially in the kinds of remote areas where many Bible translators work, can be isolated for months at a time. Spiritual nurture is rarely external. Maintenance of the inner life can be costly and precious. Stress mounts: sometimes cultural; sometimes emotional; sometimes interpersonal; as often as not physical (sickness). Whatever the cause, the lamp of life tends to spring leaks and the precious flow of Oil drips out the bottom instead of feeding the flame.
The servant of Jesus must pay attention to the condition of the vessel. Where are there leaks? How large? Can I plug them or do I need help? Where can I find help? The servant’s life must be filled with the life-giving flow on a regular basis, lest the light dwindle to mere shadow.
Following are a few Bible verses that may help fan the flame and give the servant an advantage.
“I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” –Psalm 121:1-2, ESV
“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” –Hebrews 10:24-25, ESV
“Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer 0f faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.”–James 4:13-16, ESV