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A Hundred Small Perfect Steps

“He watched with rapt attention while some teacher in Texas stood in front of a podium and broke faith into a hundred little steps. Kneel on your floor at the beginning of the day and pray. Do not move until you receive a word from God. Read your Bible three times every day. Memorize at least one verse. Go to faraway countries. Speak the name of Jesus loud on street corners.

“His faith had become an axis of rotation around which no one could freely turn. It was the vertical line that cut through the center of his body, through his feet, his heart, out the center of his head and into the sky… It was a hundred small perfect steps that in the end can never add up to a dance…”

– When We Were on Fire

When I was eight years old, I first heard people talk about being “on fire for God”. 

They used it to describe the men in the church who were always passing out tracts and saying “God bless you”, the guys who drove plain cars and wore plain clothes and grew long beards. The guys who said “Praise the Lord!” instead of swear words, and “Lord-willing” about their plans for tomorrow. I wanted to be on fire for God when I grew up.

When I was sixteen years old, I got to lead Wednesday night Bible study at the Baptist church.

I opened my Bible to Psalm 19, and talked about how there was a formula there for being “on fire for God”. The formula consisted entirely of reading and memorizing the Bible. I was already reading and memorizing the Bible, but mostly for Bible Quizzing competitions. I was really good at Bible Quizzing; we took first place two out of three years. I was also reading through the Bible in a year, every year, and that summer I memorized all of the memory verses at teen camp, over a hundred verses in one week. In my spare time, I worked on memorizing Psalm 119. I was determined to be on fire for God.

When I was eighteen years old, I preemptively broke up with a girl I wasn’t even dating. 

Pacing on a sidewalk beside a concrete river, I choked back tears and stumbled over the words to explain the reasons I couldn’t talk to her anymore. I was surrendering everything to God. And because God was jealous for my affections, it meant that I couldn’t talk to her anymore because I liked her too much. I didn’t want to like anything more than I liked God. I was sold out. It was just after high school, and I had packed my stuff and moved a thousand miles west. Here, life would center around study and ministry and evangelism and a frenzied effort to be on fire for God. If there was a way, I was going to find it.

When I was twenty-two years old, I gave up.


Last week, I read When We Were on Fire, all in one day. 

I expected to see myself in Addie’s story. After all, I’d been trying all my life to be on fire. But I was surprised to see myself in the words she wrote about her boyfriend Chris, just like a mirror.

She was writing about a boy she once knew, but I could have sworn she was writing about me: 

He was running. He was bolting — moving in the general direction of God and of vibrant faith. But in the end, he was always running from.

When we talked about faith, he used words like ‘revival’, words like ‘spiritual battle’ and ‘prayer warrior’ and ‘sacrifice’. He signed his e-mails and letters with the phrase ‘Consumed by the Call’.

He didn’t want to get tangled up in the sticky web of a relationship. He didn’t want it to keep him from following the Lord with his full, devoted heart. He didn’t think we should talk anymore… didn’t think we should be friends. Even though we weren’t really ‘dating’, we should break up and that the reason for this was God.

He was so afraid he would spin out of control. One lingering moment, one step out of line, and he would be trapped.

It’s my own life, printed on the pages of this book I’m holding in my hands.

Except instead of Texas it was Michigan, and then Indiana. But I remember the teacher at the podium like it was yesterday. I remember that huge notebook and the lined pages with all the steps and principles and secrets to being on fire for God. I remember raising my hand and promising to pray for an hour a day, to read my Bible every day. I remember pacing in the parking lot begging God to make me a better Christian.

If there were a hundred small perfect steps, I would memorize them all. 

It’s been a few years since then, and I’m slowly learning a new way. Walking now, instead of running. These steps can’t be written and memorized, all at once. They can only be lived.

Not a hundred perfect steps. Just one. And another. And another. Imperfect, stumbling, slow.



This is post is part of Addie Ziermans’ When We Were on Fire release-day synchroblog of stories from when we were all on fire. Make sure you read my review too, and check back later this week for an interview with Addie about her book.

published October 15, 2013

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