Little Bobby O’Rourke was a stow away. On an overcast night after his mother had passed away he snuck on board the HMS Culver, a passenger and cargo-hauler out of Sydney, Australia. With the death of his mother little Bobby was all alone in the world, an orphan.
When he was found, the Culver was two days out of port. The Captain took pity on the boy’s misfortune and offered him work. Little Bobby accepted on the spot. He started out cleaning the bilge gutters in the bottom of the ship. He was small enough to fit into tight spaces so the captain took him down and showed him what he was to do. “I want these gutters so clean that the rats won’t get their feet dirty when they run in them,” the Captain laughed. Bobby didn’t think it was funny. As the years passed and he grew he was given other jobs. He worked in the galley, in the captain’s mess, and housekeeping and maintenance for the passengers’ quarters. However, when he turned fifteen he was assigned the best job ever! He started work as an engineering mate. He loved everything about his new job, the engineering room, the boiler room, the gear room, the tool shed, all of it made him skip for joy. His first assignment was to stand third shift and keep the boiler going. The chief engineer told him it was the most important job on the boat. “If the fire goes out over night, there’s no way to restart it, and the ship will be adrift. So keep that fire hot and bright!”
And the fire upon the altar shall be burning in it; it shall not be put out: and the priest shall burn wood on it every morning, and lay the burnt offering in order upon it; and he shall burn thereon the fat of the peace offerings.Leviticus 6:12
One Friday night, Bobby showed up for his shift and said good night to the chief. About an hour later his mates started to trickle in. One had a deck of cards the other an old crate they would use for a table, the rest with a few “left-over” sodas and snacks the passengers didn’t eat. They played this game every Friday night. This night however was very stormy. The HMS Culver was a big ship but even it was deeply rocking in the storm. The boys paid it no attention and Bobby forgot to check the fire.
The fire shall ever be burning upon the altar; it shall never go out.Leviticus 6:13
Above them, on one of the middle decks, water had found its way in through an open hatch. It made its way down a pipe, and onto the cooling fire box, it found its way inside and began to put out the fire. Bobby suddenly thought he smelled wet ash. “The fire!” he shouted. He jumped to his feet and opened the iron gate. A putrid smoke fell out onto him and the other boys. Steam was still turning the props and running the generators but it wouldn’t be long before they were completely without power. Bobby reached inside the wet mess and found one coal that wasn’t extinguished. In an elevated corner of the sooty chamber he placed the dry hot coal.
The other boys smashed the crate, made kindlin’ and then made a picket line to the coal box. Bobby gently blew on the hot coal surrounded by dry wood. As soon as he had a fire the other boys began handing him pieces of dry coal. Finally, he had a strong fire going. However, it wasn’t enough to keep the pressure up. The prop stopped turning and the generators stopped making electricity. He and the other boys worked quickly to stoke the fire. The Captain and the chief engineer rushed in and found them, wood splinters and cards everywhere. The pressure was soon restored and the HMS Culver was back under her own power. And just in time. While she was adrift the storm had pushed them dangerously close to the outskirts of the Great Barrier Reef. Bobby understood the words of Solomon, “I was almost in all evil in the midst of the congregation and assembly.” (Proverbs 5:14)
How often do we play games and let the fire go out? The fire of devotion, of worship, of service to our Great King must be faithfully tended. Too often we are partial in our devotion. We come to the altar of prayer or we attend the altar of worship or we give ourselves to the altar of service sporadically, when the mood hits us or when suffering comes or questions about why things aren’t as we think they should be. Yet we are found playing games and all the while we’re sailing into the heart of a storm. The shoals long to embrace a partial Christian. Our enemy delights to see us weakened by our own pleasures. Stand fast! Put all other things aside and tend the fire.