Strange Fire is probably my moodiest song, and I love the atmosphere it creates. It’s dark and foreboding, and also one of my better early uses of electric guitar. When we recorded the first Steady On album I didn’t even own an electric guitar, so I had to borrow one! Glenna sang the lead vocals for this, while I sack backup and play the guitars. Paul Fruia played drums, Randy Holsapple played Hammond, and Trip Wamsley played the bass (an absolutely standout bassline, as everything he does is).
This song is based on the story of Nadab and Abihu, found in Leviticus 10. A dark and tragic account, Nadab and Abihu are consumed by fire for bringing an unauthorized sacrifice to the altar. Which, admittedly sounds pretty extreme, but the takeaway for me has always been to really consider what my goals are in worship and service.
I clearly love music, and I enjoy playing music, whether leading worship or songs I have written. It is naturally very easy for me to get caught up in the art of what I am doing, rather than the ultimate meaning and purpose of the songs. I know some have used this account in scripture to justify a very restrictive approach to worship, but I have always believed the warning is more about the heart and intent. The scripture has examples of a wide variety of worship practices, but always in view is the heart of the worshiper.
I recently participated in an online discussion of modern worship, and there was a criticism over how emotional the music is, with a suggestion that emotional music is manipulative. I disagree. I think music is supposed to be emotional, and our worship is intended to be emotional as well. The accounts of David dancing appear filled with emotion to me. The key is not whether we have emotional elements in our worship, but whether they are serving our purpose to elevate God or satisfy ourselves.
So, back to the song; Strange Fire is really about being reflective over what I am really doing in worship, and even more broadly in acts of service, giving, or anything else that seeks to please God. It can be so easy to be doing the thing I have been doing, only to realize it has become something else. It is no longer the road I thought I was on. If I take my internal temperature, I will see that my actions feel more about myself and my own goals than pursuing Jesus and His Kingdom.
I think this is likely a natural temptation for any kind of art, so we do want to be vigilant and mindful. If we are doing some cool arrangement, or I found a really neat harmony, guitar tone, or bass line, it is so easy for that thing to become more interesting than focusing on the One I am there to praise. But at the end of the day, if I am trying to show off, I am really going to fall short. That is a great way to crash and burn. If I start thinking I am hot stuff, well, I am going to be disappointed. I am a decent enough musician, but there are way better out there, and even their efforts pale in comparison to enjoying the power and grace of Jesus.
In the song, the metaphor turns from a burning that is dangerous and scary, to one that is passionate and full of life and love. I turn from having “faith in me” to worshiping at the feet of Jesus. That is, of course, the ultimate goal: closeness with Jesus. That is why we get together and sing the songs we do. It is why I write the songs I do. It is why I yearn for social healing and justice. To ultimately be close to Jesus and do the work of His Kingdom in this world. That is much better than an affirmation of my skills, as much as I appreciate a compliment.
Please feel free to download and enjoy this song (along with any of my others), and may it encourage you to be intentional about worship and service to God, and make a relationship with Jesus the focus.