But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you (John 14:26).
In Italian, it is “dalla padella alla brace. The first recorded use of it was in a Greek poem as early as 15BC. The first to adapt it into English was Roger L’Estrange in 1692. The Romanians claim it as one of their ancient proverbs. We’ve all heard it and probably used it at some point in our lives. “Out of the frying pan and into the fire” means leaving a bad situation only to find yourself in one that is worse.
I’m reminded of a story one of my former pastors told (repeatedly!). A man driving his car too fast, couldn’t make a sharp corner and drove the car off a cliff into a deep canyon. He fell out of the car and by some miracle was able to catch hold of a tree branch sticking out some 500 feet above the bottom. He wasn’t far from the road above, but the steepness of the cliff was too much for him to climb. He began to squirm as his arms began to tire and called out, “Help! H–e–l–p–p! Is anyone up there? He continued to squirm and cried out, “Please help! My arms are killing me.”
Suddenly a deep and rumbling voice answered, “I am here. I am God and I will help you.”
The man was so relieved as he said, “That’s great! What are you going to do? I can’t hold on much longer.”
The deep voice then said, “Let go of the tree.”
Terrified, the man answered, “What? I’ll fall 500 feet to my death!”
God then asked, “Do you believe in me?”
The man hesitated, but said, “Well sure.”
Then God replied, “Then you have nothing to fear. Let go of the tree and I will save you.”
The man paused and then said, “Is anyone else up there?”
It’s a cute story, but one that has some serious underlying truth. How many times have we found ourselves in a situation that was so bad that we felt we had to do something about it? And when we did, we realized that our plight was worse than before. Think of Abraham in the Old Testament. After God convinced him to leave Ur and with promises of land and many descendants, the word of God came again to Abram in a vision and repeated His promise of the land and descendants as numerous as the stars. The problem was that no children came. Year after year the problem remained the same. That was the “frying pan.” Then his wife, Sarah, volunteered her servant girl to serve as a surrogate and the girl bore him Ishmael. Though it didn’t seem that way at the time, that would be the “fire.” That wasn’t God’s plan. Later, when God miraculously allowed a very old Sarah to bear Abraham’s son, the stage was set for the Israelites (Isaac–the son of the promise) to be at odds with the Arab peoples (Ishmael–the son of their lack of faith)–even to this day. But God was faithful and Abraham gained the land and the descendants God had promised.
When God told Jonah to go preach to the people of Nineveh, he didn’t want to go. Nineveh was a large and wicked city and Jonah felt that it deserved the wrath of God. So he ran away from God’s assignment. That was the “frying pan.” While sailing away, a great storm caused the ship he was on to begin to sink. The captain and the crew tried to determine why this calamity was happening to them. Jonah admitted he knew that he was the cause for refusing to go to Nineveh. So he allowed himself to be thrown overboard to save the rest of those on board. Then he was swallowed by a great fish. That was the “fire.” Yet God caused the fish to vomit him up and gave him another chance to accomplish his mission at Nineveh. The city repented and, by God’s grace, they were saved.
In the first little story, in God’s promise to Abraham, and in Jonah’s assignment, the main character was promised or assigned something by God. In each case, they believed in God. But when things didn’t go the way or in the timing that they wanted, they lost their faith in God’s ability to make good on His promise. And then they tried to make things better by doing it their own way. I can’t tell you the number of times that I have found myself in the trials of the “frying pan.” And like the stubborn New Englander that I am, I have tried to solve the issues myself. Invariably, I would end up in the “fire.” And, when all seemed lost, God would faithfully resolve things His way. But because of my stubbornness, there were always consequences because of my efforts to do things myself.
So, how do we avoid the frying pan and the fire and the negative consequences that usually follow? Turn the “frying pan” into something positive by trusting God first and waiting for Him to show you what He wants you to do. This can certainly be a scary thing. You have to let go of yourself and open yourself completely to God. And then, jump into the “fire” of His Holy Spirit and let Him fill you with faith, understanding, and power to follow and do the will of God. And now I will send the Holy Spirit, just as my Father promised. But stay here in the city until the Holy Spirit comes and fills you with power from heaven (Luke 24:49).
But you have received the Holy Spirit, and he lives within you, so you don’t need anyone to teach you what is true. For the Spirit teaches you everything you need to know, and what he teaches is true–it is not a lie. So just as he has taught you, remain in fellowship with Christ (I John 2:27)