The Short Fuse

By Keith Burden

It was the summer before I entered fourth grade—a typical hot July 5thin Oklahoma—the day after we celebrated Independence Day with a cookout and fireworks. I sat on the front steps bored, looking for something to do.

That’s when I spotted it…an unexploded Black Cat firecracker on the ground near the sidewalk. It had a short fuse—very short. I knew it would be risky, but I was determined to set it off.

I walked into the kitchen and nonchalantly took a match from the matchbox.

Mother confronted me, “What are you going to do with that match?” I proudly displayed the firecracker and announced my intention. Mom was unimpressed.

Switching to Plan B

She confiscated the match and sent me outside. I sat dejectedly on the front steps trying to come up with “Plan B.” Suddenly, an ingenious idea hit me. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t thought of it sooner.

I carefully opened the driver’s side door of our family car parked in the driveway, slipped into the front seat and quietly pulled the door shut so as not to arouse Mom’s attention. I rolled the window down about two inches and pushed the cigarette lighter deep into the socket.

In a matter of seconds the lighter popped out and with a trembling hand I removed it from the dashboard. My plan was simple…touch the fuse to the red hot lighter and then toss the small explosive through the two-inch opening. I took a deep breath and set out to execute my plan.

Major Malfunction

It was at that point that my plan went terribly wrong. Sparks spewed from the end of the miniature bomb. With a quick motion I attempted to hurl the firecracker through the window. Too slow. The Black Cat exploded inside the car. Excruciating pain shot through my left hand, and powder burns branded my thumb and index finger.

The car acted like a percussion chamber—I experienced a loud ringing in my ears. I opened the door and bolted in panic. My first impulse was to run inside the house and appeal for assistance from Mother, but the fear of being disciplined for my carelessness and disobedience restrained me.

I found an outside hydrant and tried to relieve the burning with cold water, but to no avail. The deafening roar in my ears worsened by the minute. As I sat on the steps holding my hand, tears streamed down my face. I learned a painful lesson; a short fuse is a dangerous thing.

Spiritual Parallel

That was the last time I tried that stunt. But in the more than 40 years since, I have witnessed some equally irresponsible spiritual debacles. On numerous occasions I have stood by helplessly and watched as individuals with short fuses exploded and caused more damage than my infamous little firecracker.

Solomon recognized the dangers of dealing with people who have short fuses. In Proverbs 14:17 he wrote, “He that is soon angry dealeth foolishly.” Those who fly off the handle inevitably hurt feelings and damage or destroy relationships. The testimony of many Christians has been irreparably harmed because they failed to control their anger and tongue.

Temperance (or having a long fuse) is one of the characteristics of a mature Christian. The wise man applauds this quality in Proverbs 16:32, “He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city.”

The Bible upholds this standard for all believers, but it is especially applicable to ministers of the gospel. In Titus 1:7-9, Paul outlines the qualifications of a bishop. Interestingly, among the many credentials he lists is the phrase, “not soon angry.” Clearly, the ministry is no place for short-fused individuals.

Use Extreme Caution

Fireworks almost always come with warnings. Invariably the labeling on the package will list the hazards of explosive devices. Similarly, scripture verses offer cautions in the matter of short fuses. James 1:19, “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath.” That advice could defuse potentially volatile situations.

My fingers no longer hurt and my ears don’t ring. But I’ve never forgotten the painful lesson from that firecracker. Control your anger…use good judgment. Don’t get burned by a short fuse.