If we’re not going to burn in Hell, we should burn for Heaven.
I have written before of the extreme wit and occasional quirky wisdom of a favourite author, Sir Terry Pratchett. A literary genius, even his funniest, silliest book held a depth of wisdom to it that leaves me wishing he had been a Christian instead of a champion for atheism, because he could have turned the world on its head with that mind. But even with his atheistic viewpoint, Sir Terry’s novels have a way of making me see myself – see Christians – through an unbeliever’s eyes. It’s an excerpt from one of Discworld novels, Carpe Jugulum, that has me thinking today.
I’m paraphrasing here, but the gist of what the passage says is that if there really is a god who loves us like a father, then why don’t Christians burn with passion at that knowledge?
And you know what? They have a point.
“I would have had no problem following Christ,” Mahatma Ghandi said, “if it were not for Christ’s followers.” And it’s true. Those who labelled themselves Christians have put crosses on their shields and ridden into battle to attempt to claim a city where Christ once lived, when they should have put crosses on their backs and walked into that city to preach to those whom Christ still loves. They have called themselves Christians and built concentration camps that killed millions. They have been cold, destructive, murderous, bloodthirsty. They have squabbled amongst themselves like petty children, pride and self-righteousness getting in the way of true doctrine, splitting up into warring factions like a country that won’t listen to its king.
They, however, are not our concern. They are dead and gone and there is nothing we can do about them; they have done their damage, and it is up to us to have the meekness, the patience, and above all the love that they have failed to give. Their judgment will come in the day that they stand before the Lord and say, “Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?” and He will reply, “I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” (Matt. 7:22-23).
But there is one thing that the earlier Christians, who wrought so much harm, had that we don’t. A saving grace, if you like, that, if they truly believed that they were doing what they did for our God, could redeem them. Something that so many of us lack today.
Not love, not hope, not faith, but something far less mentioned, and yet still essential.
“[God] sets me on fire,” said John Wesley. “The people come out to watch me burn.” And we should burn!
We know the truth! We know the answers to the big questions! We know there is a God Who loves us, a God Who is in control! Our God died and lives again for us! Our God gave His only begotten Son for us! Our God gave Himself for us! There is a Heaven! And we can all go there, we can all live forever in peace and joy!
Our God is unimaginably powerful, inexpressibly great, indescribably loving, and incomprehensibly forgiving. He loves us, He forgives us, He knows us. He is bigger than the world, He made us and He cares for us. He is building Heaven for us and we will always be safe there. He created Adam knowing that mankind would fall from grace and that He would have to give up Jesus, would have to give up Himself, would have to endure all that terrible pain, to save us. And He did it anyway! He knew from the start what He would have to go through to save our sorry, ungrateful, undeserving skins, and He made us and gave us a free will anyway! Because He loves us! Because, above and beyond all, unlike any other god ever worshipped, our God is real!
We should burn!
We should burn with this knowledge! It should eat us up from the inside, it should take our breath away! We need to laugh more, we need to cry more. We need to sing, we need to dance, we need to scream. We need to do more than just exist, than just stagger zombie-like through this grey world with no more spark in our eye or spring in our step than any miserable sinner on the road to Hell. We need to burn!
We need to have passion, we need to have fire. We need to stop just doing and start striving. We need not be loud. We need not be proud. We need not be exuberant. But when someone looks us in the eyes, there should be something in there, a conviction, a faith… a flame. We must be the city on the hill that cannot be hid, the light that burns before all men. A beacon of flame for our God. He is inside us, and He wants to light us up like a pillar of fire by night and a pillar of cloud by day. He wants to give us that shining light to guide our fellow men.
We should burn!
Oh, we don’t all have to be loud. Some of us will burn like wildfires, like volcanoes; the preacher standing on the pulpit calling out his message to a thousand listeners will blaze like a firestorm. The old lady on her knees in prayer in a nursing home, the prayer warrior, unnoticed, unassuming will smoulder low, like coals. The small child singing “Jesus loves me” will flicker like a candle flame. The reformers will rip through the world like a forest fire. The loving mother with the words of God on her tongue will crackle with the reassuring heat of a hearth fire. Others will be sparks or stars that nobody knows about, except Jesus, the only One Who really counts.
But whichever way we burn, we should burn!
Whatever we do, we should do it passionately. If we preach we should preach as though we hold a flaming sword in hand. If we sing we should sing as though we have a full choir of angels singing with us. If we fight evil we should fight it as though a regiment of chariots of fire backs us up. If we pray we should pray as though Jesus is sitting across from us, listening. Why? Because we do hold that flaming sword, we do have that choir of angels, we do have that regiment of chariots, we do have that attentive Listener right beside us.
There is nothing wrong with resting. Even the brightest fire will at times burn low, and we are commanded to take a day’s rest out of every seven. But we should still burn.
We are the children of the Most High God! We are the light of this world, the salt of this earth!
And we should burn! We should be all ablaze with love, we should be ardent with faith, we should be aflame with the hope that our God has given us! Because fire is bright, fire is respected, fire gives life and light, and most of all, fire spreads.
Even if all we can do is be a small candle flame in a dark night, we can burn. We can make a difference to one life at a time. In our own ways, big and small, all over the world we can change this unhappy universe and turn the everlasting souls of mankind towards the glorious light of Heaven and not the ruthless darkness of Hell.
We should not relent. We should rally our warriors and go to battle. Only God knows when Jesus is coming, but we know He is coming, and whether He comes tomorrow or in a thousand years there are souls slipping away from us every day.
And even if we don’t burn to save souls, we should burn for our God just because He saved us. We should burn with this knowledge not for anyone else but Him. We should quest after His people to save them not because we want to be right but because we love Him and we love them. We should burn! When there is evil in this world it should smite us like a knife in the chest, like a kick in the guts! We should care!
We should burn! We need to be alive, to be sensitive, to be passionate, to listen, to love, to laugh, to cry! We can’t keep on going through the motions, robotic, passive, desensitised to all the dreadful things and dark sins this world holds. We are special!
We should care.
We should burn.