It fills the room with an ambiance that cannot be denied. The flames are a beautiful combination of orange, yellow, and blue. The glow softens the atmosphere and sets the mood for a variety of opportunities to interact with others. Heat radiates from the fireplace creating a cozy climate for sharing special moments with friends, reading a good book, or just settling back in a comfortable chair to relax from the day’s activities. There’s just nothing quite like sitting by the fire, being mesmerized by the flickering of the flames and enveloped in the warmth it gives. I see this seen every week in a class I teach in the Fireside Room at our church.
As I sit down to write this blog I’m once again sitting by a similar scene in a hotel lobby. Directly in front of me is another fireplace with its orange flames beckoning me to come take a load off and sit for a while in the comfortable chair the hotel has provided. It’s a beautiful scene…..the hotel has done a commendable job of designing a spot for weary travelers to relax.
Unfortunately, the problem with this scene is the same as the one I described earlier. In both cases, the fire just isn’t real! It’s simply an illusion created by reflected light controlled by an electric current. Someone sitting in a factory somewhere figured out how to create something that looked like fire for just such purposes. They have even gone so far as to add a small heater and fan right underneath the faux flames to add to the illusion As beautiful and warm as it may be, it’s just not the real thing!
Now don’t get me wrong, I actually really do like these fake fires! They add something to my experience that I sincerely appreciate. But they don’t come close to the REAL THING! There’s nothing quite like sitting by a genuine, wood burning fire crackling in a fireplace, roasting marshmallows by a campfire, or standing around a huge bonfire as the sparks fly up in the air creating a light show worthy of Disneyland. And don’t even get me started on those gas fireplaces with the logs that never burn up! No, give me the real thing anytime!!
Sometimes I think my life looks more like those fake flames than the real thing. This week I’ve once again had the privilege of being in a crowd of 2000 folks at a conference where God’s presence was incredibly tangible. The warmth created by the combined spiritual energy of this group was undeniable. Their collective fire was burning hot and drawing everyone around into the experience. It was a reminder for all involved that we must not allow ourselves to become faux followers of Christ!
Fake flames of passion and commitment too easily can creep into our lives, creating an illusion of a fire of faith burning inside of us rather than the real thing. We go through the motions, we look the part, and we probably even really believe it. But ultimately we know that something is just missing! It’s become “too pat”, “too comfortable”, “too routine”, “too automatic”. We need reminders, at times, to get out of those comfort zones and back into the real experience of burning brightly. We don’t just want to look like Christians, talk like Christians, act like Christians, or be known as Christians – we actually want and need to BE CHRIST LIKE! And no fake fire experience will ever replace the real thing!!
Like the flames that flicker in those fake fireplaces, there is a tendency for us all to settle for maintaining the appearance of fire rather than actually letting God continue to add new wood to the fireplace in our hearts and set it aflame. Some of the logs he wants to add to our experience are things that we may not like – a new job, a difficult relationship, a heart-breaking experience, open opposition, a financial loss, a medical challenge, an unfortunate circumstance or even move to new location. The “pitch” contained in those “logs” are often the things that create some of the beauty in our lives and help us to burn brighter and hotter. But we’re not always so sure we think God knows what He is doing. Isn’t it enough that we just look like we’re burning?
Years ago I read a biography of John Wesley that was entitled “The Burning Heart”. It was required reading for a class, so I’m not sure I appreciated the content as much as I’m beginning to now. As I quickly approach an age when many folks retire (which I have no real intentions of doing) I’m become more and more obsessed with burning as bright and as long as I can. Yet, I’m also becoming more and more aware of what’s lacking in my own spiritual life as I weigh myself the likes of men like Wesley. Their passion, desire, sacrifice and service often seem like they far outshine my own efforts.
I’m not just talking about having a solid work ethic, a commitment to serve others, or an understanding of scripture. I think burning brightly has more to do with the passion of our faith and a holy unrest for settling for a spiritual routine. Flickering faith is just what it sounds like – it’s hot sometimes, not so hot others, and at times just an illusion of the real thing. It can look and sound pretty realistic, but like those faux flames of the gas or electric fireplaces, it doesn’t compare to the real thing.
Watching the fake flame in the hotel lobby today has been good for me, especially after what I just experienced over the past couple of days at this conference. I don’t want my faith to be the flickering resemblance of what God has done in my life. I have so much to be grateful for and I want to burn brightly for as long as I can for Him. But those flames of passion are too easily doused by the pressures of everyday life, routine responsibilities, and life’s problems and pressures. I want to be open to having God add logs of experience onto the bonfire in my heart. I want to know the crackling that comes from having to work through a new issue, and see the sparks fly as He leads me through an uncomfortable experience. I want to feel the warmth of His love filling my heart and learn better how to spread that warmth to others. I want to see the light fill the darkness that often surrounds me as I try to walk by faith. Why? Because when the flame is burning hot a lot of good things happen!
Perhaps like those fake fireplace flames we have settled all too often for just being a nice representation of the real thing. While those flames are just an illusion, I’m really not saying they are bad. The purpose is good, the ambiance is attractive, and they do reflect something wonderful. But there’s no comparison to what we all know is real. We’ve experienced it, we’ve felt the power and passion of a “burning heart”. Unfortunately, over time the flame has either died down more than we like to admit or been replaced by something that just resembles a real fire! My prayer is that God will set the “flickering faith” in all our hearts aflame once again!