I awoke when a welcome warmth pressed against the bridge of my nose, passing onto my cheeks and against my face until it at last reached my neck and crested along the rest of my body, making my skin tingle in comfort. The smell of burning wood flowed into my nostrils and I inhaled deeply, soaking in the campfire peace as I pressed into the hospitable luxury of my mattress.
Then I realized…I wasn’t camping, and there was no campfire.
I was in my home. It was nighttime.
My house was on fire.
My eyes popped open in a flash as the warmth against my skin transitioned from an open-armed welcome to a barred-across repulsion in but a second. I sat up in my bed and surveyed the room, flickers of orange and yellow whipping around me in a teasing dance that only I understood the meaning of. The fire licked at the window curtains and along the walls, singeing the wooden floor beneath me in a way that had sent that campfire smell into my nostrils only moments ago. There was still a clear pathway to the door, but I wouldn’t have time to grab anything else on my way out.
But maybe, just maybe, I had time to grab my laptop? It did have five years’ of hard work on it, right? Surely I had time to snag it before making my way out of the house. This is the thought that passed through my mind as I saw the sleek black device sitting just across the room. Surely I had time to grab that.
A snap in the wooden beam above my head yanked me back to reality, and I turned from the laptop back to the door. The fire was getting steadily closer.
I had to make a decision, and I had to make it fast.
What you just read is a purely fictional story, but I’d say that something quite similar is pretty common on a day-to-day basis. Something unexpected and slightly (or perhaps severely) terrifying hits you full-force with no warning whatsoever, and without much time to think, you have to decide what matters most to you. You have to decide what to do and how to handle the situation, whether to abandon the comfort of what you once knew to dive into something even more uncomfortable, or perhaps to sit there and let nature run its course.
Perhaps our narrator would have successfully saved both his laptop and himself, thus saving five years’ labor in the process.
Perhaps he would have opened the door only to find that there was no exit, because the rest of the house had already gone up in flames.
Perhaps he had been having a nightmare the entire time, and none of it had actually happened.
I could list possible scenarios for another quarter-century yet we would get nowhere, so I’ll stop at that. My main point of what I want to talk about today is that, in a situation such as this, you are essentially narrowed down to two options: you can freak out because the house is burning down, or you can calmly get yourself to safety and then start looking for some buckets of water to help put the fire out.
The decision you make, I think, says a whole lot about you.
In case you couldn’t tell, I’m not talking about actual fires here. What I’m really going for through this extended metaphor is the idea of stress and fear and anxiety, and how we handle them in our day-to-day lives. Whenever life hits you with something unexpected, how do you handle it? When you get a bad grade, what do you do? When your boyfriend or girlfriend breaks up with you, how do you react? Your grandmother just got diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and she only has a few months left: What is your response? These are the questions that define our very being, and how we respond to conflict will largely define who we are as a person. NOW LET’S BE HONEST…it’s how we respond to the trials in life, not the good times, that tell us who we truly are. It’s easy to love someone who loves you back, but it’s severely hard to love someone who hates you or who has hurt someone you love. It’s easy to praise God for the blessings, but it’s hard to trust Him when the storm is at its darkest. But how you handle each and every one of these situations says volumes about who you are, about what makes you you.
In 2 Timothy, we read that “God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (1:7). This, in and of itself, tells us how the Christian should react to the house on fire. While everybody else is freaking out and yelling “THE HOUSE IS ON FIRE!” the Christian should be the one calmly going about trying to find those buckets to help put the fire out. We aren’t to run away from the crisis, but run into it. We aren’t supposed to be part of the problem, but the ones bringing the solution. Just a little bit later, Paul tells us that we are to “Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops.”
Do you see what Paul is saying? From my perspective, there are three defining things we see in this passage, and I think they contribute fairly well to the point I’m trying to draw:
- Christians need to be on a mission. If you are a soldier in the United States military, you are willingly going on a mission for your country, willing to suffer for the United States of America. As soldiers of Christ we receive the same calling, to be suffering servants as we go about the mission of proclaiming the Good News of the Gospel to all the nations. And while proclaiming the Good News with our mouths is great, actions speak louder than words. A hypocritical Christian will not get people saved: why would somebody wants to join your mission if you respond to fear in the same way that they do?
- Christians need to have integrity. Notice that Paul says a soldier doesn’t get entangled in civilian pursuits, just as an athlete is only awarded if he follows the rules. Not only should Christians stay true to their mission, but they should stay true to who they are! If a person calls himself a runner, then he ought to follow the correct course. If he is a football player, he ought to play the game right. If you call yourself a Christian, then ought you mirror the very person who epitomizes that title, Christ Himself? We have a 66-book thing called the Bible that helps us outline perfect Christian integrity, so we need to learn to apply that to our lives.
- Christians need to have a work ethic. Paul says that the hard-working farmer should get the first share of crops, and this is where we get the idea of “You don’t work, you don’t eat.” That’s a Christian ideal! (And before you hound me, let me acknowledge that charity falls into another category.) Christians don’t just sit around when the world is falling apart around them; they are to go and try to work that problem out! If you claim to be a Christian yet you are doing nothing to go out and better the world to the best of your ability, why would anybody else be motivated to join the faith? A person’s work ethic says a lot about them, and if we can keep our work ethic strong even amidst the perilous times, then that virtue will ultimately point the weary and the lost back to Christ.
In 1 John 4:18, we read that “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” People are always quick to quote that first sentence, but did you catch the last part? “Whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” My friends, don’t you see that, as Christians, you have been perfect in love, imbued by the very righteousness of Christ through His death on the cross (2 Cor 5:21)? Therefore you have no reason to fear anything this world can throw at you, for your salvation – your eternity – is set! What can this world do to you to cause you fear and harm? Christ’s unfailing and perfect love for you should cast out your fear, and the lack of fear from you should bring about an unsettling calm in the world that makes them look to you and think, “I want what he has” or “I want what she has.” What good is it to be saved if we act just as doomed as before? We need to be intentional, my friends, handling crises in the way God tells us to handle them – in the only way that makes sense. We can go to Haiti and give people food and water, but what good is that if we don’t give them the Living Water and the Bread of Life, so that they never become thirsty or hungry again? That’s like getting out of the burning house but doing nothing to quench the flames. We need to equip others with that same fearlessness that we should embody.
I repeat what I said earlier: Don’t run away from the crisis. Run into it. Boldly. Unashamedly. When there’s a storm in your life, you have no reason to fear because He who calms the storms is in your boat. When you’re in the midst of a fire, don’t you worry, because He’s standing right beside you in the furnace. When you’re lost and weary and looking for a place of refuge, do not be afraid, because He is waiting for you with open arms. Now walk into that embrace and then pass it onto others!
I’ll ask you this: when you open the door of a light-filled room to look into a dark one, does the darkness from the outer room overcome the light shining in the bright one? By no means! Instead, the light from the lit room pours into the dark one, filling it with light it previously did not contain. That is because light will always overcome darkness, as long as we give the light a chance to shine. Jesus calls you the light of the world, so why do you let the darkness overcome you when times get rough? Why do you stress, why you feel anxious, why do you fear? Friends, there is no room for these things, don’t you see?
Just earlier today, I was sitting in a lecture where a pastor looked out to the lot of us and encouraged us, saying, “Jesus told us that we are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. As Christians, we should be so salty and we should shine so bright that people have to stop and ask us why. Why we are so happy, why we are so energetic. They should look at you and be confounded by how much energy and happiness you have, asking other people, ‘What’s up with that guy? Or what’s up with that girl?’” He reminded us that by letting that God-given energy and happiness flow through us, we open ourselves up to opportunities to share the Gospel, and through that, perhaps we can gain another brother or sister in Christ, another family member to be perfected in love and live a life of stress-free, anxiety-free, fear-free bliss. Doesn’t that sound great?
So in conclusion, I ask again: How do you respond to tough times? How do you respond to the storms that threaten to break your ship apart? How do you respond to the fires that burn down your forest? How do you respond to the tigers that chase you to the edge of the cliff, or to those that are waiting for you down at the bottom? How do you handle yourself when times get tough? Are you the person freaking out because of the fire, or are you the person running for the nearest hose?
Be salty. Shine bright. Let the comfort and peace of Jesus Christ pass over you and wash like a tidal wave over this dark, dark world. Make a difference of sorts that can only be done in Jesus’ name. Be comforted in his love, and then spread it to the world. Not our will, but His be done.
Thanks for reading.