As a boy I loved making fires. After school we’d spend every summer evening in the fields and not infrequently making a fire. Most of the time everything was under control – I was a Scout after all. However, on one occasion things very nearly got so out of control my future, as a responsible member of society, could have seriously been in doubt! (my best friend and fellow culprit went on to become a GP). The wheat field almost went up in flames. We started by holding a magnifying glass up to the sun on the dried wheat.
Most forest fires begin from a small spark. That spark often looks like one person, part of a Church, who has the courage and conviction to step out in the direction God is leading them in. Are you listening?
‘The Church exists by mission, just as a fire exists by burning. Where there is no mission, there is no Church; and where there is neither Church nor mission, there is no faith’. That’s what Emil Brunner, speaking from Germany, said back in 1931. Recently, I’ve been wondering how many of us still believe it?
We’re nearly a century on and the sobering reality is throughout that period, across Western Europe, the Church has been in numerical decline. The fire is still burning, but not as brightly as once upon a time. New Churches are being planted, old Churches are being re-born and people are coming to faith in Jesus, but (in spite of ‘charismatic renewal’) by almost any measure the flames are lower, or more resembling smouldering embers, in many places.
Many Churches are still behaving, in practice, as if their continued existence is something, which is guaranteed. Whenever this becomes the case ‘mission’ becomes activity we’ll get around to one day when things become really desperate.
However, just this week I heard of someone becoming a Christian who’s wife had been praying for him for over forty years. What was the spark, which led to his conversion? Was the first prayer? Was it each act of kindness and generosity, which revealed the life of Jesus? Are we more like the magnifying glass, which we hold before the light of Jesus and then see what he starts through us? We never know, which sparks will result in fires, but staying in the place where God could light a fire is something we must keep doing.