Where are they now? Do any of you who went to seminary or Bible college or studied Theology at uni ever wonder that?
Where are they now, those bright-eyed and painfully certain first-years? Where are the fewer but determined-yet second-years who were beginning to awake to their own ignorance? What happened to those third- and fourth-years, battling deadlines so that they could go out into the world and change it?
In a sense, I know where many of those I studied with are, there were so few of us. But the question still buzzes in my ear, a bothering blend of confusion and disappointment: what happened to them?
I suppose the same thing that has happened to a good number of the Christians I’ve known. This is not specifically about them, I’m speaking generally now, but it was wondering about them that sparked the train of thought. It’s silly to have to clarify but I don’t really care to be bitten again.
So I get to wondering whatever happened to various Christians throughout my life who came and went (and a few who stayed). We all of us fall into one of three categories as we trot on down the Narrow Path; Sparks, Slowburners, and Suburbans and sometimes it’s hard to see where one crosses over into another. All the same, two questions confront us all: Who am I? And who should I be?
Most of us have read the biographies. These men were all but gospel fireworks, compulsively preaching and evangelising, full of fire, passion, and energy. These ones were the evangelists, the missionaries, the pioneers, the ones who did six impossible things before breakfast and still found time to pray.
If you’ve never met a Christian like this, they are something to be hold (and usually be convicted by). They often seem to grow as fast as you can feed them and there is no satisfying their thirst. But for all the energy and passion, there is a depth too.
Perhaps there are particular personalities that tend in this direction, it certainly seems so. They tend to exasperate the Slowburners at times and normally embarrass the Suburbans completely but they are important and God uses them. Sparks are the pioneers who go before, clearing the path and igniting the flame for those who come behind.
Some of us — the majority I suspect — come to faith and then grow slowly and fairly steadily over the years, plodding on at a faithful pace. We haven’t the almost manic drive of the Sparks. We are not pioneers but we are pillars.
Your average believer is a slowburner, not slow in a bad way, but in the way that candles burn compared to fireworks. Very few are called to sell all their possessions and go plant a church in an unreached plot of Venezuelan jungle. Most are called to work their job, care for their family, and serve diligently in their local church.
There is a solidness and depth cultivated over many years and the patient faithfulness of an ordinary life. Slowburners come behind the Sparks, laying a road brick by brick in the way that has been cleared and kindling and tending the fire that was lit so that it does not die when the Spark is gone.
They are very different roles but they both need each other and neither is less honourable than the other.
I have an almost faded scar on my chin from where I was swimming in a river once and dived, misjudging the depth and smacking my face off the pebbles at the bottom.
But I’m always doing this. Not in water, I’ve learned my lesson. It’s a regular occurrence when I talk to churched folk though. I have the terrible habit of assuming that if someone claims to be a Christians, they will have more depth to them than the average heathen. I assume that they have greater interest in people, a greater passion and compassion, and a desire for something more than what the world has to offer.
Then smack! Let’s not talk about the sermon, we’ve been to church today. Have you seen Stranger Things yet?
There’s nothing wrong with living in the suburbs or whatever cultural equivalent. Many Suburbans don’t. There’s nothing inherently bad about a normal job, a normal house, a normal family, normal car, a semi-normal looking dog. There’s nothing wrong with living in a nice area. And yet these are common (though not exclusively so) factors in so many Christians that I know who seem to have no fire anymore when it comes to the gospel. It’s not that it was never there, I’d probably say that a lot of them have shown great passion for the gospel at some point, often in their teens and early twenties or close around the time of their conversion. But now, when I look at them, if I didn’t know them, I’d think that they were just nice people and be pleasantly surprised to discover that they go to church.
I’ve never expected it but neither am I opposed to the comfortable life. And yet it seems to pose such danger to our church members. There’s something about the whitewashed walls of new-build houses that seems to whitewash over our desire to share the gospel with our neighbours. There’s something about a nice car that puts our walking at risk. There’s something about a comfortable job that makes us uncomfortable doing the work of the kingdom.
I’ve had a number of friends who were going to go and do great things. Now they are settled down and wish that those of us still questioning, still just barely dreaming, would settle down too. They might have been Slowburners once but they have settled altogether now in the suburbs of the church.
Who Am I? And Who Should I Be?
Contrary to what you, might think, it is not spending time with the Slowburners or even the Sparks that can create the feeling of pressure. For me, I’ve felt the greatest pressure from Suburbans because they wish the rest of us would just settle down and I wonder how they ever could.
I’ve tried settling (not intentionally but that’s what happens when you aren’t paying attention) but it resulted only in an insatiable restlessness. I’ve played church briefly too but it was never enough, not like the real thing.
When we settle, we become comfortable and when we become comfortable we let our guard down and the gospel seems less and less important and more and more inconvenient. Comfort is not evil, I quite like it myself, but it is a very real danger.
Not everyone is called to be like Adoniram Judson, Hudson Taylor, C. H. Spurgeon, George Whitefield, or J. G. Oncken. Most people aren’t and that’s ok. But the Bible doesn’t command us to be like these ones. It tells us to be like Christ and if we are like Christ, we’ll never be able to settle for what the world tries to sell us. Comfort tempts us to keep our heads down so that we can keep hold of it but we aren’t called to be chameleons, we’re called to be Christlike and to glorify God in all that we do, wherever he puts us; suburbs or slums.
We need to be careful that we don’t let the world subtly smother the light in us. Take care of the flame, it’s fragile and precious and the world needs it far more than it needs a 9-5 and respectable neighbours.
So here’s the question: where are you?
I find myself more and more often as I grow older burning so slow that only a brittle shell of restlessness around my soul keeps me from settling for a tag-on faith. Such convicts me, it makes this entire piece feel hypocritical but that I speak to my own heart too, not just yours. Perhaps more to my own than to yours.
So where are you now? Who are you now? Are you a Spark, full of passion and pioneering spirit? A Slowburner, steadily and faithfully journeying ever Christwards? Or were you once these things and no longer, settled comfortable with the world but maintaining the game of Sunday service?
A new year is breaking. We do not know what it will bring except that it will bring us another cycle nearer to coming face to face with the one our soul loves and what will he say of you?
None of us are who we ought to be. But neither should we go back to who we were or settle for a vaguely Christianised version of that person. There is nothing in this world worth settling for, carry that with you into the coming year. Why should we not be ambitious and strive for the very best, Christ?
As we come into the new year, and for as many years as God sees fit to follow for you, rub the sleep from your eyes, wake up living bones, run! And refuse to settle until at last you reach your heavenly home.