“I feel like there is a small flame burning deep inside me and maybe one day it will grow.” These were the words Andreas spoke to me the night he turned himself over to God. Andreas was in my Senior physics class. He was a foreign exchange student from Switzerland who loved to play guitar and listen to good music. I hated High School. I think I was too smart for it, but all the evidence would probably prove me wrong. I was just uninterested. Andreas was too smart to hang out with me, but we were both misfits. I think my classmates had a problem with my constant attempts to cheat off of their homework. And they weren’t willing to fight through language barriers to get to know Andreas.
We became friends. Every week he would show me how far he had progressed in learning “Tears in Heaven” on the guitar. And every week he would come to church with me. I went to a small Nazarene church where the people were cool, and the food was even cooler. The church fit in with our common theological belief: we should eat, A LOT.
I would share my experience of the Gospel with him, and he would ask questions. A lot of questions. He explained that church wasn’t really a thing where he came from, and this extremely churched, southern culture was totally different than anything he had ever experienced.
I can remember his face as phone books ripped and rebar twisted in the bear hands of giants. I took him to a Power Team rally… remember them? What a strange way to share the love of Jesus to people! But as strange as it is, Andreas was overcome by something he could only describe as “God” that night.
Later, he told me about this “small flame”. It has been 12 years since we said goodbye and I have yet to fulfill my promise to visit him in Switzerland. I will get there one day. I think one of the most important questions I will ever ask will be to him, “How big is that flame now?”
As we read Philippians it’s important to understand that Paul was overcome by an overpowering revelation of Christ, just like Andreas was that night. Everything Paul did, he did because there was a flame burning inside of him, and it was fed until it started spreading to the villages and towns around him. We owe our faith to his burning desire to see the Church succeed. This should jumble us up because we all have this flame, but how often are we feeding it? Do we really want it to grow? We can all have an impact like Paul because we have all had similar experiences with Christ. But the challenge lies in what we do with that experience and how we use that flame.
When Christ overshadows our worlds and takes hold of our hearts we find symbols to speak with because, in all honesty, no words can come close to putting framework around our feelings. Some will say they hunger or thirst for more. Others will overflow with the Spirit or ask God to fill them. We use metaphors from a sacrificial system saying His blood washes over us or we are covered by His blood. So I find it interesting that Andreas, knowing very little about Christianity and all of its symbols, chose the complexity of a flame. A symbol not only used to scorch away the old to make way for new life, but also used as a light, that grows, and breaths, and seems to be guided by forces that are beyond our control. I told you, he was just too smart to be hanging out with me. I’m putting this together 12 years later.
So before I ask Andreas this question, I’ll practice on you. How big is your flame now? Is it just warm enough for you? Or is it burning within you and spreading to the villages and towns around you?