We were in a small mission congregation in a major Canadian city. A middle-aged single lady, I’ll call her Anne, had been attending for a year or more. One day she said to me, “It seems like there is a warm fire burning here and you are all gathered around to warm yourselves by that fire, but you won’t let me get close.” “No,” I answered, “we want you to join us around the fire, the problem is that you are afraid of the fire.”
We all struggle with that fear from time to time, some more than others, and some never seem to overcome that fear. To enter into the presence of God, to warm ourselves in His love and the love of fellow believers, requires that we let go of some things. Things like pride, lust, materialism, envy, anger and so on.
The problem is that we don’t want to call them by their proper names. We create a mask for ourselves, depicting the person that we want to be, the kind of person that we think will be admired and respected by those around us. We want to believe that this is our true identity. Yet as soon as we approach that warm bonfire of God’s love that mask starts to melt and we hasten back to the cool shadows.
This is futility, and deep down we know it. Still, we are afraid to take off the mask and let others see what we are really like. The plain truth is that God cannot do anything for the person we are pretending to be. It’s only when we drop the mask and all pretense that we can become the person God wants us to be. And that will be far better than the person we were pretending to be.
We can’t develop warm and lasting friendships with others either if we don’t allow them to see who we really are. When we stop trying to protect ourselves from the warmth of God’s love, there is nothing left to inhibit the warmth of our fellowship as we gather around the fire.
Anne died a few years ago. Those who visited with her in her last days say that near the end she seemed to grasp the reality that we must come to God on His terms, holding nothing back. There is hope that she finally did enter into the warmth of His love. God is gracious and full of mercy, but why would any of us want to wait until the last minute to discover that?