I sat down across from an old friend as the lively Friday night pub buzzed around us. Glasses clinked and excited voices chattered, and it matched the anticipation I felt at being back in the old town, having old feelings mix with new opportunities. After shouting our drink order to the server, we settled into a close conversation. Moments later we were sipping cold, dark porters from a microbrewery sadly inaccessible in the far off land to which I’d gone.
But I was home.
As the conversation deepened to familiar topics, I listened in dismay as an unexpected reality set in. My once strong friend in the faith, warrior for God, kindred spirit, had fallen to the allure of the worldly culture. He no longer lived different from the world. He’d been changed.
How long had I been gone?
I moved to my new home in southern Florida from Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti, Michigan, a mecca of liberalism and intellectualism, five years before.
But it’s the story five years earlier that matters.
One Saturday, while painting on a college crew, my brother and I were struck by the decline of the family and the church in America and we decided to do something about it. We were young and crazy. So, with permission from our pastors, the next day after church, we holed up in a small room to pray for a week straight. We had no food, no bed, no money, only the clothes we were wearing. It was just the two of us. But we were determined to stay at church from Sunday to Sunday service and do nothing but pray and sleep. We knew we wouldn’t die, so we didn’t care about the details. We told no one but a college friend after the service, who promptly dropped her week plans to join us.
By evening, we were 20 strong.
No fewer than 12-20 high school kids on fire for God filled prayer week at any moment day or night, praying, singing, shouting praises to God, worshiping, praying Psalms, sitting in silence before him, interceding for the nation — and we’d never advertised a thing. We came up with the idea the day before and mentioned it to one girl, and a whole slew of hungry high schoolers looking for a way to live out their radical faith found us.
Years later, many of these exact same on fire kids had left the faith or compromised to live like the world.
Why did my friends who were so on fire for God fall away? The question haunted me, especially because, by age and necessity, I’d become the de facto leader of the prayer week movement, which we repeated the next couple years with the same results. These Christian kids who were once so zealous for the faith, how could they so easily fall away?
I believe I’ve found the answer.
1. They forgot their part in the mission.
When we’re young, we want to be rebels. To stand for something and not back down. To go backs-against-the-wall, guns blazing in our own Alamo with heroes we revere. And for Christian kids who’ve spent most of their lives in the church, it is very easy to forget the church is the rebel, attacked by the world, holed up in an Alamo by a vast opposing culture, kids packed into a small prayer room crying out to God, fighting for holiness in their little vestige of society.
And when they forget they are rebels against the culture, they rebel against the only thing left — the church.
We must realize Christians are in a spiritual war with the world and we are the hated minority, not the world which tempts us to join it.
That’s right, we are at war. It is possibly the single greatest reality outside of the cross and salvation. We are not to be like the culture or love the world or anything in the world, because it hates God and everything true about God’s holiness — “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first…. A servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.” (Jesus.)
Our whole reality changes — especially during our passionate years — when we realize we are at war. We’re the Alamo. We’re hated and opposed by vast forces of the world right up until the end when we are saved. “But take heart, I have overcome the world.” (Again, Jesus.)
And we are to pull people from it, not fall in step with a culture that marches off to its tune.
2. They compromised with sin early on. Sin that leads to death. And rationalized it, without having the wisdom to see its inevitable conclusion.
Mark this clearly. Sin leads to death. When you choose to sleep with your girlfriend, continually party and get drunk, or live any major disobedience to God, unless you repent, it leads to one of two conclusions:
- Condemnation. You know the sin separates you from God, but you won’t give it up, so you eventually turn away from him because it’s easier to live in the darkness than in the light. To fall away is inevitable when one chooses to deliberately disobey God indefinitely and rationalize it. DON’T do it. Fear God, run from sin, dump your girlfriend/boyfriend, whatever it takes, but don’t choose a lifestyle of DISOBEYING God and think it’ll all be okay. RUN the other way.
- Compromise. You change over time and become a cultural Christian — one who says he’s a Christian, but lives the same as the un-Christian worldly society. You convince yourself they’re right and your parents were wrong. But, sadly, this doesn’t produce fruit in keeping with repentance. Jesus the Gardner promises to prune you another year, but the Owner of the vineyard says if you don’t bear fruit, he’ll have to cut you off.
Either way, unrepentant disobedience leads to separation from God.
3. They made friends with the world. And when they should’ve led their friends, they followed instead and became like them.
Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Outliers, writes about this interesting phenomenon of influence. While parents spend 18 years discipling their children in the way they should go, he quotes studies that show that between family, culture, and friends, a young adult’s friends, not family, are the most influential force in determining one’s beliefs.
The Bible says bad company corrupts good character. Campus Christian communities give strength and vital encouragement to Christian faith.
Yet, these friends listened to the intellectual arguments and worldly philosophies of the non-Christians around them and, rather than hone their arguments for the faith and seek out godly community, they changed.
4. They stopped reading the Bible. Going to church. And continuing a rich, daily worship relationship with God.
Worshiping God in his presence is powerful. Hungering for the Word of God is fulfilling.
And we knew it. We started a movement where each of us carried a pocket Bible to strike iron at any moment. But then… when the discipline of parents was forgotten, sinful choices began, and the connection of worldly friends surrounded, many stopped.
They lost connection to the life-giving nutrients of the Vine, and the weeds choked them out.
So how does a Christian stay on fire for God?
He remembers the mission, Who he fights for, and what he fights against. He cuts sin before it grows. He joins a Christian community that’s on fire for God and sharpens him in spiritual maturity, and he enjoys rich relationship with God in worship and the Word daily.
No force, no matter how vast, can take down that Alamo.
Not even the world.