He arrived bright and early every Sunday to greet each churchgoer with an inviting handshake. You could hear him from the back pew each time the sermon stirred his heart, too. “Amen, pastor. Preach it!” he’d say. He gave generously to every offering and served on every committee. That’s why, after missing church for four weeks in a row, his absence was obvious to all. Something wasn’t quite right.
Although the pastor wrote him letters, the back pew remained empty. Members of the church encouraged him to come back when they saw him in the grocery, but to no avail. “I’ll visit him at home. I’ve got an idea,” the pastor thought.
The minister was warmly welcomed inside after knocking on the door. The two exchanged pleasantries and then sat by the fireplace. “I’m sure you understand why I’m here,” the pastor added. “It’s not good for you to be absent from church.” The pastor then listened patiently as the man rattled off excuses for why he had missed church for so long.
The pastor then reached for the fire poker and pushed one of the coals away from the fireplace. Without saying a word, they both sat watching the coal slowly burn out. “Would you look at that?” asked the pastor. “The heat of the coal goes away if it’s not in the fireplace, surrounded by other hot coals.” The man’s eyes welled up with tears as he realized the object lesson: his spiritual fire was burning out because he had spent too much time away from church, the Christian’s fireplace.
This story has circulated for many years because it conveys a timely truth: Christians need the church to stay on fire for the Lord. We should gather each Sunday with other hot coals in the local church to rekindle our own flame for the Lord and His work. The kindling we need to stay on fire is available every Sunday: fellowship with the saints, preaching from the Bible, and the exercise of our spiritual gifts. The flame of our zeal for God will burn out if we are absent from the fireplace. The pouring rain of life’s trials and the strong wind of Satan’s temptations threaten to extinguish it, too.
The Lord commands us all to congregate with His people so that we can burn for Him rather than burn out: “And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24-25, KJV). Are you a coal in the fireplace or a smoldering ember?
Bible Gleanings is a widely-read weekend devotional column, written for the Murray Ledger & Times in Calloway County, Kentucky.
Brandon is the founder and main contributor to Brandon’s Desk, the blog with biblical resources from his ministry. He is proud to be the pastor of the family of believers at Locust Grove Baptist Church in Murray, Kentucky. He and his wife Dakota live there with their three dogs, Susie (Jack Russell), Aries (English Shepherd), and Dot (Bluetick Beagle).