Summary: Cowardice keeps us from a relationship with God. Rekindle God’s gifts: power to make a difference, love that stays by those in need, and self-discipline to choose a lifestyle of ministry. Luther Rice Memorial Baptist Church, Silver Spring, MD
Are you that rare person who married your first love and you are still just as much in love today as you were at first sight? If you are such a creature, I salute you, but there are not many like you. When I attended Betty Noe’s funeral here not long ago, it was said that she was Hulon’s first and only love. But I suspect that not many of us could say that.
Do you remember your first crush? Was there was somebody back in grade school that you longed to get close to, but he never even noticed that you were alive!? There was somebody in high school that you pined for, but she was a cheerleader and lived in a social stratosphere that you could never reach!
Am I on target? Can you identify with this? You were in love, or at least in heavy-duty like, but it could never work out. We call that an old flame. Puppy love, schoolboy/schoolgirl crush. And when you think of it now, how does it feel? Warm and cuddly? Or as hopeless as ever? What if he were here right now; would you flirt with the old flame? If she were in this room and your eyes met, would you go over and say, “Remember me?” What would it be like to flirt with the old flame? Would you be too nervous to do it?
There was a young lady who sang in the choir in my home church in Louisville. I too sang in that choir, or at least filled a seat in the choir loft – not sure it was really singing! I was interested in this young lady, but at a distance. I thought she was not in my league. The notion of talking with her one-on-one scared me out of my shoes. The idea that I would ever, ever, ever think it possible that she would go out on a date with me … well, I yearned for it and I dreamed about it, but the courage to ask was just not in me.
However, there was one thing I could do, thanks to our being in the choir. The choir loft had only two rows: women in the front and men in the rear. If there were just the right number of sopranos along the front and just the right number of baritones along the back, I could get in the right spot and sit immediately behind her. And if I could sit immediately behind her, not only could I look at her all I wanted, but also I could sort of lean forward while we sang, and accidentally on purpose just slightly touch her hair! Not pulling on anything, not grasping, you understand, just the slightest brush of a finger on a stray strand of hair! Enough to give me a small thrill. A tiny touch of tenderness.
Don’t ask me what we were singing; that I don’t remember. Don’t ask me what the pastor was preaching; that I cannot recall. But ask me about the look and the feel of a wisp of hair, and I can call that to memory right now! An old flame; excitement; a thrill. Yet I was too much a coward to go beyond that. It was something to look forward to on Sundays, but I just could not get beyond that furtive attempt at contact. I felt that that flame would burn me if I got too close, so I stayed away from anything real. Flirting with the old flame was all I could do.
For some of us, that describes our spiritual lifestyle. Some of us treat God that way. Some of us flirt with God as if He were an old flame, someone we yearned for back in the day, but we never had anything real going on. We never brought our fantasies into reality. We were always too scared to do anything more than just barely brush past. We were too cowardly to get involved, too frightened to take on a real relationship. Some of us treat God like flirting with an old flame.
And all we have going for us now is a serious case of nostalgia. Nostalgia – remembering what we used to feel, remembering the thrill of being close to being close. But nothing real, nothing lasting, nothing substantial, nothing now. Our spiritual lives are like flirting with an old flame – thrilling in the memory of it and yet disappointing because there was no fulfillment.
The apostle, writing to Timothy, has a very blunt word for this. There is no mistaking his judgment on this issue. His diagnosis is “cowardice”. We are afraid. Cowardice. We don’t have enough inner fortitude to approach the Lord and deal with a real relationship. True, he says, “God did not give us a spirit of cowardice.” But we have cultivated it on our own. “God did not give us a spirit of cowardice.” But we have produced it within ourselves. We are afraid of a real relationship with God.