BY RAVI ZACHARIAS
Years ago I read a powerful essay by my favorite essayist, F.W. Boreham, called “The Candle and The Bird.” With his brilliant sweep of knowledge of God’s working in history, Boreham traces how revivals have spread from continent to continent, how when the brilliant flame of God’s moving in the hearts of people seemed to be dying out in one place there would be a fresh spark igniting a God-breathed revival elsewhere. From Germany through Zinzendorf to England through Wesley and Whitfield to Wales and Scotland, and then to the Evangelical Awakening in America, it is fascinating to see how God has done His work through times and seasons and locations. Boreham distinguishes between extinguishing a candle and chasing away a bird: when you extinguish a candle, the light goes out; when you chase away a bird, it sings its song from another bough. Hence, his title “The Candle and The Bird”—a beautiful metaphor.
In America now it is fashionable to mock the bird of evangelicalism and try to silence it. But the song is being sung on other boughs and historic movements are taking place. In China, Korea, and the Middle East, places where once the gospel’s saving message seemed to be extinguished, churches are packed with hungry hearts, the youth listening to the gospel message with rapt attention. In countries where there was once hostility, crowds fill the auditoriums. In Romania, where to believe in God was once to put one’s life at risk, ten thousand filled the auditorium in which I spoke. From senators and other political leaders there we heard of the dark days of the past and of the shining hope of the future. We prayed in chambers once inhabited by a tyrant and were told this was probably the first time a prayer had been publicly uttered. They have witnessed what Christ-less lives can birth, shattering their countries and their hopes. They can now see that the only possible hope for transforming a heart is Jesus Christ.
But mistakes were made across history and we still have not learned. When the gospel was first taken into places like India and China in the 18th and 19th centuries, it often came on the wings of western political expansionism and the so-called “gunboat diplomacy.” That incongruous combination spelt disaster for both groups. Political imperialism soon lost out, and with it went the missionary effort, seen as being in cahoots with political demagoguery. In a staggering change, now the agents of demagoguery are carrying a different message, basically, “We in America have evicted Christian values and beliefs. We have replaced them with naturalistic assumptions. Mores and the sacred are things of the past. We have silenced those voices … and so must you; if you don’t, you will forfeit all the monetary support we would otherwise give you.” Yes, that is what is happening, and rather than being an influence for good in the world, America is becoming a purveyor of ungodliness.
What those with this monetary “gun-to-the-head” attitude don’t realize is that other countries have seen through this hollowness, and what was once a respected nation is now viewed as a valueless paper machine sinking because it has lost its faith and values. They know it. They say it. They remind us of the emptiness of freedom without responsibility. We are too blind to admit that our gradual collapse has come walking in lockstep with our irreligious handmaiden, toward our disintegration. Jesus cautioned us about such scandalous blindness.
But there is good news. The very nations that evicted “gunboat” missions are now receiving the message of Jesus without the gunboat. Those giving heed to the gunboat of naturalism will accept the gunboat’s benefits but reject the naturalism it insists on because they have already been there and know why they were sinking and in need of assistance. I have had sheiks and mullahs tell me, “Please don’t stop coming; we need you here. We need Christians here.” Those were the very words to me a few years ago from the now assassinated Chief of Intelligence in Syria. He knew the healing balm of Jesus Christ was needed and as we left him, the church leader with me expressed his amazement at hearing such an admission. It just could not be made in public.
The church in China is the fastest growing church in the world. One professor in China told a Christian colleague, a friend of mine, “Stop criticizing Marxism…. It left the souls of the people empty, which is why they are listening to you now.” I can just hear a generation from now someone telling the next generation of preachers in America, “Stop criticizing naturalism. It has left the souls of people empty, which is why they are listening to you now.”
Ironically, in a powerful piece published some years ago in his very popular column in England, self-proclaimed atheist Matthew Parris said that after he had revisited Malawi where he had grown up, he was convinced against his ideological commitment to atheism that what Africa needs is not more aid but the gospel of Jesus Christ, which alone changes hearts. He admitted to speaking with a schizoid struggle, yet he strongly believed that the only hope for Africa was the Evangel: the gospel of Jesus Christ. He ended his article in The Times of December 27, 2008, “Removing Christian evangelism from the African equation may leave the continent at the mercy of a malign fusion of Nike, the witch doctor, the mobile phone and the machete.” That, from an atheist is profoundly powerful.
The bird is singing from different boughs … it is not silent. In a twist, down the road our rabid atheism here may one day awaken society to what it has squandered. Yes, it can happen that the bird will start singing again in Washington, New York, Los Angeles, and throughout this land. You would be amazed at the letters we get expressing the disillusionment of people from within their own worldview without values and without God. One professor in California told me that when he was young, he was a radical activist for all the causes that challenged our shared meanings of the past. Now in his veteran years he deeply regrets that wrongheaded life of his youth.
The bird still sings its songs. We hear it and see it as we travel—and I would be remiss if I did not say “many thanks to all our supporters” who make it possible for our team to get to these places.
The words of Arthur Hugh Clough say it well:
For while the tired waves, vainly breaking,
Seem here no painful inch to gain,
Far back, through creeks and inlets making,
Comes silent, flooding in, the main.
And not by eastern windows only,
When daylight comes, comes in the light;
In front the sun climbs slow, how slowly!
But westward, look, the land is bright!
The mockery will not have the last laugh. You see, dancing on the grave of an extinguished Christianity is farcical at best. Because the grave is empty. And the one who knows the way out of the grave sits in the heavens and laughs.