At the Feast of Tabernacles this year I heard an excellent short message by Don Turgeon about a topic I’d never heard of called the “burning platform”.
The analogy really struck home for me, and I wanted to do a deeper study into how God’s people should be applying this to our lives.
What is a burning platform?
When an explosion ripped apart the North Sea oil platform called the Piper Alpha and the rig caught fire, a few workers were trapped by the fire on the edge of the platform.
Contemplating certain death in the fire versus likely death (and the general unknown) by jumping the 100 feet into the icy waters, one of them chose the latter and jumped.
The term “burning platform” is now used to describe a situation where people are forced to make a particular dramatic choice, in the face of an alternative that is even more extreme (source).
It has become a shorthand in the business world for “helping people see the dire consequences of not changing”, and motivating people to move beyond the status quo to embracing drastic change.
As Turgeon explained, this type of situation has an urgency that pushes you to transform your behavior. Because if you don’t—even though that change is scary or painful or difficult in the moment—not doing so could have long-lasting negative consequences.
A good business example in the last couple decades is Blockbuster, who (mind-bogglingly) could not read the signs of technology and consumer behavior shifts, which ultimately plunged the company from being completely ubiquitous to entirely irrelevant and out of business in a very short span of time.
How does the “burning platform” apply spiritually?
Make no mistake, this world and this present age are a burning platform. And we need to jump.
Those men knew they weren’t jumping into something that would save them, and believed probable death awaited them in the icy sea. But they also knew that staying where they were was certain death, and so staying was the wrong choice.
What was interesting about that message was that it felt very prescient. Because just that week I’d been thinking about my own relationship with the world, and realizing that I’d finally reached a place where I truly, viscerally wanted God’s kingdom to come as soon as possible.
After the last several months of bitter political rhetoric, government overstep, neighbor turning on neighbor, racial division, cities burning (including my own), and just generally looking at the state of the world…I’d finally had enough.
Sure, I’ve always wanted God’s kingdom to come…but as a young person that wish is sometimes a bit more theoretical (and scary as well). You want to grow up, live a life, get married, do things. My life is pretty comfortable in the grand scheme of things, with a good job, snuggly pets, the ability to travel.
The whole principle of the burning platform is that only the most dire circumstances and imminent mortal peril would induce you to jump. It’s hard to contemplate leaving the life we’ve known, the comfort of our daily routines, our conveniences, the people we love.
The difference for us is that we aren’t jumping into the unknown, or to probable death. Just the opposite—the only means of (eternal) survival for those of us called to God’s truth today is to jump. To stop clinging to this world, trying to save it, and to cut the ties it has on our hearts.
(Because of the world we live in, I feel like I have to make a very strong caveat statement here that I am obviously not talking about physical life…this is adamantly not some kind of macabre statement regarding killing ourselves or dying prematurely. I’m speaking of our mental and spiritual state, and whether we’re invested in this current world above God’s coming kingdom.)
“Do not love the world, or the things of the world”
It’s always interesting to really think about the topics that Jesus found critical to cover in His last night on earth. One key theme He discussed a few times was that His kingdom was not of this world, and the focus of His followers should not be here.
“If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (John 15:18-19)
Are you “of this world”? Do you fit in seamlessly with the people around you?
This should give us pause and cause each of us to look at our own lives. The apostle John really hit this hard in his writings, both when talking about Jesus’s time on earth and in his letters afterward.
When Pilate asked Him if He was a king, Jesus replied, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight [for this world]” (John 18:36). Jesus taught that while we must live in the world, pay taxes, conduct business, etc., our ultimate allegiance is to a different country.
John expands on this idea in one of his later letters, saying:
“Do not love the world or the things of the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.
For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever” (I John 2:15-17)
Let’s repeat that once more for the folks in the back—this world is passing away!
As Jesus makes clear, no one can love God and love the world—“no one can serve two masters” (Matt. 6:24). Something will always take priority. And if our priorities, hopes, and thoughts are caught up in this world, we will perish with it.
What, then, are we called to do instead??
“By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going” (Hebrews 11:8).
Noah, Moses, and so many others did the same. God told them to go and that He would provide, and they went. The details weren’t that important, and they had faith in the certainty of God’s promises (which, as Hebrews 11:1 reiterates is the evidence of things unseen).
To clarify, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be studying our bibles and trying to understand the details and nuances of God’s plan, but rather that He hasn’t given us all the details and He still expects us to follow Him into the somewhat-unknown.
Paul continues in Hebrews:
“These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on this earth.
For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland. And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return.
But now they desire a better, that is a heavenly, country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them” (Heb. 11:13-16)
That word “desire” there (G3713) means to seek, covet after, stretch for, reach out for. It’s active and urgent, not vague, wishful, and passive.
We don’t cling to this burning platform and hope that somehow the flames will vanish. Instead, we are to stretch toward and seek out our TRUE homeland. Everything else is ephemeral.
What, then, do we seek after?
Jesus’s brother James warns us that “friendship with the world is enmity with God…whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (James 4:4). These are strong words!
Human beings naturally don’t like to stick out from the crowd. And without even realizing it, God’s people can fall prey to imitating cultural norms, applying human reasoning and secular wisdom to God’s word.
Paul told the Philippians to note those who proclaim to follow Christ but “whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame—who set their mind on earthly things” (Phil. 3:19).
Instead, he says, our citizenship is in heaven and our minds should be on heavenly things, being continually transformed and renewed by God’s spirit rather than conformed to the standards and “wisdom” of the world (Phil. 3:20; Rom 12:2).
Are we Lot, having to be literally dragged away from Sodom and Gomorrah in order to be saved? Are we Lot’s wife, who was ultimately unwilling to leave and clung to the world she knew? Are we the wealthy young man who Jesus told to sell his worldly possessions and who “went away sorrowful for his possessions were great”?
Or are we Abraham, packing up our entire lives and leaving behind everything we know to journey to a place God promises is amazing, but we don’t know exactly what it will be like?
James reiterates that our dependence must be on God. He says, “You do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away” (James 4:14).
That might sound harsh, but it’s true. Our physical lives are the tiniest blip in the history of this world, the grass “that today is in the field and tomorrow is thrown into the oven” (Luke 12:28). They’re passing away and if we place our hopes and focus there, we will miss out on the eternal world that is to come.
In one of His most well-known messages, Jesus tells His disciples:
“Do not seek what you should eat or what you should drink, nor have an anxious mind. For all these things the nations of the world seek after, and your Father knows that you need these things.
But seek the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added to you. Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:29-32)
That phrase “anxious mind” is interesting. There is so much about the current world that gives us an anxious mind. But in His last hours on earth, Jesus reiterated to the disciples, “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
“He who overcomes shall inherit all things”
What makes it hard for you to fully let go of this world? What are the distractions or ties that continually pull your mind back to “worldly things”?
We should be looking inward—at our hearts, at our thoughts and also at our behaviors. When the time comes to make a choice between what is easy and what is right (HP shoutout!), what might end up being our hurdle to choosing the right but more difficult course?
This world is a burning platform, but we are not jumping into the unknown, facing almost certain death. We know what God promises His people if they remain faithful to the end.
Instead, we are more like Peter, called to step out of an unstable boat to walk on turbulent water through a storm to our Savior.
The disciples were in a boat battling a storm and being tossed around by the waves. Jesus went to them, walking on the sea, and Peter said, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water”. Jesus said, “Come.” Full of faith, Peter stepped out of the boat and walked on the water toward Jesus.
Then it says, “But when he saw that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink he cried out” for Jesus to save him. Jesus did so, and then asked Peter, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Matt. 8:31).
It’s not that Peter stopped believing in Jesus, or refused to follow Him. He looked around and got distracted by his immediate situation, and so he started to sink.
We have to stay focused on God’s word and His plan. The more we know Him, the less we need the details of how everything will play out, and what will be required of us to step out in faith.
Read through Revelation 21. There’s so much in there that’s hard to even wrap our heads around, what it looks like and what it will feel like, what we will be.
But here’s what we DO know: “He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be my son” (Rev. 21:7).
That’s what we have to gain if we’re willing to stop clinging to the burning platform of the world, and jump.
You can listen to the 15-minute message by Don Turgeon here if you’d like.