Have you ever encountered a believer that seems defeated? Have you ever looked into the eyes of another believer, as you’re sharing the fire the Lord ignited in your belly, only to see the hopeless eyes of apathy and lukewarm resignation in the other person? That same person who seems to know the correct doctrine, who knows God’s word extensively, gives much of his time to church functions and charities, and may even be a leader; but still there is something lacking in his fire for God. Maybe that person once had a fire and was ready to serve, but found themselves in the company of the institutionalized and religious; share your fire and pray for them. But most of all... stay obedient to Jesus Christ!
As believers in Jesus and slaves to our King, sometimes we’ll face long bouts of loneliness as the Lord refines us and moulds us into a people of His righteousness. It is in those times of change where we might face decisions of some very radical proportions, as the Lord puts us through the fires of cleansing. And it is then when we must not shrink from His call.
While we seek to be obedient to His leading in our lives, we must continually fall on our knees and pray for love and grace for other professed believers who might try to offer up words of advice that actually discourage us from our obedience to the Lord. We must not forsake those that discourage us, but continue to love them and pray that the Lord will open their minds to radical and actual obedience, and if they’re lost... save them. We must speak the truth!
Have you ever heard the church phrase “just be happy where the Lord plants you”? Not bad advice on the surface and it sounds a lot like Philippians 4: 11, but it is misguided when given to a person undergoing suffering in a radical change from the Lord. While Paul learned to be content in whatever circumstances he found himself to be in, I think we must look more carefully at the context of Paul’s statement before we offer up clichés and words of discouragement within the brethren using Philippians 4: 11, but based on our own human motives and perspective. Paul wrote the church of Philippi from a Roman prison cell. When we offer advice for believers to be happy where they’re planted, shouldn’t we first consider that fact?
And before we discourage believers in Christ from a radical obedience to our Lord with simple clichés, since his writings seem to be the cornerstone of that particular cliché, should we not first consider how Paul’s life looked as he himself learned to be content in Christ? Paul didn’t just stay at his job of tent making, or at any one place; Paul was a radically transformed man who once sought to persecute Christians before the Lord took from him and then gave him back his sight. Paul spent his transformed life preaching the gospel and being persecuted for doing so. Paul endured multiple beatings, public humiliation, persecution, imprisonment, and it’s believed, execution. Paul’s life didn’t look like a firmly planted oak tree, but more like a leaf floating on the wind of the Lord. "The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit." (John 3: 8 NASB)
What about Peter? Did the Lord have Peter a firmly planted oak tree, a rigid man of religion? In John 21: 15-17, Jesus confronted Peter 3 times as to whether or not Peter loved Him. Why did Jesus confront Him? Scripture says because Peter had returned to his job fishing, but the Lord had called Peter to build His church. So Peter was being disobedient to the Lord. In His grace Jesus confronted Peter and gave opportunity for Peter to obey. And Peter obeyed.
So what does an obedient life in Christ look like? Based on scripture, I would say it looks light years away from the life of the typical and even radical Christian in North America today. An obedient life to Jesus will lead to persecution. And if you’re not experiencing any form of persecution from the world around you, maybe you’d better ask yourself why. How can you be living a life of comfort in a world that hates Jesus Christ, if He is living in you? What is it that has your heart and keeps you from obedience and abandonment of this world?
In Western Christianity another key element of discouragement for the obedient believer within the brethren is wealth. Not the kind of wealth most people imagine when they hear the word “wealth” either, because most people in Canada and the United States, sadly, imagine themselves not to be all that wealthy. Most people, even in the church, are striving to accumulate more money. They will justify this striving by telling others of how many people they will be able to help by acquiring their wealth. Yet at a glance, most times it is obvious who is wealthy and who isn’t. Because when we strive to accumulate wealth, eventually we cannot help ourselves but to show off what we’ve accomplished.
And then one day when you are wealthy, and firmly planted in your human pursuits, well established in your local church, a pillar in the community, a young believer in the Lord Jesus who is full of fire and zeal comes to you and tells you that the Lord just told him to sell his house and begin a ministry sharing the gospel. As that precious and naive young sheep tells you (the firmly planted oak tree) his plan, a darkness swells inside you; something you hadn’t known about until that very moment. As that darkness gives birth to the bitter taste in your mouth, unwisely you say to the young, vulnerable sheep, something like this; “one thing I’ve learned over the years is just to be happy where the Lord has you planted”.
What about the rich young ruler? Was he planted? The rich young ruler seemed to have a very human perspective, one focused on self-righteousness and accomplishment. He was rich and probably very well planted. But Jesus saw right through him and cut right to the heart of his self love. When the rich young ruler called Jesus good, knowing the young ruler only saw Jesus as a teacher, He immediately corrected him to understand that only God is good. The rich young ruler believed he had done all things right to inherit eternal life, but Jesus changed his ideas devastatingly quickly and profoundly. When questioned about keeping the commandments by Jesus, the rich young ruler proudly proclaimed “All these things I have kept since my youth”. Then Jesus dropped the bomb, “One thing you still lack” He said, “go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me." (Matthew 19: 21 NASB) After learning that he would have to sell all his riches and give them to the poor and then follow Jesus in obedience in order to inherit eternal life, scripture says, the rich young ruler went away grieving.
So does Jesus actually assure us that we will be firmly planted when we follow Him? I don’t think scripture gives us that picture of an obedient walk with the Lord at all; that is a human, religious perspective, not God’s. He calls us to give Him everything we have! And if you encounter a brother or sister who is bringing you conviction because of their desire for obedience, you’d be wise to get on your knees and see where the Lord may have called you instead of discouraging that brother or sister. But maybe because of your love for the world you disobeyed the Lord, and now you’re going to discourage obedience in others instead of encouraging them. If that is your reality, I pray you will repent and ask the Lord to soften your hard heart that you might become obedient to what the Lord has already told you. If that describes you, praise God for His mercy that you are able to hear that truth and have the opportunity to repent.
So should we be content with our circumstances? In Christ, of course we should! We should learn to be content as Paul did, as long as we are living in obedience to the will of God; we won’t be perfect, but we will be sensitive to the Holy Spirit as He leads us through this life. And according to God’s word, our lives won’t resemble those of the lost one bit once we are saved by Jesus and become obedient to His will. In Christ we have hope! Our lives are not our own, but His that He might be glorified. Someday in glory we can know an existence free from the suffering and persecution here on earth. May that be our joy as we preach the foolishness of the gospel. Hallelujah!