How nice it is to be appreciated—to have someone recognize you for a job well done, to receive an unexpected friendship card, to be noticed and complimented. Such moments make us feel good about ourselves and give our self-image a boost. But all too often we encounter situations in which we do the absolute best we can and nobody even seems to notice, much less care. And what of those times when we are called by the Lord to perform a seemingly thankless task? How do we react? Are we more likely to run like Jonah did, or to obey? Perhaps in those times, challenging as they may seem, we should give thanks because things could definitely be worse. Consider the words of Jeremiah, a young man obviously not too sure of himself.
Now the word of the Lord came to me, saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.” But the Lord said to me, ‘Do not say, ‘I am only a youth’; for to all to whom I send you, you shall go, and whatever I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, declares the Lord.” (Jeremiah 1: 4-8)
A heavy responsibility for a young man, but that was just the beginning—it did get worse—much worse! Faithful Jeremiah began speaking God’s harsh words of judgment against the nations of Israel and Judah as the Lord directed him, but did anyone listen? Did his audience applaud him for enlightening them with the truth? Not hardly! Instead, the word of the Lord came again, this time with a message most of us would definitely not be eager to hear…
So you shall speak all these words to them, but they will not listen to you. You shall call to them, but they will not answer you. And you shall say to them, ‘This is the nation that did not obey the voice of the Lord their God, and did not accept discipline; truth has perished; it is cut off from their lips. Cut off your hair and cast it away; raise a lamentation on the bare heights, for the Lord has rejected and forsaken the generation of his wrath. (Jeremiah 7:27-29)
And lament he did, as he cried out in prayer for his people and declared,
My joy is gone; grief is upon me; my heart is sick within me. (Jeremiah 8:18)
Yet things deteriorated even further as even his family betrayed him.
For even your brothers and the house of your father, even they have dealt treacherously with you; they are in full cry after you; do not believe them, though they speak friendly words to you. (Jeremiah 12:6)
Well, surely that’s about as bad as it could get, right? After all this man was honoring God, following His every command regardless of the cost. Wasn’t about time for some positive feedback or reward? Nope! The downhill slide continued.
The word of the Lord came to me: “You shall not take a wife, nor shall you have sons or daughters in this place. For thus says the Lord concerning the sons and daughters who are born in this place, and concerning the mothers who bore them and the fathers who fathered them in this land: They shall die of deadly diseases. They shall not be lamented, nor shall they be buried. They shall be as dung on the surface of the ground. They shall perish by the sword and by famine, and their dead bodies shall be food for the birds of the air and for the beasts of the earth. “For thus says the Lord: Do not enter the house of mourning, or go to lament or grieve for them, for I have taken away my peace from this people, my steadfast love and mercy, declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 16:1-5)
Any chance we’re still feeling unappreciated? Maybe while we’re still moaning and groaning and feeling sorry for ourselves, we should take go ahead and take a look at a few of the other Old Testament prophets. How about Ezekiel? He had such amazing visions and wrote an incredible prophetic book. Wouldn’t it be great to be so gifted? But perhaps we’d better look a little closer because God warned him right up front that he would be required to preach to an unrepentant crowd. Is this the kind of commission we’d desire?
And he said to me, “Son of man, go to the house of Israel and speak with my words to them. For you are not sent to a people of foreign speech and a hard language, but to the house of Israel—not to many peoples of foreign speech and a hard language, whose words you cannot understand. Surely, if I sent you to such, they would listen to you. But the house of Israel will not be willing to listen to you, for they are not willing to listen to me: because all the house of Israel have a hard forehead and a stubborn heart. Behold, I have made your face as hard as their faces, and your forehead as hard as their foreheads. Like emery harder than flint have I made your forehead. Fear them not, nor be dismayed at their looks, for they are a rebellious house.” (Ezekiel 3:4-9)
And things went down hill from there for him too! Even as Ezekiel faithfully served God; delivering His message to an unbelieving people, he was often called upon to act out prophecies of the coming destruction of Jerusalem in uncomfortable and undoubtedly embarrassing ways. And then he was required, as a prophetic witness, to stand in his faith to a degree that is unimaginable to us today.
The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, behold, I am about to take the delight of your eyes away from you at a stroke; yet you shall not mourn or weep, nor shall your tears run down. Sigh, but not aloud; make no mourning for the dead. Bind on your turban, and put your shoes on your feet; do not cover your lips, nor eat the bread of men.” So I spoke to the people in the morning, and at evening my wife died. And on the next morning I did as I was commanded. (Ezekiel 24:15-18)
Well, maybe Jeremiah and Ezekiel were exceptions—maybe God’s other biblical heroes were honored, appreciated, and commended for their actions. If they were, it was posthumously! How would any one of us like to duplicate Isaiah’s ministry and walk around naked for 3 years? I have to wonder which was worse, the sunburn or the frostbite—assuming, of course, that the indignity and embarrassment could be set aside.
At that time the Lord spoke by Isaiah the son of Amoz, saying, “Go, and loose the sackcloth from your waist and take off your sandals from your feet,” and he did so, walking naked and barefoot. Then the Lord said, “As my servant Isaiah has walked naked and barefoot for three years as a sign and a portent against Egypt and Cush, so shall the king of Assyria lead away the Egyptian captives and the Cushite exiles, both the young and the old, naked and barefoot, with buttocks uncovered, the nakedness of Egypt. (Isaiah 20:2-4)
Or Moses, who not only had to put up with Pharaoh’s hard heart but then had to wander around a desert for forty years with the constantly complaining and ungrateful Children of Israel.
Or Hosea, who was told to marry a prostitute; to love her, have children with her, and repeatedly forgive and take her back when she repeatedly ran off with other men.
Yep! Next time I’m feeling slighted I think I’d better count my blessings, willingly forgoing the approval of man in favor of the approval of God. Ultimately, the most important words of praise I hunger for are,
“Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.” (Matthew 25:21)
Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.
After years of illness or injury and recovery, I was finally at a point where my car was learning to go in directions other than doctors’ offices or hospitals. On a much-needed vacation, a favorite pastime was to soak in a bubble bath with a good book—something I rarely have a chance to do at home. On this day, when the time came to get out of the tub, I was shocked to discover that it was almost impossible because years of infirmity had diminished my strength to the point that it was a struggle just to get to my knees, let alone stand up and step out. I decided I was much too young for this, so when I got home I joined a gym and started counting calories; determined that I was going to get back in shape so I would be able to keep up with my on-the-way grandchild.
One year later, I’d lost over forty pounds and was in better shape than at any time since high school, when PE was required and I had no choice but to exercise five days a week. I hadn’t looked or felt so good in years and, on top of that, I got to buy an entirely new wardrobe. I didn’t keep any of the old “fat clothes” either for I certainly would never need them again. The Lord didn’t let me get too cocky about it though—a friend, intending a compliment, actually said, “Oh Barbara, just think, this is as good as you’re ever going to look in your whole life!” OK, great—how nice to know that it’s all downhill from here!
But oops! It soon became easy to skip a day here and there at the gym, or to allow myself an extra piece of bread or a second helping of food; and over several years I noticed that some of my new clothes weren’t quite as comfortable as they’d been when I bought them. Then some of them didn’t fit at all. Then I was shopping for undergarments that would compress my waistline and wearing things that were loose fitting or had elastic waistbands. Like I said, oops!
So, here I am; back at the gym and counting calories again, working off the pounds I allowed to creep back; and it turns out to be a good thing I didn’t keep those “fat clothes” because with the current economy, getting a whole new wardrobe again isn’t an option so I’m extra motivated. Along the way, as He often does in every life experience, the Lord has been gracious to point out some spiritual parallels.
My body is the temple of the Holy Spirit and I have a responsibility to take care of it to the best of my ability. Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)
The principles for developing spiritual maturity in 2 Peter 1:5-7 work just as well to develop and maintain a healthy lifestyle. But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love.
As weight gain may be slow and subtle, almost unnoticeable for a long time; so are the effects of unrighteousness. Little sins seem like nothing, but allowed to continue they escalate and become destructive. Ananias and Sapphira probably thought little white lies were OK, but one lie that seemed OK to them cost them their lives. Then Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.” Then immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. And the young men came in and found her dead, and carrying her out, buried her by her husband. So great fear came upon all the church and upon all who heard these things. (Acts 5:9-11)
The Apostle Paul repeatedly referred to life as a race, and my desire is to finish the race well; doing the maximum amount of damage possible to the kingdom of evil. If I am a good steward of my body I will be better able to accomplish the Lord’s purposes; so when old unhealthy habits creep back into my life, I must turn from them and start anew, just as I would if I recognized an old sin popping up that I thought I had overcome. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:13-14)
It was a few days before Halloween and the McKinleyville High School Panthers football team was facing off with our rivals in Fortuna. I debated whether to go to the game or to a costume party at church, finally settling on the party. After all, in the four years the school had existed we had yet to win a game, and it was always such a let-down after all the excitement of the pep rallies to ride home in a bus full of disappointed kids.
The party had not been so great and the next day I was already wishing I’d gone to the game when I ran into a friend. I casually asked, “So, how bad was the score this time?” But no, our team had finally won, and the celebration was—well, quite a celebration; and I’d missed it.
As I read the story of the ten virgins recently I recalled that weekend and realized that I had been like one of the five who were unprepared. I had gotten tired of waiting and had stopped watching for the promised win that would surely come eventually; settling for something else because I didn’t have enough faith in my team. But my disappointment was nothing compared to that of those who do not remain alert for the coming of the Lord—they will pay a much higher price than just missing out on the celebration of a winning game.
Then the kingdom of heaven shall be likened to ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Now five of them were wise, and five were foolish. Those who were foolish took their lamps and took no oil with them, but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. But while the bridegroom was delayed, they all slumbered and slept. And at midnight a cry was heard: “Behold, the bridegroom is coming;go out to meet him!” Then all those virgins arose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, “Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.” But the wise answered, saying, “No, lest there should not be enough for us and you; but go rather to those who sell, and buy for yourselves.” And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding; and the door was shut. Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, “Lord, Lord, open to us!” But he answered and said, “Assuredly, I say to you, I do not know you.” Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.
The Mad River wasn’t always angry. During the summer it might dwindle down so far that we could wade across in a just few inches of water; or hop from rock to rock, never even removing our shoes. In the shadow of the railroad trestle we’d play in the water until a logging train came by—then we’d stop and wave at the conductors who would wave back and give a loud whistle blast in return.
But the Mad River lost its temper during the week of Christmas 1964. In the midst of a 100-year flood it joined with all the other rivers of the Pacific Northwest to rage over its banks, engulfing the surrounding land with wet devastation. From our hilltop vantage point all we could see was water with a few rooftops and telephone poles sticking up here and there—for miles and miles the entire low-lying area around the Humboldt Bay became a vast sea in which hundreds of dairy cattle were doomed as they floated out into the ocean; and at least a dozen communities were completely wiped out or forever altered in the Redwood Empire. But as bad as it was, there was once a flood that was much, much worse—the one we read about in Genesis 7 when God’s anger was unleashed against a wicked world and, the flood was on the earth forty days… The waters prevailed and greatly increased on the earth…and the mountains were covered…Only Noah and those who were with him in the ark remained alive.
I returned to that hilltop a few years ago and gazed out at lush green dairy land, with a scattering of cows peacefully munching the grass; and a pleasant walking/biking path traversing the old railroad trestle. I pondered God’s mercy and remembered his promise after the biblical flood, “I will never again curse the ground for man’s sake, although the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; nor will I again destroy every living thing as I have done. While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, winter and summer, and day and night shall not cease.” (Genesis 8:21-22)