When a man was called by God to be a prophet in Israel, he could be pretty sure he wasn’t in for an easy life. Jeremiah, marked out as a traitor by his own people, thrown into a cistern and waiting for his nose to slip beneath the mud (Jer 38:1-28). Ezekiel, his life a bizarre acted parable of Jerusalem’s fate, lying on one side for months on end and cooking his food over excrement (Ezek 4:1-17). Hosea, commanded by God to marry and be reconciled to an adulterous wife, to picture God’s relationship with his unfaithful people (Hos 1:2-11, 3:1-5).
All those words of judgement, all that rejection, all that sacrifice! I sometimes think how glad I am that God didn’t make me an Old Testament prophet.1 But as I read Ezekiel the other morning, for the first time I got it. This man wasn’t mentally disturbed, paranoid, socially challenged, or otherwise abnormal. He was just an ordinary person called by God to do whatever God asked, whatever it took. Even if it meant speaking words of judgement against the people he loved. Even if it meant being hated. Even if it meant giving up the ordinary comforts of life for strange acts and harsh words.
Does God ask any less of me? Whatever he asks, will I fail to give it? On the day I became a Christian, I turned my life over to him. He owns me, body and soul. He bought me with his Son’s precious blood. On that day, I exchanged a life of self-seeking – a cosy, insular, comfortable Western life – for a life of costly service. A life whose every moment and every possession isn’t mine to use as I will, but his to be poured out for others. A life in which I am to stand up for him publicly, without shame. A life of carrying my cross, of dying like a lamb on an altar, of slavery to Christ. This is the cost I agreed to and the cost I bear.2
There are Christians dying today because of that reality. Fifty Christians burned alive in Nigeria. An Iranian pastor, a father, imprisoned and repeatedly beaten. Grenades thrown into churches in Kenya. A Sri Lankan school boy beaten up by his teacher when he confessed his faith in the classroom. Brutal beheadings in Afghanistan, in Tunisia, in Egypt.3
32 And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. 35 Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life.36 Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— 38 of whom the world was not worthy— wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. (Heb 11:32-38)
If my life at this point in time looks less dramatic – if I have not yet resisted to the point of shedding my blood (Heb 12:4) – it’s not because God asks any less of me. I, too, am to be utterly spent in his service. That might mean doing without so I can give to the relief of my suffering brothers and sisters. It might mean waking up to a baby ten times a night with all the cheerfulness and patience that God can give. It might mean struggling to cling to faith through dark days of suffering. It might mean speaking uncomfortable truths to my family and friends. It might mean risking ridicule from workmates or dismissal from a boss by standing up for my faith. It might mean giving up my precious lunchtime to lead a Bible study or my comfortable evening to counsel someone in need. It might mean taking our family into danger or discomfort so we can make Jesus known. It means this, and more than this, every moment of every day.
Like Ezekiel – like all the heroes of faith – I am a stranger in this world. I seek a better country, a heavenly one. I follow Jesus through suffering into glory. May God not be ashamed to be called my God. (Heb 11:13-16; 12:1-2)
Rescue me from complacency. Rescue me from a comfortable Christian life where I think that, because I’ve given my ten percent, I’m free to spend the rest on myself. Rescue me from risking nothing in my conversations and relationships. Rescue me from resting in my Sunday church going and my Christian identity and my devotional practices. And if the day of persecution comes, help me to hold fast to Jesus, whatever the terrible cost. Have mercy on my suffering brothers and sisters across the world, and help them to stand firm in you today.
In the precious name of Jesus,