I saw this on my FB feed, posted by a friend who often shares various positive affirmations from a number of Christian ministers:
The Scripture reference provided is to the passage in Genesis where Joseph begins his painful journey being sold into slavery in Egypt. Through a variety of divine interventions and up-and-down circumstances, Joseph experiences blessings and pain until he ends up second only to Pharaoh in the kingdom.
With the benefit of hindsight, Joseph is able to tell his brothers that what they meant for evil, God meant for good, in order to save his family and the future nation.
Sitting in the pit and sitting in prison (just like sitting in Potiphar’s house and in the palace of Pharaoh), Joseph doesn’t know all that. He might have hope, based on God’s promises when he was young. He might have faith that God’s going to do something. But he has no certainty either way.
Yet Joseph remains faithful, for he trusts that God is also faithful.
When I read the status above, about God’s favor, I am grieved and distressed by the thought that we have missed the point.
We have a great hope that “God will work all things together for good for them that love Him and are called according to His purpose” (Rom 8:28). That may give us a warm fuzzy that something good in the future will come out of our present pain.
But we’re called not to count on the favor of God to rescue us. We’re called to live out of trust in God, regardless.
Consider Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in Daniel 3. It’s a great story of how God protected His children in the midst of persecution. It would go very well with the status quoted above. Favor is going into the furnace’s flames, and coming out proclaiming His name. Or something like that.
But there are many Christians, so very many, who suffer and die and never see the manifestation of God’s favor. We may not see a Christian promoted to second-in-command of all of North Korea, or a trio of believers standing up unharmed by the AK-47s of ISIS in Iraq. We might not see God promote us to a position of our dreams or use us to display His power to an entire nation or community.
Do we enjoy His favor any less? Do we remain any less faithful?
Is favor the focus? Was favor ever Joseph’s focus?
I don’t think so. In pit or in palace, in fire or fame, as Christians our eyes must be fixed not on God’s immediate deliverance but on His eternal faithfulness.
17 If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand.18 But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” Daniel 3:17-18 NIV
“Now is the hour! Riders of Rohan! Oaths you have taken, now fulfill them all, to lord and land!” – Eomer, The Return of the King.
I love the Rohirrim.
When I read the books as a kid, I did not grasp the power of their commitment to their oaths. I didn’t really consider that they were riding to presumed death because “we promised.” Consider this conversation:
Gamling: We do not have the numbers to defeat the armies of Mordor.
Theoden: No, we do not. Yet we will meet them in battle nonetheless.
Why? Because honor and oaths demanded it.
4 When you make a vow to God, do not be late in paying it; for He takes no delight in fools. Pay what you vow! 5 It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay.
– Ecclesiastes 5:4-5 NASB
Oaths are powerful, so long as they are upheld. But they really only matter to the one who makes the oath and the one to whom it is made.
Wal-Mart’s customers aren’t held to fitness standards. I know, that’s a real news flash, right? (I’ll skip links to unfortunate pictures of Wal-Mart customers.)
Imagine walking into your local Wal-Mart and stopping random folk to conduct a weight and waist measurement. Try conducting an impromptu fitness test on the first person you see riding around on a scooter cart. How many push-ups and sit-ups can they do in a minute?
You’re not going to have much luck.
No one would expect you to, either.
On 28 Dec 1994, I stood in the MEPS center in Chicago and raised my right hand. I swore an oath of enlistment. At that moment, a new set of standards applied to me… standards I wasn’t even fully aware of at the time. I would soon learn about all the various regulations that my superiors expected me to follow. And if I ever failed to uphold standards, I was reminded that this was a voluntary choice on my part. No one drafted me. No one held a gun to my head. I raised my right hand of my own free will.
In January of 1997, I remember kneeling at the altar of my church and re-dedicating my life to Christ, not just as the “Get Out of Hell Free” Savior but as the “Not my will but Yours be done” Lord. No one forced me to my knees or put words in my mouth. I made a choice.
I wonder what would happen if I went into Wal-Mart to give a spiritual fitness test to random customers. “These are the standards. It’s all written here in the ‘regs’ of the Bible. This is what you need to measure up to. How’s your prayer life? When was the last time you served someone in need? More than simply walking into a church, have you connected with like-minded people in the last year?”
I might have better success than I would with the AF PT test, but that’s beside the point.
The question is, have those people made a commitment that demands adherence to the same spiritual standards I follow? Did they raise their right hands to God and swear an oath, or fall on their knees to dedicate their lives to Him?
If not, then why should I expect them to live up to my religious standards?
My wife has often asked, “Why are we trying to hold the world to our standards? They aren’t followers of Christ. Why should we expect them to live like something they’re not?”
Maybe we followers of Christ need to focus on how well we’re measuring up to our own standards first.
In the Air Force, I failed to meet PT standards. Now I’m working to correct that. I can look around and say, “But that guy looks fat in uniform. And those civilians are really out of shape. And I know a lady who can’t run to save her life but she gets an Excellent because she’s a twig.”
None of them are taking my test for me. I raised my hand. I swore an oath. I have a standard to uphold.
Some will say, “But what about preaching against sin? Jesus didn’t just love people. He also said,
‘Go and sin no more.'”
Absolutely. But I’m concerned with the way we communicate that message.
I could walk in to Wal-Mart and yell or even gently discuss all the facts about heart disease and proper nutrition and the benefits of exercise. I could make it as simple as “Eat less, move more.”
People already know that. I don’t think anyone would have a sudden epiphany. “You mean the food I eat and the sitting on the couch I do all day is making me fat? Thank you! I never understood where it was coming from!”
I think the message on a lot of sin has already gotten out there. When we rant against favorite target sins like homosexuality, pornography, and abortion, we’re saying what people already know. “The Church thinks porn is BAD?”
When we focus so much on telling people their faults, many times, we’re repeating what they’ve already heard. And we’re probably talking to people with absolutely no interest in what we have to say.
In most cases, people pursued Jesus. They wanted to hear what He had to say, because He ministered to them. In some cases, He initiated the conversation, and even then, He first demonstrated something to give them a reason to listen.
When we are in relationship with people, or when we demonstrate love through genuine action instead of mere words, people might care to hear what we have to say.
We need not and must not ignore the detrimental effects of sin. We must be honest about that. Yet we need not be combative or prideful in our efforts. The collateral damage we do in that case far outweighs any momentary benefits.
May we focus on the oaths we have taken, the vows we have made. May we show ourselves faithful. Because I suspect when people see that we are real and our love is sincere, they might even start caring what we have to say.
And we might be able to say it right.
The home of David M. Williamson, writer of fantasy, sci-fi, short stories, and cultural rants.