I have been thinking lately how people throughout time have given so much for their faith. I know for myself, it’s easy to get “soft” at times and forget that my trials come as a way to sanctify my wayward heart. That choosing to follow God doesn’t mean that life will always be perfect, often it’s just the opposite. We are told that we will (not might or may) have trails in this life (John 16:33). But praise the Lord, when our trials come, God is there to walk us through them and teach us as we go!
As Christians today we have an “amazing cloud of witnesses” of those who have come before us and ran the race well. Think about this, throughout the history of the Bible, God has asked, commanded, ordained, and orchestrated the lives of ordinary people so that they could do extraordinary things. Most of these “extraordinary” things God called them to do were not easy. And only some of these ordinary people called to do extraordinary things ever got to see the results of their obedience.
Consider just a few of the men and women we are told about throughout the pages of the Bible...
1. God called Abraham to leave his homeland and kindred to become a wanderer and a pilgrim in a strange land. God called him to be the father of many nations, but made him wait until he was almost 100 to father this child of promise of his blessed lineage.
2. God watched as Joseph was sent to prison for several years for a crime he didn’t commit, knowing that through this trial Joseph would come out stronger and fully equipped for the great role He had prepared for him in saving his family and the Egyptians from starvation.
3. Moses had to live apart from his kindred for 40 years in the wilderness to be prepared for God’s call to go back to Egypt to free his people from slavery. For another 40 years Moses had to mediate, listen to, stress over, pray over an extremely rebellious group of people who tried God and Moses endlessly; only to eventually loose his temper and have to die outside of the promised land that he had labored so hard to get himself and the Israelites into.
4. Job was allowed to be tried almost to the point of death by the devil, with God’s main goal to prove that Job would remain loyal to his Heavenly Father despite the extreme tests and trials he had to endure. He lost all of his children, his livestock, his fortune, his friends, his health and was only left with an unsupportive wife and three less than supportive “friends.”
5. Jeremiah was told by God that he would never marry, nor have children, but would spend his life in the pursuit of turning the Israelites back from their sins, even though God told him his messages wouldn’t be heeded. He lived one of the most trial-filled lives among the Old Testament prophets, so much so, he is commonly referred to as “the weeping prophet.”
6. Ezekiel was commanded by God not to mourn when God took “away the desire of his eyes” (his wife) with a massive stroke; so his life could be used as an object lesson for the punishment that would fall upon the Israelites for their sins.
7. Hosea was commanded to take a prostitute as his wife to show the children of Israel how they had been playing the whore going after other gods. His life and marriage stood as a painful reminder to others of their own sinful actions.
8. John the Baptist, lived a life of self-denial in the solitudes of the desert, only to have a brief ministry and an even briefer moment of meeting his Savior before being placed in jail and being beheaded.
9. Many apostles and disciples were stoned, imprisoned, beaten, ridiculed, and some ultimately killed for their faith. Yet, they would not have even considered choosing a different path.
10. And the greatest example of all. God sent His one and only son to this sin-stricken earth to ultimately die an inglorious, horrendous and humiliating death in order to save ALL of mankind from eternal destruction.
Does God still call men and women to do extraordinarily difficult tasks for His sake today? Consider again a few examples, this time from the last 1000 years of history...
1. For the cause of sharing and exposing the lies of the church in their day, the Waldenses of France, were forced to hide in the hillsides of the alps in freezing temperatures and were hunted and persecuted by the church almost to extinction.
2. During the Protestant Reformation, John Huss, along with many whose names we may never know, were burned alive at the stake when they refused to denounce their faith in Jesus Christ and the true words of the Bible alone. They would not back down from calling out the heresies that existed in the Roman Catholic church of their time.
3. The many souls (estimated in the millions) who were tortured and executed at the hands of their inquisitors during the dark ages for their faith.
4. Christians in the last 100 years or more living in communist countries or restrictive countries who have been persecuted for their faith, even unto death.
5 Christians today facing persecution, beheadings, and threatenings of loss of life for their beliefs.
6. The numerous missionaries who willingly chose to lay down their very lives to follow God’s calling into the darkened corners of this world to spread the Good News of a returning Savior.
What about you and I? Are we still being called to do extraordinary things; at times even difficult things for the cause of Christ?
In Jesus’ day he said to a certain rich, young ruler: “if that wilt be perfect, go and sell all that thou hast, and give to the poor; and you will have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.” This wealthy, young ruler had the ability to heed Jesus’ call to do something extraordinary. But...instead, we are told that when he heard Jesus’ call, “he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions.” (Matthew 19:21-22)
Is that you? Have you been called to do something for God...but it seems to hard, the cost too high, too taxing, or maybe too consuming on your resources like the wealthy young man Jesus spoke about?
Many believe that God only calls some of His followers to give all, as He did this particular young man. But, in truth, God calls each and every Christian to give all, but only a few will answer yes. (Matthew 16:24-25: “...if any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life will lose it: and whosoever will loose his life for my sake will find it.”)
Jesus told his disciples after the encounter with the rich young ruler that “every one that has forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life.”
So today, if you have chosen the path of self-denial; the path of living with less so you can bless others with more; the path of doing what’s right in the face of wrong; or have followed Jesus despite family and friends opposing your choice...take heart, Jesus sees your extraordinary heart, and will reward your faithfulness. You may never see the reward in this world, but you are promised one day if not in this world then the next—you will receive a hundredfold your efforts...and best of all you will inherit eternal life!