Do you ever feel living your Christian faith is like fighting a battle? Do you feel constantly attacked from the world around you and perhaps from within as well? Do you feel worn out, almost ready to give up? The Scriptures this week address the reality of being persecuted because of our faith in God.
Jeremiah, one of the major Old Testament prophets, keenly felt the sting of being persecuted. God asked Jeremiah, first, to live in truth the covenant way of life spelled out for the people of God and, second, to publicly challenge the people to return to a faith-filled, obedient way of life.
In our first reading today, Jeremiah describes his experience of being persecuted. He is aware that fellow Israelites are whispering behind his back, stirring up drama around him and even publicly denouncing him. Even his friends are watching him closely “for any misstep of mine” so that they can trap him and take out their vengeance upon him.
We know from the whole book of Jeremiah that he feels completely overwhelmed at times and painfully persecuted most of his life as he tries to follow God’s call for him. You do not need to be a prophet to feel you are being persecuted. Our faith in Jesus Christ and the virtues which are demanded by authentic Christian living bring us into regular conflict with the culture of our day.
Advertisements that use sexual innuendo to sell products, e-mails that invite us to disregard God’s plan for human sexuality, and a prevailing culture that completely lacks any respect for Sunday as the Lord’s Day or that constantly bombards us with the message that material things bring us true happiness are some examples. For many, it is exhausting to be a Christian, and the cumulative weight of these conflicts make it feel like we are being persecuted at nearly every turn in our daily lives.
On a different note, some folks experience a kind of internal persecution. Some of our battles flow more directly from our own inner struggles and brokenness. We may be addicted to drinking or over eating. We may be slow to forgive and quick to be angry with the world. We may struggle with depression and fight a battle everyday just to get out of bed and do the simplest things. Fighting these internal battles can be profoundly wearisome as well.
Where do we turn as Christians? This week’s Scriptures offer us three places to turn. First, Jeremiah reminds us to go directly to God and take great comfort in our relationship with Him. “But the Lord is with me, like a mighty champion: my persecutors will stumble, they will not triumph.” Like a toddler who clutches Dad’s leg, we need to find great comfort in God, Our heavenly Father. He is Lord of heaven and earth. He is a rock of refuge. If we remain close to Him, He will protect us, give us great strength and take care of His children. Jeremiah teaches us that the first thing that we need to do is place our trust in Almighty God.
Secondly, Jesus teaches us to take comfort in knowing that each of us is truly precious to God. He loves us personally, intimately and profoundly. Jesus comments that although two sparrows are sold for a small coin, not one of them falls to the ground without Our Father’s knowledge. “You are worth more than many sparrows.” Every one of us was hand-crafted from the depths of His eternal love. He knows us better than we know ourselves. He proclaims the depths of His love when He sends His only Son to this earth and allows Him to die on a cross between two criminals.
Finally, Jesus promises us a word to offer in response to the persecutions we face. That word will be personal and will come to us as the fruit of our intimacy with Him, that is, our life of prayer. “What I say to you in darkness, speak in the light: what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops.” Jesus will not leave us hanging as we face our persecutions. He will set in our minds and on our lips a response that will make the world realize that God is in charge of this world, and we will never know peace or happiness unless we cling to His leg like a trusting child.