I spent a few days away at a monastery in Perth for a conference with the theme, ‘Ascending to the Higher Places’ at the end of January. Outside my bedroom window, over the wall of the car park, I could see a small private graveyard, within the grounds. During some free time I took a walk, and found the gravestones dated between 1871 and 2016, one hundred and forty-five years of death and life in this monastic community that has sought to follow Christ. It left me thinking what challenges these people might have faced and still face. What led them into a monastic life of service and was it all they expected? What were the joys and the hard and dark times?
A life in ministry, in the Christian sense of ministry where one serves the Kingdom of God, is not an easy one. I am not reserving this word, ministry, just for the ordained, but rather all who proclaim Jesus as Saviour and Lord are called to ministry. But we are not promised an easy life.
Jesus, when speaking to James, John and the other disciples said “whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave” (Matthew 20.26b-27a).
Following Christ has a cost and that cost is to lead a servant life, though we are not called to be a ’doormat’ where others might take advantage, but lead a life where our Lord and Master is Jesus. It is Him we serve in our daily lives, whether with our families and friends, at work or in our social lives.
But sometimes that is hard, especially when we do not see any rewards. When times are tough and there is no fruit borne from our service, what then?
The prophet Habakkuk complained to the LORD, that he was surrounded by destruction and violence, arguments and fights, a lack of justice where the wicked outnumbered the righteous. He was writing in the context of the rise of the Babylonian empire that threatened the nation of Judah and would in 586BC take and plunder Jerusalem.
But it is his closing remarks that for me sum up the trust he has in the LORD
Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will be joyful in God my Saviour.
YET, I will rejoice in the LORD!
We live in changing times, or at least it seems that way, but really there is nothing new under the sun. Habakkuk’s list of complaints to God listed above could be said to plague our world today. The world is a place of destruction and violence—in wars, on city streets, environmentally. In many ways humanity does not get along—just consider how divided our country is over Brexit and Scottish Independence. Don’t worry—I’m not about to go all political but we seem to be a people globally who love an argument, a good fight, yet we don’t always fight for the right things. Just take a look at the poverty rates growing, the issues of migration because of global inequality.
So you might ask—do I have the answer to the world problems? Well, no not quite. The political sphere and the religious have over the centuries become divided, and for many folk religion and faith are private, and to be kept out of the political and public arena. But I would argue that it is necessary for the Christian voice to be heard, to fight for justice, but also to fight for the right to proclaim the Gospel
The Gospel says that despite the mess we are in, despite the brokenness of our lives, there is a plan of salvation, which is found at the Cross. So just as Habakkuk, despite his complaints finishes with rejoicing in the LORD and with joy in his Saviour, we too should be joyous and rejoicing.
Our God remains steadfast and sure, the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. We may think we are facing a changing world, but know and hold fast in Him who does not. During the changes around and in your life know our LORD does not.
In the love and peace of our eternal LORD