Serving in difficult times

What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun. – Ecclesiastes 1.9

Whatever time a person lives, there is always the prevailing belief that “we live in extraordinary times.” Yet Solomon’s observation is proven true time and time again.

We are witnesses today to the fruits of corruption, incompetence, greed, and arrogance — much of it in our public figures, who spend more time pointing fingers than searching for wise and prudent paths to lead our nation, our states, our cities, and our homes. To us, prophetic dreams, rescues from fiery furnaces, and silenced lions seem like fairy tales rather than realistic expectations. The prophet Amos, writing 2500 years ago, could have penned an op-ed piece for our local newspaper:

You oppress the righteous and take bribes and you deprive the poor of justice in the courts. Therefore the prudent man keeps quiet in such times, for the times are evil. – Amos 5.12-13

One of the constant tasks of leaders within God’s church is to get the members involved in service. Service is the antithesis of what we witness in the public realm — selfishness, gratification, and the search for pleasure and entertainment. Service is about sacrifice, courage, and selflessness. Jesus said,

For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? – Matthew 16.25-26

We can turn to the stories from the book of Daniel for inspiration about service in difficult times. When Daniel’s friends were facing the fiery furnace, they were confident in God — even to the point that they declared they would obey God even if God did not save them from the fiery furnace. (Daniel 3.17-18) How deep is our commitment to service? Will we serve God as long as we are kept content by His good hand? Or if things “go south” will we abandon God as uninterested and uninvolved in our lives? Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah decided it was better to die in good standing with God, than to try to save their own necks by denying Him.

Daniel and his friends also teach us about the principle of escape. Paul assures us that God will not allow us to be overwhelmed by sin (1 Corinthians 10.13), but that is not a promise that God will set aside our free will and force us to do what is right. Sometimes the “way of escape” is providential; sometimes we must have the courage to suffer for the cause of our Lord; sometimes we must have strength to resist temptation; and sometimes we must simply avoid putting ourselves in situations where the pressure to sin is unyielding. To Daniel and his friends, poverty and even death were preferable to prosperity at the price of their souls.

Finally, we learn from these godly men the strategy of alternatives. As we watch our society decay, it is up to believers to develop alternative systems and structures that show a godly alternative to our sick and sinful society. Starting in our homes, we must develop godly structures and behavior that teach our children the proper way to live in a godless society. Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah learned this at a very young age, and it was the basis for their courage and faithfulness in a terribly distressing circumstance: captive to a sinful nation. In our other environments — business, professional, education, etc. — we must show by our attitude and actions of service that there is an alternative to our society’s obsession with “gaining the whole world ” while losing their souls. By practically and steadily developing — through our convictions and behavior — godly frameworks for living, studying, working, and serving, we collectively speak to the world a powerful message of the joy, contentment, and satisfaction of performing the “good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2.10b)  It is a message worth sending by our service.

May grace reign through righteousness in your life.

– Bo Couchman

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