By Michael E. Brooks
“Most assuredly, I say to you, when you were younger, you girded yourself and walked where you wished; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish” (John 21:18).
Bangladesh has been under curfew for the past week or more. This is not unusual, but always irritating and troublesome. We have been planning a trip to visit churches in the southeastern part of the country, and we have not known whether we would be able to go or not. As the trip is to address some real needs, and as there is opportunity for some successful work, it is rather important that we go. But it is not up to us, others will determine the conditions which will make it possible or not. Tomorrow is the day of our departure, and the news this morning is that the curfew is lifted. We may go.
We all desire “freedom”. To most of us this means the ability to do what we choose, go where we wish, say what we want, and think what seems right. These are political and social goals, but they are almost always also perceived in the most personal and practical ways. I want to be able to make my own decisions about things, to say, do and think whatever pleases me. This is not usually first and foremost a political ideology. Rather it is a personal dream and desire.
As widespread as this dream is, it is not often fully realized. The American constitution may preserve democratic rights, but our economic and social system usually presents a different reality. I may have the “right” to sleep as late and work as little as I choose. However the demands of my body and my family for food, shelter, clothing and medicine usually require me to get up and go to work. We are not really “free” in the total and complete sense we idealize.
This is especially true of the Christian who accepts his responsibility to serve the Lord. There was a time in Peter’s life when he was “foot-loose and fancy free.” In other words, he went wherever he chose to go. But Jesus says that day is ending. If he truly loves Jesus and accepts the responsibility of feeding his sheep, others will make Peter’s decisions for him. These decisions may be made by those whom he is serving and by their needs. Or the decisions may be made by enemies of the cross. Peter will go where they take him, and suffer whatever fate they give him.
But doesn’t God take care of the faithful? Ultimately and eternally, yes. Romans 8:31 asks, “If God be for us who can be against us?” This does not mean however that no Christian will die a martyr’s death, nor suffer imprisonment or loss of property. These things have happened and do happen. They do not mean that God does not look after us, nor that his enemies will prevail.
They do mean however that Christians are subject to the natural forces of this world, and to the evil intentions of unrighteous men. We may be persecuted, hindered and frustrated in our efforts. Storms may delay us. Illness may beset us. Yet we must remain “steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 15:58a). God gives us patience and strength and he always encourages us to trust in Him. Knowing that, we know “that [our] labor is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 15:58b).
Freedom has a different meaning for the Christ.