“Also the word of the Lord came to me, saying, ‘Son of man, behold, I take away from you the desire of your eyes with one stroke; yet you shall neither mourn nor weep, nor shall your tears run down. Sigh in silence, make no mourning for the dead, and put your sandals on your feet; do not cover your lips, and do not eat man’s bread of sorrow.’ So I spoke to the people in the morning, and at evening my wife died, and the next morning I did as I was commanded” (Ezekiel 24:15-18 NKJV).
A preacher in one of the countries where we work targeted a community of lower income residents. Knowing they would be uncomfortable with someone they perceived as of higher social class, he purchased a lot and built a simple house among them. He realized that he and his family would be accepting a lower living standard than that to which they were accustomed, but they agreed that this would be a small price to pay for the opportunity to teach and convert those who were lost.
Can we admit the glaring truth that most of us are not comfortable with the concept of paying a high price for our faith? In spite of Jesus’ clear instructions to count the cost (Luke 9:57-62; 14:25-33), we persist in believing that God simply does not expect (much less require) us to endure real sacrifice or suffering in service to him. After all, we protest, “God would surely want us to be happy.” Strangely, that particular idea is not found anywhere in Scripture. Rather we read, “Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12).
Nowhere in the Bible is the idea of the cost of discipleship presented more emphatically than in the lives of the Old Testament prophets (except for the life of Jesus). Ezekiel lived out his prophetic message by losing his own wife as a symbol of the great suffering all Judah would experience in its captivity to Babylon (Ezekiel 24:18ff). We are extremely disturbed by the story of God “taking” (the exact Biblical word) the prophet’s wife, just to make a point to the nation. But not only was the prophet to suffer grief, he was also commanded not to mourn in the traditional manner of his people. And Ezekiel faithfully did just as he was told.
Another example of such sacrificial faithfulness is found in Jeremiah. Called into ministry as a youth (Jeremiah 1:4-8) he was denied wife or children (Jeremiah 16:2). His single lifestyle was a symbol of the harsh times coming to Judah, and also a protection against the severe treatment which the prophet would receive from his own people throughout his ministry. He was imprisoned, beaten, starved, mocked, and eventually taken as a prisoner to Egypt, where God had repeatedly commanded the children of Israel never to return.
The Hebrew writer reminds us of many others who
“had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented – of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth” (Hebrews 11:36-38).
Against this litany of suffering servants from the past, how can we persist in believing that we are guaranteed an easy, comfortable discipleship? Let us steel ourselves to face opposition courageously, to give unselfishly, and to serve God joyfully whatever discomforts and trials we face. We must remember Jesus’ demand,
“If anyone desires to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:24-25).