Pleasing people or facing unpopularity? 1 of 3

Image credit: Ian Greig

Jeremiah’s dilemma

Jeremiah 20:8 and 10-11, 13

“..The word of the Lord has brought me insult and reproach all day long… All my friends are waiting for me to slip, saying, ‘Perhaps he will be deceived; then we will… take our revenge on him’. But the Lord is with me like a mighty warrior, so my persecutors will stumble and not prevail… Give praise to the Lord! He rescues the life of the needy from the hands of the wicked!”

THOUGHT

Politicians live in the tension of opinion polls and election results, trying to represent everyone and also attempting to keep the voters on-side…

Someone of my acquaintance who has a somewhat prophetic dimension to his ministry wrote recently under the heading “Is the Lord telling us we don’t need church buildings any more?”

His point was about the good lessons and new focus on being Christians in the community that has come  through the present restrictions. To go back to the former routine with no lessons learned, no new practices gained, would be a tragedy, he suggests. Not a popular message!

I heard today on the radio a minister  – or ‘priest’ – of one of the more formal traditions explaining that the church building was consecrated with ‘a golden thread’ and was where the reserved sacrament and so the presence of  the Lord was to be found. A special place, essential, and so permission to return was vital.

I am more of a marketplace person. My experience has been that a ‘holy person’ performing ‘holy actions’ in a ‘holy building’ can present quite a barrier  — well, three barriers in fact — to people who don’t feel for all sorts of reasons, that they belong there!

Added to which I have been hearing the Lord say, for a couple of years now, “I am doing a new thing…”. So to go back to buildings and formality and exclusivity and access through another person doesn’t seem to me to be “a new thing” at all.

This will be an unwelcome line of argument for many who find peace and solace in a historic place of worship (as I have on many occasions). And it may appear threatening to those whose identity is bound up in the role and the building. So this is inviting the insult and reproach that came to Jeremiah.

Most of us are not politicians or even public figures, but we still want to be people-pleasers. We want people to like us, and agree with us. We are shy of conflict.

But sometimes the Lord puts a word on our heart1 which is not the popular view. It may not be ‘politically correct’ or within the current ‘woke’ way of looking at the world. It might not be right… but if it is, if it is a word from the Lord, what do we do with it?

You may not see yourself as a preacher or a writer but you are still a person of influence within your own circle. Possibly even more so at times of tension and risk and lockdown. And what the Lord has impressed on you, in your quiet times and reading the Word, may not be  the obvious ways to ‘win friends and influence people’, even if you have the wisdom to share it humbly and in a loving way.

Like Jeremiah, we are responsible for being faithful to what  we know to be true, or what we understand to be our hearing of God’s truth of the moment.

Jeremiah said (v.9) “His word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones – I am weary of holding it in. Indeed, I cannot!” And  then we will find ourselves, as Jesus said in the same context but much later on, “Whoever does not take up their cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me [but]… whoever loses their life for My sake will find it.”2

To be born again3 is losing one’s life – the old life. And there are facets of that old life, like being popular with everyone, that might need to die some more. When we lay down what matters to us, we pick up the kingdom life4 of what matters to God. That kingdom life, we find, is a pearl of great price5, worth paying for in other ways..

  1. 1 Corinthians 14:1, 29-30 []
  2. Matthew 10:38-39 []
  3. John 3:7-8 []
  4. John 3:3, 5 []
  5. Matthew 13:45-46 []