On October 29, 1941, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill visited Harrow School to hear the traditional songs he had sung there as a youth, as well as to speak to the students. Although he actually spoke for several minutes, the most famous line of that speech was, “Never give up. Never, never, never, never give up.” Oh, how Christians need to heed those words! We need the power to stay the course!
Churchill was echoing a message already contained in God’s word. James 5:10 commands us to, “take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord as an example of suffering and patience.” In other words, Christians ought to look at the Old Testament prophets as examples of how to stay the course when times are difficult. Let us focus on four truths that the prophets believed and embraced.
Faithfulness looks strange to the world — Reading the prophets, one is struck by the sense of maladjustment that characterized these men of God. They lived by faith and thus they never quite fit in (cf. Jer. 15:17). Because they obeyed God, their faith looked strange to others. At God’s command, Ezekiel lay on his side 490 days (Eze. 4), Jeremiah walked about with a yoke on his neck (Jer. 27-28), and Isaiah went naked three years (Isa. 20). If faith is going to be worth something, it has to stand out (Matt. 5:13-16)!
Being ‘politically correct’ is different from being relevant — Just like us, the prophets lived in times of “political correctness.” Jeremiah preached the word of the Lord and was imprisoned as a traitor to his nation (Jer. 38:1-6). When false prophets were crying, “Peace, peace,” Jeremiah was declaring God’s wrath (Jer. 8:11-12). The lesson? In order to always be relevant, God’s people must say things that are eternal. Times change, nations rise and fall, and attitudes are fickle. However, God’s word is relevant to every generation (1 Pet. 1:25). “Thus says the Lord” is always relevant, but not always popular.
Sometimes the price of faithfulness is apparent failure — The prophets lived in godless societies and witnessed the ugliness of corrupted religion. Elijah tried to change things at Mt. Carmel (1 Kings 18:20ff), but when the people did not respond as he expected, Elijah slipped into a depression (1 Kings 19:4-14). Jeremiah preached for about 40 years, and evidently never converted a single soul. Very often, God’s faithful people do not see the fruit of their labors. What appears to have been a failure may in fact be the seeds of tremendous success — and only eternity will tell the effect of our deeds (1 Cor. 15:58).
The just shall live by faith — Habakkuk lived in a cesspool of sinfulness. He saw the idolatrous forces of Babylon approaching from the north to destroy his own wicked nation, and he asked God, “How long will you allow wickedness to so prosper?” (Hab. 1:2). In Hab. 1:17, he seems to ask, “who will win out though all this sinfulness?” God’s answer is powerful: “The just shall live by faith” (Hab. 2:4). The prophets were thus encouraged to keep doing what is right because they realized that faith is the victory that overcomes the world (1 John 5:4). The Bible is good news not only because of salvation in Jesus Christ, but because it’s consistent message is that righteousness eventually does triumph! Satan is a usurper and will not win (Jn. 12:31; 2 Cor. 4:3-4). The just shall live by faith — that message needs to be heard in our day just as it was in Habakkuk’s!
God gives us the power to stay the course through His promises to us. It is up to us to believe, trust, and obey those same promises, for we know our labor in the Lord truly is not in vain (1 Cor. 15:58). —JB