Psalm 22:24 – “For He has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted, and he has not hidden his face from him, but has heard, when he cried to him.”
He has not despised the afflicted. This means, at the very least, that some are called by God to be afflicted while others are not. James was arrested and put to death by Herod. When Herod saw how the execution pleased the people he had Peter arrested with every intention of putting him to death as well. But God sent an angel to the prison to escort Peter out. Why didn’t he do it with James? Some might say that no one prayed for James. We do not know that. It could be that the reason the church prayed for Peter was because they didn’t want a repeat of James. But we do not know that they did not pray for James. God allowed James to be killed. God rescued Peter from being killed. Peter was not more loved than James was. But God was not finished with Peter yet. James work was over and Peter’s was not.
Some believers will travel through life persecuted, hungry, abused and forgotten. Others will be famous, comfortable, popular and healthy. The Bible says very little about the final reward of the latter group. He says very much about the former. But we get it all twisted. We aspire to greatness, wealth, and fame. It is one of the chief ways that we are worldly. We can fall into believing that our success, number of converts, fame etc. are evidence of God loving us more than those who are not so blessed. So, those churches who have many converts, many baptisms, many hungry people who long to grow in their faith are seen to be more faithful to the Scriptures than those who are not seeing such fruit. Success is attributed to leadership skills, holiness, or innovative evangelistic methods among other things.
Those who do not get the results that these people get are told that if they become better leaders, get rid of the sin in their lives, get with the evangelistic programme, or lack of it, and hang around the right kind of people they too will be great. They are seen as somehow deficient.
It is true that God may withhold blessing from a church because of sin or because things are done poorly, led improperly or organized ineffectively. But it is also true that a lack of growth may have nothing to do with those things. But we do not believe that. While we are not “name it and claim it” types, we are. We just name and claim different things.
O Lord, forgive us where we have sinned by attributing your works of grace as our works of leadership or management or methods. Forgive us for looking down on others whose successes may not be as evident as ours. Forgive us for thinking that if only people would do what we are doing they would be better off.
O Lord, keep us from being satisfied with the lostness around us. Keep us from thinking that not much can be done because their sin is too great. Teach us that you who gave the dry bones life can do the same thing today in the hearts and minds and souls of those we preach to and witness to. Give us souls O God and keep us aware that it is you and you only who can give them.
Cause us to really live for the praise of your glory. Cause us to refuse to take credit that only belongs to you. Cause us to be jealous for your glory and not our own. Cause Jesus to be seen and wondered at as people watch us. Save us O Lord.
And thank you. Thank you for not despising the afflicted. Thank you for loving those churches and leaders who are afflicted with small numbers and meagre results and opposition and small budgets and cantankerous people. Thank you for not measuring us like we sometimes measure ourselves. Thank you for helping the afflicted persevere when times are really tough and the going is really slow. And help them to keep their eyes on you in such times and not succumb to the temptation to look at those who are at ease and envy them.