07/07/20/T – Affliction and Encouragement

Jeremiah 15:10-16:15; 1 Thessalonians 2:17-3:13; Psalms 80:1-13; Proverbs 19:20-21

OT: “Woe is me, my mother, that you gave birth to me, a man who incites dispute and conflict in all the land. I did not lend or borrow, yet everyone curses me… You know, Lord; remember me and take note of me. Avenge me against my persecutors. In your patience, don’t take me away. Know that I suffer disgrace for your honor… Why has my pain become unending, my wound incurable, refusing to be healed? You truly have become like a mirage to me — water that is not reliable. Therefore, this is what the Lord says: If you return, I will take you back; you will stand in my presence. And if you speak noble words, rather than worthless ones, you will be my spokesman. It is they who must return to you; you must not return to them. Then I will make you a fortified wall of bronze to this people. They will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you to save you and rescue you. This is the Lord’s declaration. I will rescue you from the power of evil people and redeem you from the grasp of the ruthless.” (‭‭Jeremiah‬ ‭15:10, 15, 18-21‬ ‭CSB)

Faithfully following the Lord and remaining steadfastly obedient to His word is difficult – especially if you are attempting to do that in your own strength and resolve. Constantly battling the current of popular opinion and confronting the false prophets of his day had made Jeremiah weary and discouraged. So much so, that he even lamented the day of his birth… feeling that it would have been better if he had never been born. Jeremiah was having a “George Bailey moment” where he even began doubting the existence and faithfulness of God in his life. Jeremiah was very candid with God and did not pretend to be something that he was not. In Jeremiah’s extremely transparent honesty, God didn’t condemn him, but honored his honesty with a forthright response.

God told Jeremiah to repent. Repent from what, you might ask. God wasn’t clear, but apparently Jeremiah knew. Perhaps it was from doing things in his own strength and sense of self-righteousness instead of by the grace of God. Perhaps it was from allowing his feelings to get in the way of his faith. Perhaps it was from comparing himself to the affliction that he faced instead of comparing his afflictions to the all powerful, all knowing, all sufficient God. Perhaps Jeremiah was attempting to compromise his message to meet the people where they were instead of standing firm in the call of God for the people to return to Him. For whatever the reason that had caused Jeremiah to become derailed, God said, “If you repent, I will accept you back into my presence and you will experience my grace again.” By repenting from his error and returning to faith in God, God would make Jeremiah a fortified wall, and no matter how hard the affliction became, Jeremiah would not be overcome.

NT: “In fact, when we were with you, we told you in advance that we were going to experience affliction, and as you know, it happened. For this reason, when I could no longer stand it, I also sent him to find out about your faith, fearing that the tempter had tempted you and that our labor might be for nothing. But now Timothy has come to us from you and brought us good news about your faith and love. He reported that you always have good memories of us and that you long to see us, as we also long to see you. Therefore, brothers and sisters, in all our distress and affliction, we were encouraged about you through your faith. For now we live, if you stand firm in the Lord.” (‭‭1 Thessalonians‬ ‭3:4-8‬ ‭CSB)

The Geek word that Paul used that was translated here as ‘affliction,’ literally means hard pressing – like pressing grapes to squeeze out all the juice. There is a saying that I hear from time to time: “It’s when you squeeze a tube of toothpaste, that you really find out what is inside… and once it comes out, you can’t get it back in.” When Paul was in Thessalonica, he warned the new converts that pressing and squeezing would inevitably come because of their new-found faith in Christ. Sure enough, the affliction did come, as Paul was forced out of Thessalonica and the weeks-old believers were left to face the pressures against them on their own. Was Paul able to build a strong enough foundation in the faith able to withstand the pressing? Would the believers stand strong or would the fold under the immense pressure. What would come out of them when squeezed? Those were all things that were on Paul’s mind as he entered Athens. When Paul could no longer stand not knowing how the Thessalonians were faring, he sent Timothy to find out about their faith. When Timothy returned, Paul was encouraged to the core to find out that when the Thessalonians were squeezed, the glory of God came out. They had not collapsed under the pressure, but were standing firm in the Lord by grace through faith.

When we encounter affliction… when we are pressed and squeezed by the world, the flesh and the devil… when we constantly fight the currents that try to force us into conformity as we push forward in Christ – what comes out of us? If we, like Jeremiah of old, ooze out negativity, frustration, resignation and doubt – we just need to be honest about it, repent from it, turn back to faith in Christ, and experience His grace that will fortify us, encourage us and overcome us with peace.

Prayer: Lord, You said that in this world, I will have trouble… I will experience affliction – but then You encouraged me by saying, “Take heart, for I have overcome the world.” My desire is to be like the believers in Thessalonica – that after immense pressure from the world, the flesh, and the devil, they came out standing. If You overcame, then as I remain in You, then I can overcome. Help me, as I keep my faith rooted in You, to do all to stand and remain standing by Your grace. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

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