Tuesday, November 21, 2017

"Suffering: You are Your Message"

Ezekiel 24.16-18 NLT

“Son of man, with one blow I will take away your dearest treasure. Yet you must not show any sorrow at her death. Do not weep; let there be no tears. Groan silently, but let there be no wailing at her grave. Do not uncover your head or take off your sandals. Do not perform the usual rituals of mourning or accept any food brought to you by consoling friends.”

“So I proclaimed this to the people the next morning, and in the evening my wife died.”

[Note: I wrote the article below four years ago, nearly one year before my wife was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia. Ten months later, she was gone. I profoundly miss her. Given a choice, I would rather have her and miss the lessons God is teaching me by her departure. But I was not given that choice. None of us are. We are never prepared for the suffering caused by great personal loss. 

"Loss is a part of life, of being alive, of being human. Everyone experiences loss. Everyone."[1] 

"Death. Our great enemy. The last enemy. It didn't schedule an appointment or knock before entering. Death crashed the party."[2] 

Every time I read Ezekiel 24, prior to Adonica's death, I wondered in horror at the pain of the prophet in the loss of his wife. I am now facing that horror, while trying to trust God for a redemptive purpose in her passing.]

I would not want to be Ezekiel. If he loved his wife, as I do mine, then the price of prophetic service is too high for me.

God warned Ezekiel that He would take the life of his “dearest treasure,” his beloved wife. The prophet was not to weep or “perform the usual rituals of mourning.” By so doing, Ezekiel was “a sign” (Ezekiel 24.24) to the exiled Jews who would soon experience the loss of their “dearest treasure,” Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem. The Babylonian army would burn and destroy this monument to Jewish glory and the prophet would profoundly identify with their pain in the loss of his wife. This was empathy at the highest level. 

Ezekiel was more than a preacher. He was the message. Ezekiel became the sermon he preached. “Do as I say, not as I do,” is not an effective role-modeling technique. It’s hard to follow leaders who do not “practice what they preach.” When the alcoholic father chastises his son for drinking, the boy will likely think, “Your actions speak so loud, I can’t hear what you are trying to tell me.”

If you have a message to impart, prepare to pay the price for that privilege. Personalize and practice the truth you teach or stop proclaiming it. Jesus Christ’s younger brother warned, “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment” (James 3.1). That’s Bible-speak for, “Walk the talk or... shut up!” We should not try to export what we can’t import.

Hopefully, you and I will never be required to pay Ezekiel’s price to bear God’s truth. But there is a price for prophetic service. Words are cheap. So are small and insincere actions. Nothing less than total identification with your message and audience will do. You are your message.

“Your very lives are a letter that anyone can read by
just looking at you. Christ himself wrote it...”
2nd Corinthians 3.2-3 The Message


The wonderful image of the man with the sandwich board at the top left of this post is by talented illustrator Erwin Sherman whose artwork you can view at http://www.theispot.com/portfolios/index.cfm?clientnumber=a2559&artistName=Erwin%20Sherman. The original piece contains the words "Hire the Best" on the sandwich board.

[1] How to Survive the Loss of a Love, Colgrove, Bloomfield, and McWilliams, 1976, p. 26.

[2] Through the Eyes of a Lion - Facing Impossible Pain, Finding Incredible Power, Lusko, 2015, p. 51.

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