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Called to compromise?

Last week, I had the pleasure of attending our latest Rural Mission Hub, which was held at Ashburnham Place in Sussex. Despite the inclement weather (I resisted temptations to look for a large amount of timber and two of every kind of animal), we enjoyed the venue's hospitality and many of those who came powerfully met with God.


The passage chosen for our time together was from Daniel 3 and the account of Shadrack, Meshack and Abednego being thrown into the furnace as a consequence of refusing to bow down and worship King Nebuchadnezzar.


I have listened to many sermons and interpretations over the years about how this is a passage about faithfulness, a prescriptive text on how to survive in tough times. Indeed, I am fairly sure I have preached this myself in the past. Nevertheless, after being encouraged to form pairs and reflect on this passage (having read it slowly - a practice very similar to Lectio Divina), I came to a slightly different understanding.


Previous interpretations of this passage have suggested a vending machine-type understanding; we insert our faithfulness, and out pops a reward. In effect, stay faithful to God, and He will reward you/protect you/bless you (delete as necessary).


Many who I know have served and are serving God within the rural context in an extremely faithful way, yet they have not been rewarded. Their churches haven't grown; they may not have personally seen people come to faith, and the demands seem to increasingly pull them in various directions with little time to reflect prayerfully. Does this mean they need to try harder to be faithful? Some might suggest that they have lapsed, letting their guard down and doubting (sharp intake of breath), thereby negating any such reward. Continuing with the analogy of a vending machine, I wonder how many of us feel tempted to whack the vending machine on the side or rock it to encourage the coin to drop and the reward to be dispensed? "Come on, God, can't you see how faithful I am being in following you here…? How about a little reward?"


What struck me about the events of Daniel 3, as I shared with my partner in the exercise, is this is not so much an account of faithfulness but rather a passage about identity and calling, standing firm in who we are and what we are called to. Daniel 3 provides an intriguing insight into retaining our identity today and standing firm in a context of compromise, where the secular world wants to pull us to its level, and the institution seeks to pull us to its level. The risk with the latter is that we are encouraged to be effective in something measurable and end up involved in things we are neither gifted nor called to. The danger with the former is blending in so we do not 'rock the boat' or cause an issue; we simply compromise.


Arguably, faithfulness could be a good countermeasure to both in terms of knuckling down and just getting on with it. Maybe God will reward us for sticking it out. Notwithstanding this, as we reflected on the passage, I sensed that God was calling those of us gathered at Ashburnham Place to stand firm in our identity and calling and not compromise. Perhaps I am feeling a little bolshy, frustrated by meeting people who are pulled in all sorts of different directions, with all sorts of different expectations placed on them, many of which are unhelpful and not of the kingdom.


Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused to worship the god of Empire, namely Nebuchadnezzar. They refused to compromise on their identity. Today, perhaps the question we must reflect on is, 'Which god are you being obedient to?' I'm not sure we are judged by God on our results as measured by humankind; I'm pretty sure Jesus won't ask me how big my church was, have we adhered to Canon law, or been recognised by the regional minister. However, I think I will need to face some questions about following what I was called (by Him) to do and who I was whilst doing so.


Regardless of the challenges (or joys) you may be experiencing, I pray that you will continue to pursue your calling and hold on to your true identity as a child of God, dearly loved and valued, knowing that God will supply you with the grace and courage you need, just as he did with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.

Simon Mattholie CEO, Rural Ministries


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