Rising to the challenge
of our Christian calling
By His Grace Bishop Angaelos, General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom and one of the six Presidents of Churches Together in England.
Living faithfully as a Christian in the 21st Century is certainly challenging. We often hear and give sermons about hope, victory, and empowerment, but sometimes all we perceive in our world today is challenge and defeat. We witness the brutal persecution of innocent women, men and children around the world on a daily basis, and have grown desensitised to the fact that many Christians continue to die for their Faith. It is easy to preach that we must always be strong, resilient and joyfully convicted of our beliefs, but the fact is that injustice is rife in our world today, and as people are brutally murdered for their Faith, it can seem like the battle is lost. I suppose however, that our interpretation of events would depend on what our end goal is, and what our overall expectation is in this life and in the life to come.
We measure success based on our expected outcome, whether that be in our workplaces, or in our day to day lives. If our expectation then, is to always present ourselves as powerful, strong, prominent individuals, as Christians we are likely to be disappointed. Our calling is quite the contrary, for we, as Christians, are asked to place others before ourselves; to be sacrificial, forgiving and patient. So by very definition we are set up to fail in ‘worldly’ terms. If my expectation is that I, and my Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, will always be accepted, understood, and welcomed, then that is certainly not going to happen.
We are reminded by Saint Paul and also by our Lord Himself, that the Christian message will be perceived by many as ‘foolishness’, and we ourselves may be even deemed ‘fools’. Our Lord Himself was falsely accused of being demon possessed, so what then do we make of our calling in this world? Are we to live defeated? Do we continue to be perceived as foolish and naïve? Are we to forgive those who continue to wrong us and those we love? I suppose the answer to that lies in whether we truly want to walk in the footsteps of our crucified Lord, and if we believe that there is a resurrection waiting for all those who do, as St Paul reminds us, “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18, ,NKJV).
If we continue to assess our lives based purely on our expectations of the world, it will never lead us to true satisfaction or success. We were never meant to focus on this transient existence because we are destined for the eternal, and it is there we must fix our eyes. Our life on earth is temporary, as we are warned in Scripture, “It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away” (James 4:14, NKJV). We must live as faithful ambassadors of our Lord Jesus Christ while on earth, and live to serve all we encounter, yet we must live knowing that this is not the end of the journey, for there is a promised life to come. We must strive daily to keep ourselves from unnecessary distractions that cloak the truth of the Gospel message, which is hope, salvation and victory.
It is only by the grace of God that we can live with hope and without fear or worry in this existence which seems to be filled with uncertainty. Fear comes from the unknown, and yet if I trust in the One Who knows all , is all-powerful and all-loving, there is nothing left to fear, everything is certain.
We need to live in that certainty. Our Christian life is not a philosophy or a theory. It is real. We believe in a real God Who is alive and active in this world, Who is really all-powerful, all-loving and unchanging. When we depend and rely on that in our daily lives and decisions, and in challenges to our Faith, we will be confident knowing that our future is beyond anything we could ever comprehend, remembering the words of God “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11, NKJV).