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Thought for Thursdays: How to Handle Discouragement and Criticism in our Christian Walk

May I speak in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Have you ever found yourself in a position of someone trying to manipulate you into doing something? One of my children is quite good at trying to do this. For example, this child will say they want to do or have a thing, be it a computer game or a toy or a whatever. When they see that I won’t give them the thing straight away, negotiations open. Tactics like explaining how the thing is good news for me too are tried or how without the thing, their whole life lags behind their peers and just how terrible that situation is, or will bargain ‘what do you need from me to make this deal a reality’ is given a go. My almost unassailable defence, is to say of course they can have the thing, all they need is their own money to get it. Having said that, there is one member of my family who gets their way each and every time, who doesn’t even have to speak to get what they want, and he is called Fluff. You see, he will come to the kitchen, and with no words explain his desire for either a treat or some cheese or whatever it is. He will open those big brown eyes extra wide, look at me as if the treat he received not five minutes ago had existed and in fact perhaps he had never had a treat ever. I can sometimes resist for a whole 30 seconds before inevitably I’m shuffling off to the treat draw. My children have noticed this and have tried the puppy dog look, but no dice. What my children have to do is persevere in the asking, very much unlike my dog.

In our reading today we hear about a blind man who perseveres despite the obvious discouragement to get what he wants from Jesus. Bartimaeus is begging by the road outside of Jericho, and he calls out to Jesus ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ but the crowd tell him to shut up and stop harshly and unkindly. But he just gets louder and louder, shouting all the more despite their discouragement. Of course Jesus calls him, asks him what he wants. Bartimaeus asks for his sight and Jesus says ‘Go; your faith has made you well’. Bartimaeus receives his sight and follows Jesus on the way.

I wonder what you would have done if you had been in Bartimaeus’ place? For many, when we are faced with criticism, anger or even apathy the temptation is to give up isn’t it? Even today, to give a very small example, I am trying to organise a good thing for Cleveleys, something I thought many of community would be interested in, but I have met some resistance and apathy and it is tempting to give up, so I know currently what that feels like, given I thought it would be an easy win. You may also know what I mean, when you try to do something faithful for Jesus and its hard work, and things don’t go right. The temptation is to say – right give up, go home, no luck here, this isn’t meant to be etc etc. But folks our faith is one that finds its strength not in easy answers but through a miraculous struggle. Our God is one who invites us to never give up, never surrender if what we are doing or hoping for is worth fighting for. I think of my friend who endured multiple rejections at ordination, only to one day be ordained, become a school chaplain and pray for me to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Would I have known the Lord if he had not persevered? I think of Mother Teresa who battled in such a small way against a tsunami of need but changed the world nonetheless. I think of Justin Martyr, remembered today, who defended the early Christian church against the philosophies of his day even though it led to his death. I think of faithful people here, that despite what the world throws at them, they still come to meet Jesus in the broken body and blood that endured even to the cross. Our faith is one of endurance, perseverance and reliance on and for God the King of the Universe.

The secret of our faith is that our struggle is temporary. That ultimate victory is found in that faith in Jesus. For Bartimaeus, he endured the crowd’s displeasure, even he got louder so that he received the healing he desired through his faith, and became a follower of Christ. For someone like Justin Martyr, who fought his whole life for Christ and who was killed by the famous philosopher Emperor Marcus Aurelius, it is Justin’s message of the loving gospel that has long outlived the philosophy of one of the greatest emperors of all time.

A good question is to ask what has God laid on my heart to pray for, to do, to achieve? Has it found resistance? Have I given up? Whatever that is, let the story of Bartimaeus and all the saints of the church encourage you – faithfully cry louder and louder, faithfully endure and persevere, and faithfully hope beyond hope, for even when the crowd are baying against you, your Father in heaven hears and will answer.


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