Christian Living

Spiritual Life

Vigilance Through the Fire

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This story in The New York Times serves as an inspiring look at vigilance in hard times. A few years back, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston decided it would close several dozens churches in an effort to save money to settle some financial obligations. The local Archdiocese, which was paying an $85 million settlement stemming from the high-profile priests abuse scandal, was strapped for cash at the time. Selling the properties could offer some financial relief—especially by cashing in on the ones that were located in prime areas of real estate in the city.

But, as it turned out, the parishioners had other feelings about the matter. They figured, that if they decided not to leave the church, then church officials would be unable to sell the church. And, if they never left the actual church building, then officials couldn't lock them out. So they stayed.

For more than four years, and for 24-hours a day, dedicated church members who refuse to see their churches close, took turns sitting, praying and holding their own services. A sign-up sheet on the door regulated when and who will be coming to guard the church, and a sign at one of the churches reminds the former parishioners to “Please be ever vigilant!”

The Archdiocese didn't evict the former members, but in some cases (not all) they’ve cut the power and heat. Officials removed all of the alter clothes, statues, and objects held sacred to Catholics. They also stopped providing priests to most of the vigil churches.

So, even in the cold, with all of the decorations, official clothing and highly-trained ministers removed, people gather to pray, worship and have church. Everything is stripped away, but they still meet to worship their God.

One of the interviews really stuck out to me. An 83-year-old woman who spends several hours a day guarding her church told the reporter, “I just don’t want to give in to it. I’m praying and hoping, but it doesn’t look good.”

Even on the surface, a story about a community of believers standing together to save their church is moving. But, for the individual Christian, there’s still deep meaning in this community’s struggle.

The article constantly refers to what the people are doing not as a “protest” or a “demonstration”, but as a “vigil”. And that’s what this story is about—vigilance. And vigilant is something every Christian should be.

We live in a world that is constantly faced with seemingly insurmountable struggles. From heartbreaking problems like world hunger and global poverty, to everyday difficulties that challenge our faith and character, life isn’t always easy. Many times we might feel like that elderly volunteer whose held on for the last four years, “I’m praying and hoping, but it doesn’t look good.”

But there’s something about the idea of a vigil that should encourage us. In a vigil, people stand together; no one is trying to do it alone. If we’re struggling with something, we can find others who can stand with us.

There’s not always a guarantee that situations will work out in the way that we hope they will. These communities might lose their churches. People struggling to make ends meet might lose everything. There are those suffering from illnesses that may never recover. But God sees beyond our temporal circumstances and suffering—He sees the eternal picture. He sees what is in store for those who are vigilant, for those who never let go of His promises.

I’ve always loved the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in Daniel 3. King Nebuchadnezzar, the ruler of Babylon issued a new law that required all people to worship an idol he had created. When three young Hebrew officials (Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego) refused, he ordered them to be thrown into a furnace. They told the King that their God would save them from the flames, but they also added this: “But even if he doesn't, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up" (3:18, New Living Translation).

But even if he doesn’t … This is vigilance. Of course, God did save them from the furnace, which Nebuchadnezzar had heated “seven times hotter than usual.” For the three servants of God, their faithfulness wasn’t contingent on God rescuing them. They were obedient without knowing if God would come to the rescue like they thought He would.

No matter what we are dealing with, even if we say like the woman who has been faithfully guarding her church for the last four years that "it doesn’t look good,” God sees our vigilance. When all of the small things in our lives are stripped away, and all we have left are the people standing with us and our faith in God’s promises, can we still be vigilant?

It’s a question that all Christians will face to some degree at different points in life. Sometimes our situations might not look good, and the odds might not seem to be in our favor, but the story of this community standing to save their church is an encouraging reminder: “Please, be ever vigilant”.

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