I listened to a podcast sermon recently about discipleship. The message promises me a good life, right away, if I choose to wholeheartedly follow Jesus. Ten minutes in, the guarantee is quite undeniable that choosing Jesus will bring about “contentment, love, joy and peace” and I will find myself flowing down the current of God’s purposes in a stream of fulfillment. Life now, can be good. The only limit to reaching this “open place” sadly rests in your life, because of your lack of faith.
I must have taken a wrong turn somewhere, because the experience described in this message is in sharp contrast to mine. Following Jesus is hard. For me, it’s taken me on a journey with long stretches with little evidence of God. Contentment, love, joy and peace always seemed around the corner. I think I’m there, but realize it must be around the next bend. I’m still looking for it. (Please understand, I might be overstating this to make my point. The outcome of all I am writing here is an inner peace that far surpasses anything that can be gained here that excludes the hope of eternity!)
When I became a Christian at a very early age (6) I was taught that following Jesus would really cost me something. I blame Pilgrim’s Progress for that. It was my assumption at the starting blocks to expect a lot of obstacles and opponents, so during my life there have been few surprises. I just assumed it would be hard.
It scares me when believers are told upfront to expect it to all go well from here on. That God’s best for you is for now, and if you’re not experiencing it the problem is with your small view of God. Your lack of faith.
Years ago, the Lord used me to lead Pete to Himself. Several months into his new found faith we sat together over coffee (of course) to discuss his progress.
He was upset with me.
“Mitch, ever since I gave my life to Jesus my business is failing, and several in my family are beginning to turn on me.” My response was no different than what I told him when he first considered his options, whether to follow Jesus or not.
“Pete, you need to understand, following Jesus might cost you, a lot. It always does.”
I hear more sermons today promising rewards to those who choose to follow Jesus, than I do sermons that prepare believers for the harsh realities of life. The faith we preach works in America, but not so well in third world cultures. It is expected in our country to urge people to work hard, and if they do the outcome will be good. I am not sure if this message works in third world countries. I try to picture Joel Osteen preaching at a refugee camp in Sudan, and I wonder if he would have anything to say.
I spend a lot of time picking up the pieces from shattered dreams. Even with a pastor. I meet him at a crucial time in his life. When he is stripped, and has little left, the stage is cleared for a new story. I love to share my observation at this current place of my life, twenty-nine years in as a pastor, that I am really quite okay getting little out of this life. I have settled that I might enter, and survive this last season with little visible impact. I am excited, now, living an unassuming life; the sounds of applause fade into the backdrop of the new sound of a quieter life. One characterized more by abiding with Jesus, and trusting him, than the kind of life which tries to prove something. I gave up on that long ago. Suffering, however, draws us deeper into the life and work of Jesus. Apart from suffering, I don’t know if we can really be drawn to him. It is when life is hard that we discover how unbelievably good he is.
I join the thousands who according to Hebrews 11 lived for something bigger, and better.
“These all died in faith, having never received the thing promised,”
“They desired a better country, a heavenly one…”
…“And all of these … did not receive what was promised.”
“For while we are in this tent, we groan, being burdened…” (2 Cor. 5:4)
Sadly, the promise of a better life now, leaves few at the finish line, as many drop out over the disappointment of a promise that did not prove true. The promise of eternity, however, provides strength and hope and I believe also offers a deep settledness that can never be known if all we are looking for is what Jesus can do for us here and now.