People might think that being a Christian is easy, a crutch that gets you through your traumas, a Father Christmas in the sky to pray to, a list of dos and don’ts that you do your best to follow but get forgiveness for when you fail.
However, as a Christian of several decades, I can tell you Christianity is not for cowards; being a Christian requires you to do some very, very hard stuff. Some of the things I find hardest are: forgiving over and over again, submitting to authority, waiting with patience and coping with suffering.
When someone continually hurts you in the same way it seems fair not to forgive them, to want them to pay. However, Jesus told His followers to forgive those who offended them – not just seven times, but seventy times seven times. He wasn’t giving a formula; He was saying we have to keep forgiving over and over and over. It makes me feel like my goodwill is being abused, but God says, “vengeance is Mine”. It is His job to punish or avenge and Christians are called to forgive. Lovely in theory, excruciatingly hard in practice.
Whether it is as a child submitting to their parents, a wife submitting her husband, a worker submitting to their boss, a citizen submitting to the government, or as a Christian submitting to God; submission does not come easy. We are all rebels at heart. Submission is hard, especially if we think our authority is making a mistake. The Christian teaching is that it is safer to continue to submit to an authority in the wrong, than to rebel, even if you are correct on the issue. This goes hard against the grain and probably sounds like foolishness to some. However, the Bible is clear that rebellion is as witchcraft and submission is a protection to those under it. Even in the Trinity, Jesus, in His humanity, was subject to God the Father, praying in Gethsemane, ‘not My will, but Thine’.
One of the things you learn as a Christian is that God is never in a hurry and His timeline seldom aligns with ours. Often His answer to a request is, ‘wait’. Wait for your healing, wait for your future spouse, wait to fall pregnant, wait for that job, wait for justice, and, ultimately, wait for the second coming of Jesus Christ. Throughout the Bible we read stories of people patiently waiting for God’s promises to be fulfilled. Patience, hope, faith, these are not glamorous, obvious virtues but they are absolutely essential to the Christian who is planning to make it through the long haul of life.
Contrary to what some televangelists preach, Christians are not promised health, wealth and an easy life. In fact, Jesus plainly told His disciples ‘in this world you will have trouble’. Then He went on to reassure them, ‘but fear not, I have overcome the world’. He promises to help His followers endure, He promises His presence in the midst of the storm, but He warned that the road would be narrow and difficult. Everyone suffers.
We all suffer loss at some stage, we all suffer health problems, we all suffer loneliness and injustice and sadness and disappointment. Only those who die young don’t. Life is tough – much tougher for some, but every life has its challenges. And, arguably, Christians suffer more than most because they are attuned to the suffering of others and, if they emulate Christ, care deeply about the poor, the sick and the downtrodden. Not only that but they endure extra suffering through persecution for their faith, which is often opposed to the spirit of the age.
On top of that, Christians are commanded to suffer well – to rejoice in their trials, to give thanks in all circumstances and emulate Christ in their patient endurance. They are told to keep their eyes on the prize – the end of the age when Jesus will return and put all things right. That is not easy to do through the tears.
No, if you want an easy life, don’t become a Christian. If you want a meaningful, satisfying, rewarding, joyful life, then yes, Christianity is for you. But if you want sunshine and roses, wealth, self-indulgence and excess, then look elsewhere.
Jesus never sugar-coated what His disciples were getting into, but sometimes well-meaning preachers try to make out that your life needs Jesus like it needs a better appliance or a self-help book. However, an invitation to Christianity is an invitation to war; an invitation to die; an invitation to making it all about God instead of all about you; an invitation to more than you could have hoped for or dreamed of.
As I said, I’ve been on this journey for decades and it doesn’t get easier. All our lives God is refining us like gold, developing our characters and dealing with our sinful habits. It hurts, but every bit of pain and suffering is worth it to know Jesus Christ as your Master and Friend. I dare you – pray the prayer on page 11 and come and die too.