This is an email I sent to the good friends of my Bible study group (yes, I go to one), but I wanted to share it with others too. Hence, it finds a place in here.
Recently, I’ve been listening to some excellent teaching on the purpose of trials in the Christian’s life, and, even though I admittedly thought that there wasn’t much else to learn about the subject, I found that I came up really short on some issues (this is a traditional experience when you think you know it all).
See, there always seems to be some difficulty in our lives. And I hope that those of us who are Christians know that following the Lord will inevitably put us on the hard side of the world’s face: Responses of people begin with ridicule and mockery, and range all the way up to martyrdom.
So we know that living the Christian life will not be easy. But in the same time, we find that our lives can get plagued by problems that have nothing to do with our faith: disease, death, accidents, bad people, money problems all affect Christians’ lives as much as non-Christians’.
I recall a little monologue (some may call it a sermon) that I gave two weeks ago at the end of the Bible study, even though it was Chris’s talk. As always, I said a lot, but the bottom line was that if we try to build our happiness on our life, we are going to be sorely disappointed. Why? Because life hardly ever gets any easier – not by human means. And Jesus didn’t teach any differently. He never promised us a problem-free life and a sheltered existence. He never said that those who followed Him would have it easy. He did, however, say that following Him would involve a cross (Mat. 16:24, Mark 8:34, Luke 9:23), and remember, when He said that the cross was not a symbol of Jesus’ sacrifice, because Jesus hadn’t been crucified yet. It was still by far the most appalling and inhumane method of execution known, not only because of the physical torture and agony involved, but because of the additional divine curse it carried with it (Deut. 21:23; cf. Gal. 3:13).
But we’ve all heard that, and if we haven’t, the Bible is full of examples of people suffering for their faith in God. I think it is pretty clear in our heads that the Christian life involves a degree of persecution and consequently, suffering, and we accept it because it seems to be something that happens to other, “holier” people. But “us” – we’re just “normal” people, plagued with boring, thankless jobs, low paychecks, and a general, complete and elaborate “lack of inspiration”. In fact, the success of today’s entertainment industry (TV, music, film, books, the news) lies on the need we have to escape the bland, grey apathy of our lives.
You disagree? How many times have you wondered “where is my life going?” or “I don’t know what to do with my life”? We’ve all done it, and chances are we’re still doing it.
There is nothing wrong with wanting “great things” from life. In fact, it’s a sad sight when people just settle down for any scraps they happen to stumble upon on their sojourn: the number one cause for elderly misery, I think, is that it looks back at a life that is now ending and finds nothing of real value, and nothing that has been sowed that can be harvested today. Pointless lives lead to pointless deaths.
And yet, God calls all of His children to a fulfilled, content, and blessed life. He calls us to rejoice in Him at all times (Phil. 4:4; 1 Thes. 5:16). How does that fit with our attitude as Christians today? I don’t think it does. I think that somehow we have convinced ourselves that that “Bible stuff” applies to other people, people with more “normal” lives, people who are “settled” according to the standards of today’s society. We think of ourselves as being trapped in some kind of spiritual limbo where God’s realm doesn’t really reach, and until we get out of it, what He has to say doesn’t apply. Maybe later. Or maybe never, because it “doesn’t really ring true”. We know, but we don’t live. I know this, because I did it too. For a very long time.
The result? We start running after other things to patch up the gaping hole we’ve opened. We turn to the world (that was troubling us to start with), and hope to find our answers there. And maybe it looks like we do, for a while. But in the end, the hole just grows wider and wider. Have you ever met anyone who told you that he/she tried the “Jesus thing” but it didn’t work out? Anyone who’s told you that they are Christians, but don’t really take the Bible “too seriously”? Have you ever wondered why they are so confused?
Let me tell you this: There comes a time when our faith must and will be tested. The purpose of the test is twofold: First, to determine our faith’s genuineness; second, to make it stronger, so as to bring us closer to God. And you know what? The tests are always there. Have you ever wondered if your “uninspiring” or “hard” life is there to help you mature in Christ? To give substance to your relationship with Him? That if we fail to draw near to our Father in heaven during the little, “unimportant” trials in our lives, we will never, ever grow enough to face the greater hardships later on (Mat. 25:21, 22)? If we do not seek God now, then when? When life becomes easier? When “things make more sense”? When we “know where we’re going”? I doubt it.
There are so many wonderful treasures and resources that God has in store for Christians (Eph. 1:3), but that requires us to overhaul our entire worldview and our perspective in life. It means taking ourselves out of the centre of our life and placing Him. It means learning to glorify God (as was always meant to be) rather than seeking our self-fulfilment in the wrong places. It means learning to say with king David:
You will show me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore – Psalm 16:11
LORD, I have loved the habitation of Your house, and the place where Your glory dwells – Psalm 26:8
One thing I have desired of the LORD, that will I seek: That I may dwell in the house of the LORD All the days of my life, To behold the beauty of the LORD, and to inquire in His temple – Psalm 27:4
The Christian life begins and ends with God’s glory, and it’s fuel is faith, that wonderful trust in God that comes out of seeking and knowing Him day by day, as He reveals Himself to us through His Word, through our time in His presence, and through life in general. You say that your life doesn’t inspire you? It’s not meant to. You say that your dreams are not fulfilled? Ask whose dreams they are (Psalm 37:3-5), and if, when God inspired David to write those words, He didn’t have you in His mind.
The Christian life doesn’t work when we don’t live it as a Christian life. It’s either that, or nothing.