Who started the rumor that God called Christians to a life of leisure, ease, and abundance? When and why did we start thinking that if it’s too hard it must not be God? Au contrare.
We’re supposed to get muddy and beat up. If we’re not, then what in the world was Paul the Apostle doing? He must have missed the memo to keep it clean and politically correct.
Bible scholars say he was well educated by the content of his letters to the churches and from a well-connected religious family since he was a Pharisee and entrusted with carrying a message from the priests in Jerusalem to Damascus. Then, at his conversion on his way to Damascus, he left all that he had known until that time and followed the Christ whom he had previously denied, if not face to face, then by persecuting and slandering His followers. He struck out to tell the Gentile world of the saving grace of this Christ of the Jews.
Just think, a Jew living with and ministering to the Gentiles of every pig-eating, idol worshiping, profane nation in the then-civilized world.
Imagine the obstacles he faced. He was beaten, ship wrecked, bit by a snake, imprisoned, and finally executed, which he knew all along would be his fate. Personally, I would have been done after the snakebite episode, but he appears to have been unfazed. Why? Why did Paul continue to give up all creature comforts and persevere through all the trials that came his way? More trials than the average person would ever face.
The answer is quite simple, yet profound. He was yielded to the will of God for his life.
I confess that I cannot imagine that level of obedience. I struggle with doing laundry with a happy heart. How in the world could I face each day knowing I would be spit on, mocked, slandered, and plotted against? And that’s just before noon! My trials and struggles, while quite real to me, are of no comparison to what Christians in anti-Christian countries face. To hear of secret house church meetings and forced labor and beatings just for owning a Bible put my petty complaints in stark perspective.
I can say in all honesty that I make most of my plans with little thought to God’s guidance. I can go where I want, when I want. If one church service doesn’t suit me, I might just go find another church. If a job becomes drudgery, maybe I should just look for another one. When friendships get a little too personal, I’ll just find me another circle of friends who haven’t seen my imperfections yet. If my marriage gets rocky, I’ll just complain to the other ladies about how insensitive my husband is. Too many children are too much work, so I’ll plan one or two when it’s convenient, but then I’ll send them off to school or daycare as soon as possible.
Not only that, but why should I think I should call all the shots for my life? It’s all about what is most convenient and appealing to me.
What I’m trying to say, in not so many words, is God’s will is often found in the hard things. If the Apostle Paul’s life means anything beyond his New Testament teaching, he gives an example of endurance. He’s telling us to develop the marathon mentality, not the quickie 5K. Take each day as it comes and do the next thing in your path. Run. Stretch. Climb. And do it again. And again. The repetition of our struggles is actually what builds perseverance, character, and hope.
“We also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character, and character, hope.” Romans 5:21
By the way, Paul is encouraging the Roman church here right after reminding them of Abraham who had NOT enjoyed great success by his own hand. He may be called the father of faith now, but he never had much to show in his lifetime. Remember, he wandered half of Asia Minor for decades without ever settling down. He didn’t have children until he was well past Social Security’s retirement age. And when he did, he whoopsied with a maid first. In spite of what sounds like a rather bumbling effort at following God, Abraham was promised an inheritance of land and descendants, an inheritance he never physically possessed in his lifetime.
Wouldn’t you think he would blame God for not holding up his end of the promise? And wouldn’t you think God would strike Abraham with lightening for his ineptitude at following directions? Thankfully, God saw something in Abraham that was worth a lot of patience, and Abraham trusted God in the face of crushing disappointment. And here we are today, thousands of years later, able to identify with and learn from Abraham’s mistakes. In the end, Abraham died full of hope and trust in God’s promises, whether he saw them or not.
Surely, Paul pondered this kind of hope and trust through his life. He also never settled down once he began planting churches all over Asia. He never married (it’s thought he was probably widowed) and had physical children, though he mentored numerous men and women to continue his ministry once he was gone. He was imprisoned and finally martyred for his faith, which he never once denied, though he was given many opportunities to downplay it to avoid confrontations and beatings.
Likewise, we should face our own challenges and disappointments with faith that God is in control. We might not always rejoice that things don’t go our way, but we can at least acknowledge God’s hand in molding our character through our trials. Finally, we can rest in the hope that His will cannot fail.
How does that faith look on a day-to-day basis?
Don’t chuck it all to the wind when things don’t go your way. No pity parties over minor stumbling blocks. Don’t pass up opportunities simply because it’s inconvenient or outside your comfort zone. Open up with friends and let them see your imperfections. Stand by your man and respect him as your husband. Receive the children God gives you with gratefulness. Above all, look to the Lord for His guidance in all things.
I’m going to forget the life of ease and pleasure. Instead, I’m going to grab the snake bite kit (and pray that I won’t need it) and set off on an adventure that may go through some muddy pits and unfair circumstances but will end at the feet of Jesus, full of hope and faith.