I recently read about a Christian man who was criticized by co-workers for his liberal way of thinking, so he was forced to defend his right to share the gospel. One time they even sent spies to check out his ‘dangerous’ doctrine. The fact that he was a poor speaker and not much to look at didn’t help either. It also seemed likely that he lacked the faith to be healed from a condition that caused him much distress. He was often depressed and stressed out when he encountered the failures of people he ministered to. He was sometimes fearful and anxious, and spent long nights without sleep.
The plethora of problems and extreme difficulties that plagued this beleaguered soul rendered it quite evident to his detractors that he was carrying on without God’s blessing. But the poor guy didn’t seem to have a clue and kept right on with his crazy passion even when he lacked the means to purchase a change of underwear. He often went hungry and thirsty during the course of his missionary journeys. He even carried on in severe weather without proper clothing, suffering from cold and exposure to the elements. In fact, he was shipwrecked four times and once spent 24 hours adrift in the seas clinging to wreckage.
But he endured his greatest suffering at the hands of religious leaders who beat him severely on countless occasions. Once he was stoned and left for dead. In fact, he almost died 12 times! He spent about 6 years of his life in prison where he was finally beheaded.
Yet he wrote: “Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:7-10.)
Are you ‘well’ content with weakness, insults, distresses, difficulties and persecutions?
Neither am I. Hmm. Wonder what we’re missing. Jesus made it clear that he called us to ‘come and die.’ Most Western Christians have never even been persecuted. And too many would rather follow after mega stars with mega churches and mega egos. Can you imagine such a ‘pastor’ trading his exorbitant salary, multi-million dollar home, luxury automobile, private jet and hair dresser for multiple beatings, ship wrecks and execution? Most of them will leave nothing behind but an impressive church building like a monument left in their remembrance. Just like Absalom who built a monument to himself because he had no son.
Perhaps that’s the point. There is no reproduction without the pain of childbirth. Paul says that ‘we…rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.’(Romans 5:3-5) Transformation takes place when we yield willingly to suffering. It’s a necessary part of the lives of those who would follow the suffering Servant. Selfishness is displaced by love which alone reveals Christ to others who will also imitate him.
The Western church today is full of false converts who have been offered a ‘bless me’ gospel and a religious system that sells a form of godliness while denying its power’. As of the date of this writing, half of all Christians have left that system. Yet are we simply living the way we did before we left, other than enjoying the freedom from religious obligation? As was Paul, we are all debtors (under obligation) to reach out in love to rescue the poor and dying, to spend ourselves for the sake of others. (Romans 1:14-17) Are we willing to endure the suffering that always accompanies fruit bearing in a world that functions in direct opposition to the kingdom of God? If not, we are still stuck in religious complacency. God led us out to bring us into something greater. I for one choose to trust him for the wisdom to recognize it and the grace to embrace it.