I want to talk about something that I almost feel is taboo. Like I’m confessing something I shouldn’t be thinking or feeling.
But the more I read and listen to others, I’m convinced honesty is something we’re craving right now. And as I talk with other Believers, I think we’re all thinking the same thing…
Following Jesus is hard.
There. I said it. The truth is out.
I feel kinda like Phoebe…
I know we all know we know this, but it’s not really something we openly discuss.
I’m not talking persecution. As Americans, that is something we have graciously been spared (for now). And I think that’s why we don’t broach this subject. Who are we to claim Christianity is hard? We live in the most religiously free country ever to exist.
I’m talking about actually living out Jesus’ commands, the basic principles of Christianity.
Have you ever tried to love your neighbor as yourself? Really love them? Like, sold your own possessions in order to help them? If so, was that an easy decision?
Have you ever attempted to cast all your cares on Jesus? Let go of worries and leave them at His feet for good? If so, were you able to do it on the first try?
Have you ever prayed for an enemy to be blessed? Beared patiently with your spouse’s faults? Wrestled an addiction of your flesh? Confronted a friend with love?
If you’ve done any of these things successfully, I’m willing to bet it wasn’t easy. I’m guessing you had to be intentional, focused and self-disciplined. And I’m sure it took some serious muscle from The Spirit.
Jesus said it pretty bluntly.
“Don’t look for shortcuts to God. The market is flooded with surefire, easygoing formulas for a successful life that can be practiced in your spare time. Don’t fall for that stuff, even though crowds of people do. The way to life—to God!—is vigorous and requires total attention.”
Matthew 7:14 (MSG)
Vigorous and requires total attention…
That doesn’t sound like the definition of Easy to me.
When we accept Jesus’ call to follow in His steps, we are signing up for the greatest challenge ever extended to man. This is not Dancing With The Stars; it’s more like Naked and Afraid. Strange. Not always pretty. Sometimes lonely and a little scary. But we don’t present it that way.
We cannot Viennese Waltz our way around it. No matter how impressive or glamorous we want to make it seem, doing what Jesus would do takes guts.
Perhaps our lack of honesty has played a part in the turning away we’re seeing in our country today. A Pew Research Center survey found between 2007 and 2014, the number of adults “who describe themselves as Christians has dropped by nearly eight percentage points,” while those “describing themselves as atheist, agnostic or ‘nothing in particular'” has increased by six percent.
I wonder how many of the eight percent who left the faith make up the six percent who no longer believe? How many of those who left did so because this “Christianity” thing wasn’t all it was cracked up to be? How many left because they were misled about the actual effort it takes to follow Jesus and, rather than hypocrisy, they chose honesty?
I don’t know the answers to these questions. I only know my own story.
I know growing in Christ doesn’t just happen. Waking up each day and seeking God is a choice. Studying His word and communicating with Him in prayer takes effort. Just like working out physically, I’m not going to get strong or fit unless I get my hiney off the couch to exercise and fill my body with good things instead of junk.
I know going to church isn’t always easy. I know how trying it is to “lovingly” hash out issues within a church family. I know how lonely it feels to move away from your “home” church, search for a new one, and then try to fit in. I also know the pain of rejection.
Friends, I do not come to you as an “older, wiser woman.” I come to you as a fellow sister sloshing through the trenches.
I’ve known Jesus now for 27 years, but it wasn’t until about 10 years ago that I really became intimate with Him. That I really grasped how good digging into His word is for me. That I understood why the Sunday School answer “read your Bible and pray” really is the answer for everything.
Mistakenly, I have led people to Christ under the pretense that life would be easier with Him. Not that they’d wake up the next day to sunshine and roses, but that eventually they would turn from the sin or habit that had them bound. I never mentioned the struggle.
In many cases, I was the one who wanted them to turn from sin; they just wanted the remedy for a good life. But that is not what Jesus offered or promised.
He promised we will be treated like He was: despised, rejected, mocked. He said we will be blessed when we are hated and persecuted because we love Him.
He said, “Narrow is the gate and difficult is the way that leads to life and there are few who find it.”
And even though He said it, we still do not expect it. Jesus, haven’t I served You well? Aren’t you proud of me? Don’t I deserve an easier life or this blessing I desire?
Like our earthly bosses, we expect God to grant performance-based blessings. But Jesus’ words in Matthew 7 couldn’t be more opposite.
The truth I want to share of my own imperfect experience is this: Loving the One who died for me is easy; living for Him is not.
I am not doing anyone any favors by making life with Jesus seem easier. Because it’s not. I still face hardships and struggles. I still face the usual trials of life. In fact, I face them under the added weight of a Cross.
I so wish I could sit down with every one of those eight percent and tell them the truth so they could make an informed decision.
I guarantee God will call you out of your comfort zone. Be prepared to leave some things behind. Get ready to do stuff that doesn’t make logical sense. Following Jesus is the hardest thing you will ever do, but it’s totally worth it.
I wish I could persuade them to stick with it, not because life with Jesus is easier, but because it is better.
It is better because I have power. I can conquer my flesh and carry my cross with His strength. I can even stand still and the God of heaven’s armies will fight for me.
It is better because I have peace. I can take heart for He has overcome the world and is working all things together for my good and His purpose.
It is better because I have hope. I am confident what I suffer now is nothing compared to the glory that is to come.
But I’ve recently learned no one is persuaded to Jesus; they are attracted to Him. And He has chosen to attract them through you and me.
Let us be known for honesty rather than hypocrisy. Jesus wasn’t afraid the tell the ugly truth, so we shouldn’t be either. That is how He made believers out of ordinary men. How He made disciples willing to leave everything and risk their lives to establish His Church.
Honesty. Authenticity. Transparency; these are trendy words our culture claims to want. So I say let’s give it to them. If we do, maybe the next seven years will yield different results. But even if they don’t, at least we will have lived a life worthy of our calling.
Friend, if you’re finding it hard to follow in His steps, know that you’re not alone. No matter what older, wiser one you’re looking up to, know that it’s hard for them, too.
Whether you’re a pew-sitter, pastor’s wife, ministry leader, Sunday School teacher, author, blogger, SAINT–it doesn’t matter. Even if you’ve walked with Jesus for 50+ years; doing what He says and going where He leads is difficult.
Go to Jesus and confess it’s hard. He already knows it is, so it’s okay for us to own it. That’s where growth begins.
There is freedom in knowing we know He knows we know.
Or something like that.
“To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.”~1 Peter 2:21
“You are living a brand new kind of life that is continually learning more and more of what is right, and trying constantly to be more and more like Christ who created this new life within you.”~Colossians 3:10 (TLB)
“The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.”~Exodus 14:14
“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”~Romans 8:18
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”~Romans 8:28
“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”~Romans 8:37
“Then he said to them all: ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.'”~Luke 9:23
“His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.”~2 Peter 1:3
“Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”~Philippians 3:13-14