The Christian life is hard…but we don’t have to be

I’ve been a Christian for a long time. Even if you count it from my repentance in 1999, that’s 20 years of following Christ, striving to be faithful, committed to the local church and desiring to be an instrument for his use. I’ve plodded through dark, trying times, experienced dry seasons, moved a few times and saw some beautiful peaks. As I mentioned in a recent piece I wrote for Reformation21, a passage of Scripture that has gripped my heart is found in John 6:66-69. There is no greater joy than being in the sweet arms of Jesus, being reconciled to the Father and empowered by the Holy Spirit. But here’s one thing I’ve found through all of this…

The Christian life is hard.

Now you may scoff at that idea but I’m guessing this statement resonates with the lionshare of Christians reading this. By saying its hard doesn’t mean its not fruitful or worth it or that we love the Lord any less. But we can be honest about what it’s like being a pilgram of another kingdom while navigating through this earthly one.

First, consider that Jesus did say his kingdom is not of this world. His kingdom operates by a different set of principles than what is naturally acceptable according to worldly philosophies. Sure, there are fingerprints of God’s goodness particularly in more civilized societies. But Jesus let his disciples know that the world would hate them because the world hates him. “The mind set on the flest is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law” (Rom. 8:7). This mind is at work in the children of disobedience, those who do not bow their knee to Christ (see Eph. 2:1-2). This is the grain that we have to navigate our lives in.

Next, consider the sanctification process and all that it entails. We are new creations in Christ but old habits die hard. Sinful patterns need breaking. Stubborn areas intrude. We don’t get born again walking on water the next day. There has to be reorientation to this new life. Thank God he gives us to the power to overcome sin and temptation but anyone reading this can probably testify to the fact that this generally is not a smooth process. We have to work against the grain of that Adamic nature that tries to rear its ugly head. Even worse, when overcoming past trauma and negative experiences in life.

And then there is the discipline of the Lord comes in. Per Heb. 12:5-10, the Lord’s discipline will not be pleasant but is necessary because it is a mark of being a child of God, whom he loves. The Lord disciplines in various ways but its not a cake walk. I’ve also discovered that in my Christian life, discipline has exposed weaknesses and areas that need to change. It’s not pretty. But it’s for the purpose of bearing the “peaceful fruit of righteousness.”

Often that discipline comes through trials and some of them are just plain hard. Trials have a way of throwing us for a loop and knocking us off our feet. But it’s there we learn to trust in the all sufficient grace of Christ because that is the point, to trust him and lean on him even when nothing else makes sense. But going through trials is often not easy.

On top of this, we have to navigate through all the functionings of just living life with all its responsibilities and vissitudes. My small group started going through the book of Ecclesiates  and I love what Philip Ryken says here,

“Not one single aspect of our existence–and therefore not one single thing that will happen to us today–is free from being frustrated by futility.” [1]

He is right, as I’m sure you know. Amid significant accomplishments and places of much fruit, can be  drudgery in routine, set backs, broken dreams, and feelings of insignificance.  We desire. We strive. And we sometimes fall short. And it’s hard.

Then we have to navigate through the church life which can carry a mixed bag. We encounter situations of friction and disputes, disappointments and disagreements of various sorts. But being committed to Christ means committed to his local body, some experiencing greater fellowship and fruit than others. Because people don’t always act right and church hurt is real. And it is even more difficult when you have to navigate through dysfunctional family relationships in a Christ-like manner particularly with those who do not know Christ.

I’m sure there is more but you get the picture. Jesus never promised us the road would be easy and in fact specifally said that we would have much trouble. Yet we plod on because of whose we are and know there is no better way.

So perhaps this is why we should go easy on one another. I get that people don’t always respond to how we think they should. I know that when you take the Bible and theology seriously, it gets frustrating when people don’t get what you think they should and the impulse is to correct and castigate unfaithful theology. And yes, other Christians can hurt you just as you hurt others. Unfortunately, though we are saved from the penalty of the Fall’s curse, we are not spared from its influence.

But really, however much what I’ve written above resonates with you, know that the other folks we just want to fall in line to our satisfaction experience this too. Maybe this is why Paul tells the church, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Eph. 4:23). Sometimes we just never know what a person has or is really going through.

And encourage one another while it is called today (Heb. 3:13). Everyone needs that, not just on Sundays but on this journey called the Christian life. Because it’s hard and we get frustrated, weary, discouraged and apathetic. Even the ones who project like they have it all together experience this too even if they don’t want others to know about it. We can all wear masks.

So next time you want to go in on that person or disregard them because they’re not lining up like we think they should, let’s think about what all encompasses this earthly pilgramage while being a citizen of another kingdom and perhaps give each other a break. We can all use a little more mercy.

[1] Philip G. Ryken, Why Everything Matter: the Gospel in Ecclesiastes, 5

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