We have this peculiar, American way of reading the Bible. We think that if we’ll obey God’s commands, he’ll make us rich and give us good mental health. There are preachers whose sermons are filled with bromides about how Christianity will heal our relationships and give us peaceful feelings. It’s not true.
(Mat 5:10-12) Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
(Luke 21:10-12) Then he said to them: “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. 11 There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven. 12 “But before all this, they will lay hands on you and persecute you. They will deliver you to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name.
(2 Cor 12:10) That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
(John 15:20) Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also.
(Heb 10:33-34) Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. 34 You sympathized with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions.
(James 1:2-4) Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4 Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
(1 Pet 1:6-7) In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7 These have come so that your faith–of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire–may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.
(1 Pet 4:12-16) Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. 15 If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. 16 However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.
Jesus spoke in particularly dire terms —
(Luke 14:26-33) “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters–yes, even his own life–he cannot be my disciple. 27 And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.
28 “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? 29 For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, 30 saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’
31 “Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? 32 If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. 33 In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.
Jesus’ point is surely that discipleship is not for everyone. Not everyone will be willing to pay the price!
And yet we try to market Christianity as a bargain: for the low, low price of a baptism, you get relationships, child care, friends, peace and joy, and people who will do business with you because you’re in the church’s business directory! Sounds like a great deal, and not much like the Bible.
There is, of course, a valid sense in which being a Christian produces true peace, true joy, and even true prosperity. But these things cannot be judged by the standards of the world. Rather, we may well find our peace and joy while surrendering our bodies to death for Jesus!
Christians may well prosper in business. The “Protestant work ethic” is credited with much of the rise of European wealth — and power — after the Reformation, although scholars still debate the question. Certainly, nations filled with corruption never prosper. Honesty and integrity are truly good for business. And so there are lessons in Christianity that often do indeed lead to greater prosperity and happier lives for many. I don’t for a moment deny it.
But … there’s no guaranty of that. Christians will also be persecuted, lose family, and have to give up everything for Jesus. We don’t get to pick. Our eyes must be set on the End of time. Our citizenship is in heaven. And we may well lose everything in this life.
It’s hard not to lose our faith when friends and relatives die, when we lose our jobs, when times are tough. But our faith should be what helps us bear up under it all. Trials shouldn’t threaten our faith. Rather, our faith should allow to endure our trials to God’s glory.
In fact, our attitude needs to be like that of one of my readers —
Then I went into a dry spot wherein I began to suspect that I was too comfortable in my walk. Little knowing how God would respond, I asked Him to challenge me, my faith, in order to bring me closer, but to please not bring harm to my husband or our sons. Apparently God’s hearing is perfect as He heard my request and brought me to the floor on my face.
Before the next two years would pass, my husband and I lost four family members and a best friend to death. The number included my mother and my brother and my husbands only two brothers. My brothers and I had to take over the care of my Alzheimer’s-afflicted father, I was dismissed for my convictions from the teaching program at my church, and I developed debilitating health problems. My children were spared except for my son’s bout with Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and my daughter-in-law’s heart problem discovered when our granddaughter was born. But the wonderful, and amazing, thing is that I never felt God’s presence more keenly. Although I went through essentially two years of mourning, it was a time filled with blessings and joy, strangely to say. In fact, it has been a time of immeasurable personal growth that would not have been possible without the trials.
God’s ways are so far beyond me that I will never understand them. But I have learned some things through my time of testing. I know that my name is written on His palm, that He delights in every detail of my life, and that He collects my tears in a bottle. I know that the more I nurture His Spirit, the more He pours into me. I know that He loves for me to tell others of His work in me ~ as a way to strengthen both my faith and that of the hearer, and to glorify Him. My relationship with Him has determined my self-esteem. He has caused me to find joy in honoring others before myself. The more He fills my heart, the more distasteful my sin become. And on and on. Never would I have dreamed that hardship would bring me to such joy and beauty. It was so hard at the time, but I always knew He was near. I weep in remembering.
On this day, my birthday, I am moved to write this little story ~ for what purpose, I’m not sure. I could write a chapter on each sentence. I conclude by saying that, finally, God truly is the most exciting facet of my life. And I would never dreamed it would be so.
In Luke 21:11, Jesus said there will be earthquakes. No one should have been surprised that he was right. Rather, the mistake Europe made was in assuming that their Christianity would bring them prosperity and safety — and that was never, ever the deal. But that’s what they thought.
And when prosperity turned to despair, many lost their faith. They had never really been disciples after all. They just thought they had struck a good bargain with God. But God doesn’t make deals.
Had the 18th Century church been teaching the actual gospel — which tells us to live as Jesus lived — Lisbon would have been seen as an opportunity to show the love of Jesus, by responding compassionately to the Portuguese, Morrocans, and others who suffered loss. Instead, it was seen by many as the end of faith. What a shame.
And so, how do we get God to heal the United States? How about we ask a better question instead? — how should the church be faithful to the gospel? How can the church be truly the body of Christ on earth? How can we participate with God in making the Lord’s Prayer true, so that —
God’s name is considered holy, God’s kingdom comes, and his will is done — all on earth as in heaven?
Those are harder questions — and the answers may not heal the US at all. Or maybe so. Indeed, God may have entirely different plans for this nation. But God’s plans aren’t our plans. All that’s up to God. Our part is to be true to our calling.