I recently met with a friend who shared openly with me about her struggles in marriage. “It’s like living with a robot! He doesn’t seem to know how to connect emotionally. Am I supposed to live the next thirty years with this man? Does God really want me to be so lonely?”
I have heard echoes of this dear woman’s questions in so many other situations. My single friends wonder why God hasn’t brought a husband and children. Others can’t figure out why following Jesus doesn’t take away the pain from childhood trauma or unwanted sexual temptations. At the heart of their pain is this question: why isn’t Christianity working for me?
When sexual issues become confusing, God also becomes confusing. I’ve met many Christians who walk away from their faith because what they know about following Jesus isn’t consistent with the pain and loneliness of their circumstances.
I have been studying Jesus’ last evening with His disciples recorded by John. He gives them much comfort by telling them about the Helper who is coming, assuring them that He would be with them, answering their prayers and giving them strength. Yet in the middle of His gut-wrenching goodbye speech, Jesus clearly warns his disciples of the pain and persecution that is coming. “The world will hate you because they hate me. They will reject your teaching because they rejected me. The time is coming when people who kill you will think they are doing a service to God.” Jesus flatly prepared them for a treacherous life. Why? Because when they experienced pain, rejection and even death, He did not want them to turn away from their faith but to remember He warned them that this would happen.
In the Western world, many of us have been taught a shallow version of Christianity. We have been told that Jesus died to save us and to give us a great life. Our pastors and devotionals sometimes “cherry pick” verses that assure us that only good is in store for those who love God. “I know the plans I have for you… All things work together for good… I can do all things through Christ Jesus who strengthens me.” Then we are promised happy marriages, healthy children, comfortable bank accounts and the respect of a watching world. We believe that following Jesus means we don’t have to endure loneliness, suffering or to daily battle sexual temptations we need to say no to.
Then we encounter pain and we wonder why God has failed us. Or perhaps we conclude that we must have failed Him, as so pain is our punishment.
A faithful reading of the Bible (and even of Jesus’ words) bluntly prepares Christians for a life of sacrifice, self-denial and persecution. Not only is every life filled with difficulty, but following Jesus will likely multiply your trials. It doesn’t end well for us here on planet Earth, for this is not our home. Jesus told us that He came to give us an abundant (full) life. He promised to give us rest, comfort and joy, yet those gifts are alongside the commitment to share in His sufferings.To put it plainly, we cannot experience the resurrection power of Jesus unless we are first willing to walk with Him in death.
My life is fuller because of following Jesus. It is richer because I’m surrendered to His Lordship. I have great purpose and comfort in following Him. Yet at times, life is also more difficult, painful and lonely. When I read the Scriptures, I’m reminded that this is right where I should be. Rejecting Jesus means that you can pursue life as you please. Satan doesn’t ask you for anything, but in the end he will take everything.
If you are following Jesus and your life is hard, be encouraged. If every step towards godliness is met with temptation and doubt, you’re not alone. Press on. Jesus warned us that in this world we would have trouble. But He also told us to take heart because He will always be with us, and ultimately, He has overcome the world. Along with Jesus’ words predicting how His disciples would suffer, He gave them the great promise of the Holy Spirit. He promised He would answer their prayers — whatever they asked in His name. He promised to prepare an eternal home for them where He would always be.
My friend, don’t wiggle out of the Lordship of Christ because it is uncomfortable and causing you to bear burdens the world would quickly take from you. Christianity without a cross is no Christianity at all. Sometimes carrying a “cross” means enduring seasons of loneliness, loving when no one is loving you back and walking by faith when you can’t hear or feel God. But it is worth it… He is worth it!
He is no fool to lose what he cannot keep in order to gain what he cannot lose. ~Jim Elliot