“And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” – Luke 9: 23-24.
Jesus said some difficult things. I wonder what today’s public relations and spin doctors would do with something like “if you want to be my disciple, deny yourself, take up your cross daily and follow me – because if you want to save your life, you’ll lose it, but if you lose your life for my sake, you’ll save it” Or how would they make Matthew 19:21 a little less gloomy: “Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”
When taken in its entirety, there is no way to spin that following Jesus is easy. In fact it is anything but easy. While it is hard at times, it is not unexpected. That’s exactly what Jesus promised it would be. And it doesn’t help that the devil is always lurking, whispering in our ears: “Is this what you signed up for. It’s just too hard. You will never measure up. It is not worth the continued effort. My road is far easier.”
Anyone who’s ever followed Jesus through the tough, dark, lonely places of life has heard that call. But the thing the devil somehow forgets to tell us is that God has a plan. James 1: 2-4 tells us: ”Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds,for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
We will have trials in our life. Chances are, maybe you just had one, or you are in the middle of it or you are about to have one. And often they are far from easy. But James tells us that all trials should be viewed as a test of our faith. This testing is not a pass … fail of our faith but more about making us complete, or mature. When we turn our problems and our trials over to Him again and again our faith is strengthened. And we learn to trust Him in all circumstances. Our relationship with Him becomes stronger.
James says to count it joy in suffering or when life is hard. It is not the suffering that makes us rejoice but the knowledge that God has a purpose in the trial. We may never know the outcome, but God is in the business of making things work out for our benefit and His glory. He knows what He is doing with the trial and that brings joy to the believer.
The Christian life is not always easy. Sometimes it is very difficult. Few things that are worthwhile are easy. Paul, who was a rising up-and-comer in the Jewish faith, gave it all up for Jesus, and never expressed a moment’s regret. He wrote, “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.” (Philippians 3:7-8).
At one point many of Jesus’ disciples left him because of a “hard teaching” that He gave. Jesus asked Peter if He and the rest of the twelve would leave him also. Peter replied, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68). When things become a bit difficult I think of this passage, “Lord, where else can I go?” Whatever the difficulties of the Christian life, I cannot imagine leaving it for a life without Christ. Because Jesus has the words of eternal life.
- Do you ever feel like following God is too hard?
- Give an example of a time when doing what God called you to do wasn’t easy.
- Are you going through a difficult season right now? Is it hard to consistently make good choices in some area of your life?
- Does it help you to know that you will ultimately, in Christ, be victorious over sin and death?