“When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”
That’s Dietrich Bonhoeffer, of course, writing in The Cost of Discipleship. In a sense, he had the right to say such a thing, since he was imprisoned by the Gestapo and executed a few days before the end of the Second World War.
The early followers of Jesus shared the same experience. The writer to the Hebrews looks back on his own memory of hard times:
“Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you endured in a great conflict full of suffering. Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. You suffered along with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions. So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded.” (Hebrews 10: 32-36)
“A great conflict of sufferings.”
“Publicly exposed to insult and persecution…”
“Suffered along with those in prison….”
“Joyfully accpted the confiscation of your property…”
Wait, what was that last one again? You’re kidding, right?
Our word “athletic” comes from the Greek word translated “conflict.” here in v32. It was like a hard-fought athletic contest. But we endured.
The trouble is, when I come to think about such passages, that I’ve never been beaten, tortured, or thrown in prison because of my faith. I’ve never had my property confiscated or my family torn away from me because I confess Christ as Lord. So my empathy and understanding is limited.
And of course, though I use the phrase “The trouble is,” I’m very glad that that’s the case! I’m relieved. I feel blessed to have had life so easy.
And it becomes tempting to become complacent about that blessing, to assume it as a right and to allow it to become a false view of the Christian life that emphasizes the benefits of the faith in this life.
Somehow we receive the message, “God offers an abundant plan for your life. Trust in Jesus and He will help you overcome all of your problems and enjoy life to the fullest!” Jesus is marketed as the solution to everything from weight loss to success in business to having a happy marriage. The sales pitch is that receiving Christ will bring you the greatest happiness in this life.
Somehow, getting persecuted and losing your material possessions and maybe your life don’t harmonize with that message!
And without ever putting it in such simplistic tertms: Most of us signed up for the prosperity plan, not for the persecution plan.
In fact, many go further still and if they (or rather, we) encounter difficult trials, get angry at God and maybe even decide, “If that’s the way He’s going to treat me, I’m not going to follow Him. Hardship, persecution, and suffering aren’t in the deal that I signed up for! What IS this?”
But how could I have strayed so far from what the Bible actually says? It speaks of warfare (Eph. 6:10-20), of hard times (John 16:33). Jesus stated plainly the requirements for following Him: Deny yourself and take up your cross daily (Luke 9:23). A cross was not a slightly irritating circumstance; it was an instrument of slow death!
Since the cross is the symbol of our faith, how could I so signally fail to see that point?
Lesslie Newbigin made the same point in The Open Secret about Israel: ““Through the repeated hammer blows of defeat, destruction, and deportation, interpreted by the faithful prophets, Israel has to learn that election is not for comfort and security but for suffering and humiliation.”
“Election is not for comfort”? Darn it, I hoped it was.
Are you comfortable being comfortable?
Well. All that that question does is evoke a pretty useless kind of guilt.
It’s better to recognize that we are all in the midst of conflict of one sort or another, that we are all in a contest,a race, and we better look to Jesus the “author and finisher” or we just won’t make it through.
Steven Cole reflected that “To have faith that endures trials, remember how God worked in the past, focus on doing His will in the present, and look to His promises in the future.” Faith that endures trial is not self-confidence, but confidence in the One who has sustained you thus far.
He will carry you through.
He never lets go.