I read a story recently about a man who was traveling through southern Asia. He was training pastors of underground churches. By training, I mean teaching them about the Bible, because they had never heard or read it before. Some had probably never even seen one before.
They spent hours upon hours every single day reading through the Bible and asking questions; this way they could return to their hidden churches and teach others about Jesus. It might seem weird that pastors in that country had never read the bible, but they were qualified because they were willing to risk their lives to do it.
When the man was being dropped off at the airport, the pastors asked him how they could pray for him. He asked, in turn, how they usually prayed for America. They got these awkward looks on their faces and then told him they prayed that the American Church would face more persecution. They said that we were weak and lazy in our faith. They believed that persecution was the best way to solve the timidity.
It’s hard to argue with them. When I look at my life, I’ve never experienced true struggle. I would guess my struggles are on par with most other Americans. I have been to the point when I wasn’t sure where my next meal would come from or if I was going to have a roof over my head, but God always provided. And it always lasted only a season. The biggest leap of faith I’ve ever had to make was to move my family to California and then back to Colorado. Relative to most of the Church, though, I imagine that’s laughable.
My faith has never really cost me anything.
Never. I’ve never been threatened with death or arrest or torture. I’ve never been worried that someone would blow up the church I was sitting in. I’ve never even been teased or disrespected for my faith. Jesus has never cost me anything.
Sometimes this fact scares me. Jesus spoke often about how following him would not be easy.
When Jesus saw the crowd around him, he instructed his disciples to cross to the other side of the lake. Then one of the teachers of religious law said to him, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” But Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens to live in, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place even to lay his head.”
Another of his disciples said, “Lord, first let me return home and bury my father.” But Jesus told him, “Follow me now. Let the spiritually dead bury their own dead.” Matthew 8:18-22
A large crowd was following Jesus. He turned around and said to them, “If you want to be my disciple, you must, by comparison, hate everyone else—your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple. And if you do not carry your own cross and follow me, you cannot be my disciple.
“But don’t begin until you count the cost. For who would begin construction of a building without first calculating the cost to see if there is enough money to finish it? Otherwise, you might complete only the foundation before running out of money, and then everyone would laugh at you. They would say, ‘There’s the person who started that building and couldn’t afford to finish it!’” Luke 14:25-30
If following Jesus is supposed to be, in the very least, uncomfortable, why have I been so comfortable? It would be very easy to go to an extreme at this point. Very easy, particularly for me, to say we should all be poor and give everything away, or all abandon the comforts of the 21st century and return to third world conditions.
I don’t think that’s the answer, though.
If we force ourselves to become uncomfortable, to struggle, for the sake of those things themselves, it will bring nothing but pride. We’d be no different than the monks of old who were so dedicated to struggling for Christ, that they never spoke a word about Christ to anyone.If following Jesus is supposed to be uncomfortable, why have I been so comfortable? Click To Tweet
But what do we do with these passages in a nation that is free from persecution? Free from struggle as a result of our faith?
Should the Christian faith still cost us something?
It’s hard in my brain to sync the teachings of the New Testament with the modeling of the American Church today. I sometimes wonder if it’s even possible to truly experience Faith in America. When James wrote about trials producing perseverance, what did he mean?
If we take “trials” to mean the things listed in Hebrews 11, I would say that it makes the Church stronger because only those who are truly believers will be part of the community. 72% percent of Americans say they have made a personal commitment to Jesus, but only 16% say their faith is the most important thing in their life. (source)
Barna, who conducted the survey, drew this conclusion,
It appears that most Americans like the security and the identity of the label ‘Christian’ but resist the biblical responsibilities that are associated with that identification. For most Americans, being a Christian is more about image than action.
What happened to taking up our crosses and following Christ? That’s not some pretty little image to describe carrying around our job we hate and to do it smiling. If Christ were alive today that sentence might sound more like…
Live with so much abandon and selflessness and faith, that the governments and people around you will be so moved by your life that they’ll either have to join you or execute you.
So what does this mean for us? The 16% who claim that faith is most important. I don’t know. My first inclination is to do the same as the pastors in southern Asia, to pray that I will be persecuted. That’s a terrifying thought to me.
I once heard someone say that if you pray to God for patience, He doesn’t give you patience, but the opportunity to be patient. What happens if I pray for stronger faith, perseverance, and persecution? Will I be faced with opportunities to preach the Gospel boldly and at great risk? Will I lose some of the comfort I’ve grown accustomed to?
Why would I want to experience struggle? If those prayers are successful, and I do begin to experience true trials, what would be the point? For me, and this a truly personal, anecdotal conclusion, it would bring about a discipline and assurance that I’ve never experienced.
I would no longer be distracted by things like TV. I wouldn’t have time to sit around and debate the end of the world. Or the end of each person. I wouldn’t care anymore if hell was real or eternal. I would only care about talking about Jesus.
I’ve been reading a lot of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s writings lately. In all of his speeches, essays, interviews, and books he never really dives into the issues the “higher” church seems to be struggle with. His entire theology could be stated in one sentence.
Love your neighbor. Even when they hit you. Even when they persecute you. Serve them. By enduring their injustice, we are helping them because we are forcing them to face their sin and become whole. All people are equal in the Lord’s sight, so we must not consider ourselves better or worse. But only serve and love.
That sounds a whole lot like Jesus to me. And Dr. King suffered for his faith. It wasn’t (just) his race. It was his faith that caused him to be thrown in jail and assassinated.
The Bible describes how we are refined by the fires. That our faith, and thus our lives, will become more pure. That true struggle will bring the perseverance to truly love our neighbor and enemy in the face of all kinds of evil.
What do you think?
May we all take an honest look ourselves, measuring our heart’s desires, not against our neighbors’, but against those of Christ.
May not we not be satisfied with a “personal commitment” that costs us nothing.
May we not join those who say we have faith, but have no works.
May our assurance be that we daily are growing in love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
May the things in our life not keep us from experiencing true freedom.
May we hold onto everything we own with hands open and heart humble.
May we remember that comfort is not a good thing when it comes to Jesus.
May we be willing to face trials of all kinds for His glory.
Above all, may we be willing to pick up our crosses daily and follow Him; so closely and faithfully that we are covered in His dust.