We often believe that things should be easier than they are. This leaning of our hearts is made worse by the constant bombardment from the media telling us that our lives are too hard and if we buy what they are selling then our lives will be easier.The basic presupposition in the news and media is that we all deserve to be wealthy, well-fed, healthy, and happy. This assumption is so ingrained in our thinking that it is rarely challenged. While we may mock Joel Osteen we all think like him. We expect God to give us “Our Best Life Now.” When God gives us difficulties and hardships we groan and rebel crying, “This is not how it is supposed to be.”
Christians should know better. Our Lord’s life was not easy. We are called to a daily death (Luke 9:23). We are to embrace this death looking to the joy set before us (Hebrews 12:2). We are to pour ourselves out for others, whether that is children, spouses, flocks, or neighbors. As believers we should expect things to be hard. But this is not enough. If we bear our burdens, trials, and difficulties like melancholy martyrs led to the stake, then we have missed the Gospel. The Gospel says to die is to live and to be poured out is to be gathered back up again. This means the difficulties of life are not burdens, but rather treasures. Jesus tells us to rejoice in persecution (Matthew 5:11-12). Paul tells us in Romans 8:18 that our sufferings do not compare to the coming glory. When Christ calls us to our daily cross let us go with singing and joy remembering that our labor is not in vain in the Lord (I Cor. 15:58). This is not an encouragement to pretend that pain is not pain and hard things are not hard. Things are hard and it is okay to say so. Just read the Psalms. But it is an encouragement to remember that glory comes through death. Too many Christians think glory comes through making their life easy and comfortable. They assume that if things are hard then something is wrong.
But we must guard ourselves against another deception. A hard life is not inherently righteous. There are many men and women who work hard, but for the things of this world. They sweat, but not for Christ, His Kingdom, and his people. They fight, but not against sin and the allures of the world. They strive, but for this world. In the end their efforts will be in vain. Only those who labor in and for Christ will find a reward in the next life.
Parents we need to examine our attitude toward our children. It is easy to approach young ones (or teenagers!) as a necessary duty, but not a joy. Children can quickly become a burden. Instead of recognizing that raising children is an important part of building Christ’s Kingdom, we see our duties at home as obstacles to “real work.” Raising little ones (and big ones) is hard. Again to say otherwise is to lie. But glory comes by pressing through the difficulties. We do this by looking to Christ and relying on His grace not by giving ourselves pep talks.
Pastors are frequently guilty of this approach to their flocks. They imagine that Paul never had things as bad as they do. The apathy, the immorality, the pettiness can create a perspective on God’s people that is unbibical. A pastor can find himself looking on the flock as a drain on his time and energy. He sees what God has given to other men and assumes that he deserves those things and that the path God has given these other men is easier than his. Both of these are carcinogens to the soul. The minute a man believes things are better somewhere else is the minute he begins to lose his passion for those in front of him. Pastors, we are to embrace the difficulties of shepherding God’s flock by understanding we are not sufficient, but the Christ we preach is. We press forward with joy, not minimizing the difficulties and pain but leaning on Christ and His Spirit to sustain us and His people. There is crown laid up for us (II Timothy 4:8), but in this passing life we are called to battle, not soft chairs and ease.
Finally, the church in America is in such disarray, we should expect God to raise up reformers whom God will use to call His people back. Young reformers tend to think reformation is a quick, easy work. Write a book, preach a sermon, pull this lever, and the world is changed. The persecution, hatred, back-biting, defections, defeats, and general animosity that will certainly accompany any true reformation are forgotten. A good dose of church history will cure that. Reformers always pay a dear price for their attempts. From Jeremiah to Paul to Hus to Wycliffe to Christians in Muslim countries the cost is heavy. Even those not physically harmed endure loss reputation and rejection. All is rosy at the beginning, but the decades long road of reform can discourage many a man. We are fools if we believe the recovery of the Gospel in our age will leave us or our loved ones without wounds. We are fools if we believe the Gospel can be recovered without pain and suffering.
In 1544 John Calvin published a book calling the German princes to support the Reformation in Europe. Calvin anticipates that many princes will not take up the mantle of the Reformation believing the work to be too difficult. Here is what he says,
However, considering, according to the well-known sentiment of an old proverb, that there is nothing illustrious which is not also difficult and arduous, can we wonder, that in the greatest and most excellent of all causes we must fight our way through many difficulties.
How quickly we forget that all good things come at great cost. As Christians we must fight the good fight, which means blood, pain, and death. It does not mean ease and comfort. Any Christian who tells you otherwise is a liar. But we fight knowing the victory is sure and our Lord is King and though we suffer here in the next life glory will be ours. As Calvin says we labor in “the greatest and most excellent of all causes.” So we fight with joy and like our father Abraham we look for a better country (Hebrews 11:16) and no price is too great to hear our Lord say, “Well done.”