In my 13 years of working with people in church settings, it is amazing how many times I had to help people struggle with the fact that following Christ is not easy. I believe there is a tendency within churches to over-simplify difficult things in life by saying helpful things like, “just trust in God and everything will work out”, or “ if you just have a little more faith you can overcome this struggle”, or “you need to be praying and reading your bible more and then things will go better for you”. Although these are good things to do, the problem is that when they do not work as a magical formula for a better life or and easy life, people lose hope.
Christians tend to give easy memorized answers in difficult times but I have found that these are not words that often comfort someone in a major crisis or that motivate a person who is making poor choices in his/her life. In these cases sometimes all we can say is, “Life is difficult and living like Jesus is even more difficult… sorry”.
The truth is that following Jesus will not always make you feel great but I do believe that you will never find someone at the end of his/her days regretting any effort to embrace the ways of Jesus. How many times have you heard a person reach the end of his/her life and say things like, "I wish I would have cheated on my taxes more because then I would have had more money", or "I wish I would have spent less time with orphans and spent more time on myself", or even "I wish I would have just given in to every sinful desire instead pursuing a life lived for God". We all know that living for ourselves would be easier but is it better?
For example, Jesus says “blessed are the peacemakers” but I think it is more fun and exciting to fight.
Jesus says, “blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness (right relationships with God and others)”, but I think it is easier to hunger and thirst for what I want.
Jesus says, “I do not condemn you, now go and sin no more” but I only like the first part of that saying.
Jesus models a life of service of others, of compassion and forgiveness, of extreme devotion to God the Father, of purity, in positive relationships with others around him (even the Pharisees if you care to study those passages properly). He gave us an example of God’s character and told us to do the same so that the world could have hope in something better.
The problem is that the way of Jesus is unattainable for us so it is just easier to fall on the grace of God and give up. The problem is that this doesn’t actually make our lives or the lives of others around us any better. Most thinking people would agree that decisions to live for ourselves hurt more people than it helps but for some reason that truth doesn't seem to be enough to motivate many of us to avoid selfish living. Perhaps the fact that churches have tried to simplify the answers and to fit everything into a formula has actually hurt. Maybe when the simple forumlas do not work is when followers lose hope and actually allow themselves to fall further away. I think it is time for churches to quit hiding behind quick fixes and simple formulas that can be attained in a 30 minute message and help followers of Jesus come to the realization that this is not an easy road, but it really is a good road. Jesus actually never gave a message titled, “How to have an amazing life”, or “10 ways to be a better person”, but he did say that he comes to give "life to its fullest".
I don't believe that Jesus gives us a list of "do's and don'ts", but he did leave an example of how to live in a way the refreshes, renews, and joins in the revolution of reclaiming the earth that God created. I’m calling on followers of the risen Jesus to choose the hard road. To give up the pleasure of gossip, to give up the fighting over trivial points in theology (because I believe we are all wrong on some things), to give up our pursuit of personal pleasures that only hurt others, and to give up our arrogance and disdain for those not following Jesus. I’m calling on all followers to smile more, to laugh more, to encourage more, and to put others first. Let us recognize that we have chosen a “narrow” road but it is a road that brings hope to the entire world.
I will end with the words of a songwriter that I often quote (not Eminem, the other songwriter).
“The world says follow your heart, but my heart just led me into my chest. They say follow your nose but the direction changed every time I went and turned my head. They say follow your dreams, but my dreams are only misty notions. But the father of hearts, the maker of noses, the giver of dreams is the One I have chosen and I will follow Him”…. and that is difficult but it is good.