The Christian Life: Not for sissies

When I decided some 30 years ago to follow Jesus, I knew that some things were going to be difficult. Following Jesus means calling him Lord, as Peter tells us. That’s Lord; he’s the boss, the owner, the king. That doesn’t come easy to us Americans in particular. (By the way, as I wrote earlier, some atheists are wishful thinkers; they dislike the idea that there is a Lord or a king, but would rather think themselves masters of their own fate, etc. In short, they’re unwilling to surrender themselves to the Lord, so they wish he didn’t exist. But wishing something doesn’t make it so.)

It’s wonderful to know that Jesus paid the penalty for my sin (1 Peter 3:18) but a consequence is that, as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:14-15, I’m to live for him and not for myself! Indeed, Jesus himself said that “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23-24). This is definitely not the doctrine of ignoble ease.

But I thought at least some things would be easier. Free will and determinism puzzled me; I hoped the Bible or the Church could resolve the paradox. No such luck — if anything the problem became more complex! “Determinism” became “predestination,” and the Bible says God holds me responsible for my choices — even though they’re predestined — not much help in making even my intellectual life easier!

Then there are the questions of exactly how I’m to live: how much time should I spend in various activities, how much should I give to the poor, and so on. I had the Tevye mentality, and sometimes this line still appeals to me:

Because of our traditions, everyone knows who he is and what God expects him to do.

from Fiddler on the Roof

That doesn’t happen, at least not in healthy churches; at most you’ll get a starting point, and the rest is between you and God. Part of my problem is that I’m asking the wrong questions, because the Bible has a lot to say about what God wants: Love one another, be kind to one another, forgiving each other, speak truth with your neighbor. Love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with God. Comfort the widow and the orphan, don’t be corrupted. And so on. That’s what he wants, but I’m thinking about how much time to spend exercising vs doing Bible study. (Or, maybe not quite as bad, thinking about who does what in my spiritual growth.)

I guess that is my real problem: those things he already told me to do — they’re too hard! It’s a lot easier to figure out a division of time and resources, a list of practical steps that I can actually execute — spend this much time in prayer, Bible study, meditation; give that much money to the poor, etc. — and think that I’m done. This is the problem that the religious leaders had when Jesus walked the earth: they were focused on rituals that could make them feel good about themselves, instead of on what God really wanted, and went completely off the rails.

So what’s the point?

No, I don’t want to scare anyone off, any more than Jesus did when he talked about bringing a sword or hating your parents or having to give up everything you have.

I think I just noticed that things are often hard to figure out in the Christian life, and I wanted to encourage you that if you sometimes feel confused, you aren’t alone. And the other thing I think is that we’re not always supposed to know what to do. But we must always know who to trust.

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