The Christian way of life can be hard to encapsulate in a sentence or a paragraph. Or a book for that matter. Diarmaid MacCullough spends nearly 1200 pages telling the history of Christendom in his book Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years. Quite a tome.
I would like to touch on one of Jesus’ parables. The “parable of the talents” as recorded in Matthew (chapter 25) or pounds as it’s translated and related in Luke’s Gospel (chapter 19). Upon receiving respectively one, two and five pounds of money (a unit of monetary value, not weight), three servants of one master proceed to invest—or in the case of the servant with one pound, hoard—the money given and entrusted to them. The Master in the story is Jesus and the money represents gifts and talents. When the Master returns from His journey into “a far country” (Matthew 25:14, Luke 19:12), he calls the servants to Him. Two are able to present a return on the Master’s investment and the third (the servant who only got one) has nothing but excuses to give. In Luke 19, verse 20, the servant says “behold, here is Thy pound, which I have kept laid up in a napkin”. In other words, the master got no return on His investment from the third servant. He continues on in verse 21: “For I feared Thee, because Thou are an austere man“. In Matthew’s Gospel, that word austere is translated “hard”. A “hard man” (25:24). The master responds in kind. The next verse reads: “And he saith unto him, Out of thine own mouth will I judge thee, thou wicked servant. Thou knewest that I was an austere man…” (emphasis mine). Did you catch that? The master doesn’t deny that he was an “austere” or “hard man”. This, I think, is a side of Jesus that modern-day Christianity has a hard time reconciling with the sweet lamb-like image of Jesus that we’ve been inculcated with. And this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Jesus is the most gentle person you’ll ever meet. “A bruised reed shall He not break, and the smoking flax shall He not quench” (Isaiah 42:3). But this doesn’t mean that He’s not “the lion of the tribe of Juda” as He’s referred to in Revelation 5:5.
I say all of that to say this: Anyone who makes Christianity to look like a walk in the park, to look easy, is doing Jesus a disservice. Even to the point of being detrimental.
Did Jesus make it look easy? Luke 6:12 speaks of Jesus going “out into a mountain to pray and continu[ing] all night in prayer to God”. That takes discipline. That’s not easy. Not without God’s help. When I feel miserable or dark and moody and I know that it’s only because the devil would try and distract me from the task at hand—namely, seeking God’s face, I feel like giving up. Like doing something else or just falling asleep. “When Thou saidst, Seek my face; my heart said unto Thee, Thy face, Lord, will I seek.” (Psalm 27:8) I know that if Jesus had given up when the pressure was great, I woudn’t be here. There is comfort and strength in this word of Paul’s, however: “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” (Philippians 4:13) Say this to yourself. Make it your prayer. Make it…
Sometimes, the only way God can get something done, in your life, your child’s life, your friend’s life, your neighborhood, city, state, country, etc. (world) is for you to dig in and stay for the duration. Jettison any notion that things are going get any easier any time soon. Please understand, I’m an eternal optimist and I continually believe that life on earth will get better and sweeter (as God reveals Himself) culminating in Heaven. Figuratively and literally. If that sounds naive, I apologize. But I also realize and am realizing more and more every day that God is in this for the long haul. And that He has some different notions than I.
Don’t fall for any interpretation of the Gospel that dilutes the difficult work of holiness and true, godly spirituality. This is disconcerting because it means that the status quo can continue on, unabated, and that the enemy can continue to encroach on God’s territory. It can’t last forever. Either we wake up and start enjoying the hard work of Christian discipline—in love—or God will have to intervene and show Himself to be austere (when He’s actually just really strong). I think that’s a good way to look at it. God’s strength to overcome the difficulties of life is without measure. And He’ll give it to us. Much as we need. I would like to reference this scripture from Nehemiah (8:10): “for the joy of the Lord is your strength”. God truly is a happy and joyful person. It’s when we worship Him and praise Him in love then the Holy Spirit is released to reveal that aspect of His character and personality. Really, it’s at the very depth of His being: “God is love” (1 John 4:8, emphasis mine)
“And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he (and she!) that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in [them]” (1 John 4:16)
One more thing in closing. And this is something to fall asleep to: Y’know the phrase “out of the mouth of babes”? That’s originally from the Bible and it’s Jesus quoting the Psalms, so it appears twice. The original phrase is from Psalm eight, verse two and it says: “Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast Thou ordained strength because of thine enemies, that Thou mightest still the enemy and avenger.” Yet when Jesus quotes it in the King James Version (Matthew 21:16), the verse reads: “Yea; have ye never read, Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings Thou hast perfected praise?” Do you see the correlation? Praise/strength, strength/praise. Which one is it? Why don’t we try it and see? And watch God get the best return on His investment in us. With interest.