I’ve been hearing from a lot of my friends lately that they have been doing their best to follow God’s plans for their lives, in many cases making huge sacrifices or taking great risks. But now that they’ve sacrificed out of love and obedience, they look around at their current situation, and it’s not what they expected. Either the ministry didn’t bear the kind of fruit they were hoping for, or they are back from ministering, and find things missing from their lives, like income, jobs, homes, or relationships. And they wonder, “What went wrong?” Did they mess up, and so somehow missed God’s blessing? Or did God just let them down?
Perhaps our trouble is we are judging our lives by the standards of this world, or more likely, letting people in the Church judge us – people who have only learned to see with natural eyes and not from a heavenly perspective. Perhaps the Church has been too influenced by a culture of success borrowed from the world, and has lost its ability to really understand and see from the Bible that great sacrifice and loss are all part of the witness of Scripture – the witness of the great people of faith that went before us.
Maybe there is a third option. In order to get a clearer perspective on situations like these, I think it would be good to take a look at Jesus’ life, or the Apostle Paul’s life, or the lives of other saints, to see from their examples that they also made great sacrifices, and also ended up in difficult situations, maybe situations similar to what my friends are experiencing – maybe even worse.
The Bible tells us that Jesus “was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3, ESV). When someone asked Jesus about becoming part of his band of followers, Jesus told him that it is not an easy life, and the he didn’t even have a place to lay his head at the end of a hard day (Matthew 8:20). We are told that suffering in Jesus’ life was not without point, but that it was a tool the Father used to make Jesus perfect (Hebrews 2:10). That is, it served to build both character and compassion in his life.
God said the Apostle Paul would suffer much for the sake of the Gospel. Paul himself testifies that in addition to being beaten and stoned for his faith and being shipwrecked and afloat in the open sea, he also complains “I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked” (2 Corinthians 11:26-27, NIV). But despite the great suffering, Paul says that whether he has plenty or is in great want, he learned the secret of being content (Philippians 4:11-12).
We could go on. We could mention that for his faith, John the Baptist was imprisoned and then be-headed. Peter was in prison many times, and eventually died for his faith. The Apostle James, one of Jesus closest disciples, was killed for his faith soon after Jesus was crucified. John was exiled to the Isle of Patmos.
So how did we get the idea that things would be easy for us? Certainly there are many promises in the Psalms about God taking care of his people. And I agree that if you want to encourage people to step out in faith, it is helpful to be reminded of God’s protection and favor. But is it possible that while the words in the Psalms are true, that when they get worked out in real life, they look more like the experiences of Jesus, Paul, Peter, James, John the Apostle, and John the Baptist?
I also think that a lot of the big-name preachers today gain followings of tens of thousands, and with such large followings, money flows in, and it’s easy to think the easy life is the norm for the Kingdom of God. They either forget the hard times that they once experienced, or perhaps they always had a charmed life, very different from what the heroes of the Bible experienced.
But if you are in a season in your life where you are living with plenty of need, despite having been faithful, let me remind you of a few important truths. First, just as with Jesus, through our hard times of suffering, our character (and faith) is being built up, along with our compassion. Second, as with Paul, we can learn how to be content when we are living in want. Third, just because we are in need now doesn’t mean that we won’t experience abundance in a later season of life. Fourth, our sacrifice for the sake of the Kingdom of God now is storing up for us great rewards in heaven (Matthew 6).
Our challenge is to keep our attitudes right. Don’t give into the lie that God has let you down or that he doesn’t love you. Don’t give into the lie that you failed in your assignment. Keeping our heads on straight involves not looking at ourselves through the world’s eyes or the eyes of the worldly Church. Instead, we must recognize that Jesus sees our hearts and sees our sacrifices, and it gives him joy that we endure for his sake. When we pour out our lives for Jesus’ sake, our hearts swell with love. And when we are hurting, we can go to Jesus for our comfort, remembering that while we suffer, he also suffered, and knows what we are experiencing.
If you found this article helpful, you might also like a related article called Dealing with Disappointment with God.