Saturday, January 01, 2005

Suffering for joy?!?

"The Christian lifestyle is so morally satisfying and fulfilling, with so many psychological and relational benefits that even if God didn't exist, even if it were all just a joyful delusion, it would be a good life anyway."

Has anyone ever said this? I know I've thought it before. I've been slowly reading a book by John Piper called "Desiring God", and he challenges Christians who think this way to look at Paul's life. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:19, "If we've only hoped in Christ for this life on earth, not for eternal life, we are the most miserable people in the world." When you look at his life, with beatings and imprisonments and stonings, it's not hard to see why he says he would be the most miserable man alive if he chose to live that way without good reason. Paul would never say the sentence at the top of this post.

Yes, we live in a different time than Paul, where we are rarely persecuted, where we rarely suffer for being Christians. Life is rosy for Christians in the West. Are we too comfortable? Are we willing to give up this cushy life of security for the sacrifices and, yes, the suffering that every type of ministry, and love itself, require? The kind of servant love the world needs to see in us will cost us time, convenience, effort, money, maybe even our very lives. Piper says Christians must choose to suffer.

And, incredibly, the reason they must choose it is for the joy it will bring. This is not masochistic. Paul actually rejoiced in his suffering (Colossians 1:24), he was pursuing the most deep and lasting joy there is - reward in heaven, strengthened faith and endurance, and the chance to show people around him what his faith meant to him, so they could share his joy in Christ. He wasn't doing it out of duty, or to prove how superior his faith was, or how high his tolerance for pain. He had no self-pity.

Suffering for joy. Sounds like an oxymoron. There are obviously dangers in becoming a "Christian doormat" and succumbing to self-pity. But too often we err on the other side, choosing to not serve sacrificially because we think the life of a Christian should be comfortable. I know that lately, I've chosen the fleeting pleasures of comfort and security over the sacrifice of ministry and love, and in so doing, I've chosen against joy.

For those of you who want something even more controversial (I'd love to hear your comments on this) check out this quote from George Otis on the ultimate form of Christian sacrifice:

"Should the Church in politically or socially trying circumstances remain covert to avoid potential eradication by forces hostile to Christianity? Or would more open confrontation with prevailing spiritual ignorance and deprivation – even if it produced Christian martyrs – be more likely to lead to evangelistic breakthroughs? Islamic fundamentalists claim that their spiritual revolution is fueled by the blood of martyrs. Is it conceivable that Christianity’s failure to thrive in the Muslim world is due to the notable absence of Christian martyrs? And can the Muslim community take seriously the claims of a Church in hiding?… The question is not whether it is wise at times to keep worship and witness discreet, but rather how long this may continue before we are guilty of hiding our light under a bushel?"

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