If following Jesus isn’t painful, am I doing it wrong?
Have no doubt: there is definitely great sacrifice in following Jesus. But there is also great gain! He warned us that there would be great difficulty in following Him (Matthew 5:10-11, John 16:33). But in Him is abundant life (John 10:10) and the fullness of joy (Psalm 16:11)! The life of the disciple is simultaneously the most demanding AND most rewarding life possible.
“The glory of God is a man fully alive.” –Wild at Heart author, John Eldridge
In my late teens and early 20’s, I had quite a full, fun, and fulfilling life as a Christian. I liked going to church, playing music for God, and praying with friends. I had seen too many lives torn apart by things like alcohol, drugs, and premarital sex, so the choice to abstain from those things was easy for me.
Then, I would read in the New Testament about the disciples’ sufferings for Christ, Stephen’s martyrdom, John the Baptist’s beheading, Paul’s beatings, Silas’ imprisonment, John the Revelator’s exile… Paul and James both write repeatedly about “sharing in Christ’s sufferings”…
I would read these words and think to myself, according to this, following Jesus should be MUCH harder and more painful than I am currently feeling!, and I would begin to feel guilty for the amount of enjoyment I was getting out of following Christ!
…giving has never really “hurt” me …spending time in prayer and Bible study has never really felt “costly” …I’ve never been “persecuted” for my faith …obeying God has always proven better for me than obeying my own fleshly desires, so, no real “pain” there…
Am I doing it wrong? Am I missing something?
To be sure, the disciple’s life is a living martyrdom. We are to be constantly “dying to self” (Galatians 2:20), presenting ourselves as “living sacrifices” (Romans 12:1), and “putting to death the flesh” (Colossians 3:5).
Jesus Himself laid out the terms of discipleship: “If anyone wants to be My disciple, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me” (Luke 9:23). By Jesus’ own words, each day, we are to take up our own… cross. Wait – what? The emblem of excruciatingly painful and agonizingly shameful Roman torture-to-death cross!?!
With such vivid and repeated allusions to suffering and sacrifice in relation to following Christ, what are we to do – and how are we to feel – when we find it fun, rewarding, and even pleasant to follow Christ?
Worship Him with thanksgiving in our hearts – that’s what! There is sufficient grace for our times of weakness and suffering (2 Corinthians 12:9). He will carry us through and enable us to look on Him with joy when the going is tough. Likewise, there is grace to see the “endless pleasures at His right hand” (Psalm 16:11) when following Him is enjoyable! At these times, we will experience what the David wrote in Psalm 34:8: “Taste and see that the Lord is good”.
This does not mean that He ceases to be good when we suffer for Him. No, no – His goodness takes on an altogether different (and an even more miraculously beautiful!) form during those times of trial and pain. (I’ll discuss this further in a later post.)
“God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.” -Christian hedonist, pastor, & author John Piper
For now, if any part of your followership of Jesus brings you any joy, then bask in it! You are enjoying the fruits of a well-tended garden – the “consequences” of obedience. There is absolutely no shame in humbly enjoying what God has called you to be and do.
In fact, fun tends to be contagious. You may just inspire someone else to obey what God is telling them to do, as they observe how much pleasure you receive out of doing what He has called you to do!
Think back to a time when you really enjoyed something God had asked you to do… If you don’t mind sharing, what was it? How did it make you feel?