I was recently reflecting on different areas of life. I am reminded at how hard each phase of life can be. The married phase represents one of the greatest challenges, living out an intimate relationship with someone different than ourselves. It does not stop there. We could ponder the challenges of the sleepless nights of parenting a new born. The unlimited energy and curiosity of a toddler. The attitudes of a teenager or the dynamic relationship of adult children and spouses. We could jump over to our work that requires a Swiss army knife number of skills to deal with the boss, customers and coworkers along with our job. There are the physical challenges that come during the phase(s) of sickness, disease and injuries. Life is hard and so is following Christ. Just like thinking otherwise in any of these areas set us up for disappointment, the same is true with living out my faith!
Now, I want to clarify that difficulty in life does not equate the absence blessing. I have found in fact that the greatest joys have been realize by growing through the challenges of marriage, children, work, sickness and especially in my relationship with the Lord. I share this to remind us that following Jesus is hard, in many ways.
Jesus put it this way, “For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” (Matthew 7:14) Theword for “hard” means narrow. It communicates the idea of oppression and affliction. He also spoke of the self-sacrifice required, “And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23) The word “deny” means refuse someone something or to restrain. We also get the meaning of the metaphor to “take up his cross.” It is here that many that stopped following Jesus because His teaching was hard, “When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?”” (John 6:60) Again, “After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.” (John 6:66)
I have recently been meditating on 1 John 4:20 “If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” My first thoughts on this verse were, “I’m glad I do not hate anyone!” It is easy to redefine my behavior to justify myself. Jesus taught, “But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.” (Matthew 5:22) This is hard stuff. Think about the people that have gotten under your skin. Those you have nothing nice to say. Those you avoid. Those have wronged you. Maybe they have slandered you before others. What about those that have hurt us. Here is my point, we can justify ourselves, but most of our anger as followers of Jesus, in not always manifested in outward behavior, but it is there. Now the Biblical solution to dealing with anger depends on the situation. If it is an issue in your own heart, no offense has yet been committed, the solution is to take control of our emotions (Ephesians 4:26). If there has been an offense, then we need to make an attempt to reconcile (Luke 17:3-4). It does not matter if you were wronged or have wronged someone (Matthew 18:15). We need to seek or grant forgiveness. And even if the situation is not resolved, you still been to forgive (Ephesians 4:31-32). This is what followers of Jesus do. This is where we discover God and also the blessing of being His follower, but it is hard work.
Now, my point is this, what is the Lord trying to work on in your life? It may not be this, but He is working on something. The challenges you are waking through right now are there for a purpose (1 Corinthians 10:13).
-Pastor Joe Parkinson