One of the things that’s long frustrated me as a Christian is the idea that being a Christian always means life gets progressively better. Why do we do this?
Maybe it’s from the subtle prosperity gospel influence that’s seeped into our expectations through so many songs about the victorious Christian life, and the way we frame our stories during testimony time, following the standard “before I was a Christian, life was awful, then I met Jesus, and now everything’s coming up Milhouse!” Maybe it’s just that we really want to believe that things should be easier once we follow Jesus.
But whatever it is, it’s the thing that wrecks so many of us.
I was reminded of this as I read Lecrae’s excellent book, Unashamed, as he shared his realization of this—as well as the good news that we have something better than sunshine and lollipops:
Learning to walk takes patience—and God is far more patience with us than we are with ourselves (and each other) Click To Tweet
When I decided to follow Jesus that night in Atlanta, I assumed becoming a Christian would make life easier. I thought the rest of my life would be smiling and smooth sailing. I assumed I wouldn’t be tempted by women and partying and acceptance and all the things I’d been a slave to for so many years. I thought I would walk around with a continual inner-peace and serenity like Gandhi or something.
This turns out to be a lie that too many people believe. You’ll actually experience more temptation, not less, after you become a Christian. Following Jesus doesn’t mean you’ll start living perfectly overnight. It certainly doesn’t mean that your problems will disappear. Rather than ridding you of your problems or temptations, following Jesus just means that you have a place—no, a person—to run to when they come. And the power to overcome them.1
What’s so important for us to understand is that wherever this idea came from—this notion that somehow the Christian life is supposed to get easier—isn’t something we find in the Scriptures. There’s no passage or single verse that gives it credibility. Instead, we have Paul’s lament of not doing the good we want to do, and doing the evil we do not (Romans 7:19), his declaration that he and his fellow workers were so “completely overwhelmed—beyond our strength—so that we even despaired of life” (2 Corinthians 1:8), and even Jesus tells us that because no servant is greater than his master (John 15:20), we should expect persecution, not a life of ease.
But what makes us get out of bed in the morning then? What makes us get up and walk when we fall down? To stop hiding our fears and failures and know that we truly can confess our sins to one another without fear of judgment (James 5:16)? Seeing Jesus for who he is—and seeing ourselves as we are in light of him. We were not saved because we are strong, but because we are weak. We are not saved because we have any gift we can bring, but because of God’s great mercy. So, too, we can walk through trial and temptation not because of our own willpower, but because of Christ who strengthens us.
Learning to walk this way isn’t easy. We will all stumble and fall. But when we do, our Father is there to cheer us on and pick us up. He is patient with us—for more than we are with ourselves or with one another. I love the way Lecrae puts it toward the end of chapter 7 of Unashamed:
We fool ourselves into thinking that when we’re “born again,” we come out of the womb walking. But spiritual infants are like physical infants. When a child begins to learn how to walk, they fall a lot… As with children, there is no time period for figuring out how to walk. Some kids are quick learners and others take their time. This is also true spiritually. After the apostle Paul is converted, he retreats to the desert for three years and comes back in full force. But it took Moses forty years in the desert to get his act together. Because God is a perfect parent, he is patient with us whether we are more like the forty-year-Moses or the three-year-Paul. We need to have the same patience with each other and with ourselves as we make our way out of our deserts.2