Anyone who thinks that following Jesus is easy truly has no idea what they are talking about. Anyone who claims to follow Jesus and then acts like everything is settled, perfect, over & done is either wearing a mask to cover up the internal conflict that rages in every one of us, or is merely a shallow, vacuous turd.
In light of what Jesus had to say about himself, the previous statement may come off as a bit odd. "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." Matt. 11:28-30
Maybe though, what we are talking about are two different things. On one hand, following Jesus provides for an Objective peace with God. On the other hand, Subjectively it doesn't always feel like that.
The bible speaks of our "Old Nature," i.e. the sinful nature that we all carry around with us even after we have committed our lives to Christ. Through Jesus we have been made righteous in the eyes of God, thanks to what his crucifixion & resurrection accomplished. Yet, on any given day, we can feel like crap inside.
I guess that what I would argue is that this feeling of Less-than-Swell is a very, very good thing ultimately. It means that you are actually wrestling with God. Why should a person wrestle with God? Because there is a LOT more to this life than the mundane, everyday pursuit of material things. (Despite what advertisers try to tell you.)
I have a friend. She used to be a student of mine. I gave her the nick-name of "Squishy." (This is due to the fact that she is pliable, can be stretched to a length of at least 10 feet, and when mooshed into a palm-sized ball, she can be rolled onto newspaper and absorb the print ink.) OK, maybe not.
I like teenagers a lot because they provide a great deal of entertainment. They seem to have all the energy & enthusiasm in the world, while simultaneously possessing a large lump of cottage cheese between their ears. The world of teens is full of all types of drama. You get more confusing emotions in those short years then at any other time in your life. Toss in being an actual christian, and it gets really tough.
I met Squishy when she was 14. She is a good kid. She is also a proud Lakota/Dakota warrior woman who can ride a horse bare-back, kill a deer with her bare hands...and then sit down and eat it raw on the South Dakota prairie, and scalp naughty teachers who get on her nerves. (This is why I CHOSE to lose most of my hair.)
Squishy is frustrated with her faith at the moment, and she feels bad about it. What I would say to Squishy is that God is probably closer to her at the moment than he is to those who think they have the whole thing figured out. A "Crisis of Faith" is as natural & normal to our walk with Jesus as is the high points of faith. Jesus never, ever said that everything would be hunky-dorry after we commit to following him. What he did promise us is that he would be there for us to help us through it all.
Faith is not an easy thing. By its very name, Faith is putting your trust in something that we can't see...most of the time, anyway. "Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see." Hebrews 11:1 This is difficult in a world where science and so-called reason rule the day. Yet, every day we live by faith even if we have rejected God. (Notice the chair you are sitting in at the moment: Odds are that you didn't examine the blue prints for it before you sat down. You just had faith that it would support your big butt.)
But what do you say to someone who is honestly struggling with their faith and is feeling skeptical?
CAVEAT: There are folks out there who call themselves "Skeptics," and are anything BUT. A proper skeptic will honestly question things in search of an honest answer. They would be open and fair to hearing numerous ideas & thoughts. In that sense, I am a skeptic. I seriously want to know! Unfortunately, the vast majority of people I have met who call themselves a skeptic have already made up their minds...especially about matters of Faith.
This is what I would say to Squishy.
"Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking in anything." James 1:2-4
This what a "Crisis of Faith" is. It is a trial. It is one of the boot camps that God makes every Believer go through from time to time. It is painful, frustrating, discouraging, even devastating at times. However, when you come out the other end, you find yourself closer to God. That might not mean much to someone who is in the middle of it, but it really is true.
I feel that most people who call themselves "Christians" are not nearly as honest as they should be. So with that in mind, I will open up a bit about my frustrations with my own faith. I am deeply frustrated with some stuff in my life that I can't seem to find resolution to. Wether it is my search for another teaching job, some personal behaviors, or my prayer life. I am deeply frustrated. Also, at the moment I have an issue with a family member that deeply troubles me. (An excellent problem to have at the beginning of the Holidays.) I have almost no answers to any of these problems.
But I am relying on faith that there will be a resolution to them. As difficult as they are, I can see that God has caused all things to work together for my good in the past, and will do so again.
There have been times where I have screamed and cursed at God. In particular, I can remember one night many years ago, screaming at the top of my lungs in a parking lot. I called God just about ever name in the book, and accused him of every crime imaginable. I was very angry at God. (I see no reason to hide your emotions & thoughts from God when you are talking to him. Since he already knows what you're thinking, you might as well be open about it. He's a big boy and can take what ever you throw at him.)
God still loved me...and still does.
What I can also say to Squishy is that when it was all over, I could look behind me and see a straight path that God had lead me on the entire time. I found that I was closer to him and could feel his presence in ways that I could not have before all of the difficulties. It was all a trial that helped me develop more perseverance and a tiny bit more of maturity. (Boy, have I got a long way to go in the maturity department. I can only imagine the boot camps to come.)
A long time ago, God took on human flesh. One day he walked up on the side of a mountain with his students. There was a huge crowd of all types of messy, sinful, unclean people who had followed him there. They were very curious as to what he might say to them. So Jesus made an announcement. He said; "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs."
That has to go down in history as one of the
most ridiculous announcements ever said.
Blessed = God is on the side of
Poor in Spirit = LOSERS, the empty, the morally bankrupt, the non-religious, the dirty & polluted
"...and he began to teach them, saying; God is already on the side of the LOSERS, the addicted, the girl who just had an abortion, the freaks, the queers, the whores, those who couldn't tell the truth if you put a gun to their head, and all of the other really dirty & sinful people, because the kingdom of heaven was made for people exactly this!"
The crowd that listened to all of this was a little surprised by what they heard, to say the least. And every time I read through that announcement and the teachings that follow, I am always surprised too.
Sometime later, this God-in-the-Flesh went to Jerusalem and allowed himself to be murdered for me. He became my sin and paid the price that I should pay. A few days later he was resurrected and offered me a chance to come into his kingdom here & now, and also someday when it comes in it's fullness. I am very puzzled as to why he would do that for me, because I honestly do not think that I am worth any of it...certainly not all of that bother.
But maybe, in some respects, he actually did it for himself.
The author of Hebrews wrote that letter in an attempt to encourage some of the early christians. In an attempt to encourage Squishy, I would ask her to consider what the author wrote.
"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author & perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart." Hebrews 12:1-3
I do consider that. So I still have faith...even on my bad days.
Luv ya, Squishy!