Growing up I had a lot of delusions, and a more than a few misunderstandings, when it came to Christianity. Most of those views I’ve learned were wrong. Sometimes I learned it the easy way, and other times I had to learn it the hard way. Perhaps the one that’s been hardest to overcome is the idea that if you believe in God your life will be easy.
This is one of those lessons I had to learn the hard way.
At some early point in my life I came to believe that God = Santa Claus. And as long as I was a good boy, everything would be okay. It shouldn’t come as a surprise then that my faith collapsed the first time I experienced a real problem. After all, I thought I was a good boy, so why was I suddenly getting a lump of coal?
Confronted with that thought my faith evaporated and I became an atheist/agnostic. I followed that path for years until I managed to find my way to Jesus.
So you’d think I would have learned this lesson. But you’d be wrong. Oh I’m aware of it. But deep down I still believe that following God should make my life stress free. I don’t mind the occasional intellectual or physical challenge, but I don’t want anything too challenging. I don’t mind some responsibility, but not too much of course. I simply don’t want to have to do things that scare me. I just want to coast through life without too much hardship.
But God does not promise that kind of life for Christians.
God calls us to things bigger than we are. I think this is done in part so we learn to rely upon him. But I also think it gives us the opportunity to witness to other people. When we overcome something big, they see God in action – not our own abilities. How many times have I assumed something happening solely for my benefit, when it may very well be happening for someone else.
Paul characterizes someone who’s life was filled with amazing and inspiring acts, but acts that must have been terrifying. Yet Paul trusted God, and he placed all of his hope in him.
In the New Testament book of Acts, Paul’s trip to Jerusalem is outlined. Essentially he goes, gets beaten, gets arrested, gets thrown in jail, almost gets beaten again, nearly starts a riot, then is turned loose to a crowd that wants his head. Then he is taken back into custody. Sounds like a nice, laid back trip to me! Nothing stressful about that!
Through all of this, Paul stays strong in his faith. He doesn’t shirk from the beatings, he doesn’t run from the responsibility. So how does God reward him? By saying, “Keep up your courage!” (good so far) “For just as you have testified for me in Jerusalem, so you must bear witness also in Rome.” (D’oh!). God rewards Paul for a job well done by telling him he’s got to do it all again in another city!
There are times where I want God to make my life easier, but that’s not how he operates. God wants us to know him, because it’s through him that we have true happiness and true hope. And that’s not an easy answer to swallow sometimes. We don’t always want what’s better for us, we often just want what’s easier.
I don’t always follow through on things God asks me to do. In fact, I ignore him way too often. But I can safely say, whenever I’ve acted on something God gives me, I’ve never regretted doing it. Terrified? Yes. Regretted, absolutely not. And I bet if you could ask Paul that question, he’d tell you the same thing.
While God is not Santa, and he may not always keep us “safe” in a worldly sense, the reward for trusting in him is always worth it, because that reward is knowing him better. That’s something that Paul knew, and something I hope to always remember.