Updated: Aug 25, 2022
“The Christian life is a long obedience in the same direction.”
- Eugene Peterson.
The Christian life is a long obedience…full of twists and turns, ups and downs, struggles and strife, victories and defeats, assurances and doubts, all…in the same direction.
-Every Christian ever.
For some reason, somewhere along the way, a large portion of the American Church bought into the idea that following Jesus is supposed to be easy, happy, lack struggle, all the while being full of bold, courageous faith.
I don’t know if this came from the prosperity gospel, but it's probably some form of it.
Anyhow, a lot of Christians/religious people believe this about being a Christian. And while many would never admit to this belief out loud, nor would they tell themselves consciously that they believe it, it seems to lurk beneath the surface. Such belief reveals itself when we judge ourselves on the basis of other peoples’ lives….specifically, our perspective of other peoples’ lives.
Social media encourage this kind of thing in terrible ways.
We look at other people, other Christians, other religious people, and we don’t see them struggling. As a matter of fact, they seem to be succeeding quite nicely. They appear well put-together, they aren't in need, they care for themselves, their home life seems to be ideal, their marriages appear healthy, etc. The list goes on…
The reality is none of that is true.
"Life is hard. People are broken. The path is crooked. Life rarely occurs in a straight line."
Plain and simple.
-The Christian life is a long obedience…full of twists and turns, ups and downs, struggles and strife, victories and defeats, assurance and doubt, all…in the same direction. The problem is, the American Church has stopped talking about it. And in our silence on the issue, we’ve all just started assuming that Christianity is easy and that it makes everything easy; ...and if it doesn't, we don't talk about it.
But in our silence, men and women, families, and friends all suffer in the void. We all suffer in the silence. We’re afraid to open up. We feel that we’ll be judged in our sin because “no one else talks about theirs!” Which ultimately leads us to believe that they don’t have any.
When we ask for prayer requests, it's always about someone else who is sick or suffering. Rarely, if ever, does somebody chime in, “I’m really struggling to believe the gospel this week…” or “our marriage has hit some hard times and need help,” or “I am lonely and devastated in my soul.”
So it all gets internalized. If anything, we say, “I have an unspoken request...” which just furthers the internal loneliness. The freeing act of Christian confession goes ignored. And we all walk around smiling on the outside and dying alone on the inside.
The Christian life is not meant to be lived like this. We end up dying alone inside while we sit together in Church smiling.
The Bible does not recognize this type of behavior. It's religious behavior but its not Christian behavior.
Christian behavior is being freed from sin and its effects by the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The crooked path of the Christian life is meant to be lived openly and honestly in the presence of God and His people. He gives us one another to help each other.
Everyone struggles. Everyone is walking the crooked path of life with its ups and downs, twists and turns.Everyone has needs, and everyone can help.
Contrary to self-inflicted spiritual and emotional isolation, the New Testament calls us to…
Bear one another’s burdens (Gal. 6);
Guard each other’s hearts against sin (Heb. 3);
Judge each other in righteousness (1 Cor. 5);
Workout internal disputes by the power of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6);
Gather together regularly and stir one another up to faith and love of God (Heb. 10);
Meet each other’s physical needs (Acts 2);
Be in each other's homes, investing in each other’s lives (Titus 2);
Warn each other of sinful behavior (Heb. 3);
Encourage each other to hope in Jesus (1 Thess. 4-5);
Confess our sins to each other and receive forgiveness. (James 5);
Love one another (1 John 3);
Receive the Lord’s Supper together regularly, being reminded of our spiritual life in Christ. (1 Cor. 11);
Help each other grow in the faith (Phil. 2).
Did you see what was NOT there? Aloneness. Solitude. Private Christianity. Unspoken prayer requests. The New Testament recognizes none of that.
A Word from a German
In his classic work, Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes these words about the Christian life and true Christian community…
“In confession [of sin] the break-through to community takes place. Sin demands to have a man by himself. It withdraws him from community. The more isolated a person is, the more destructive the power of sin over him, and the more deeply he becomes involved in it, and the more disastrous his isolation. Sin wants to remain unknown. It shuns the light. In the darkness of the unexpressed it poisons the whole person. ...But since confession of sin is made in the presence of a Christian brother, the last stronghold of self-justification is abandoned. The sinner surrenders; he gives up all his evils. He gives his heart to God, and he finds the forgiveness of all his sin in the fellowship of Jesus Christ and his brother….Now he can be a sinner and still enjoy the grace of God. He can confess his sins and in this very act find fellowship for the first time.”
There is something wonderfully freeing about being known. There is something wonderfully gospel about being known in our struggles and in our failings. For, it is when our sufferings and failings are put on the table with other Christians that the gospel of Jesus Christ can be brought to those very sufferings in specific and needed ways.
Bonhoeffer also notes, “The physical presence of other Christians is a source of incomparable joy and strength to the believer.” But this is only true if we are living honest and open Christian lives. Because, in my honest living, the physical presence of other Christians becomes a physical and verbal reminder of the grace of God I have in Jesus Christ. The grace that I need...the grace that you need.
The Crooked Life is full of Grace.
So, Christian…next time you’re tempted to brush something under the rug, to internalize some struggle, or to ask for prayer for something “unspoken,” try the grace-filled act of confession:
My heart hurts.
I feel like a hypocrite.
My faith is small.
I really need Jesus…
God meets us here with grace, friends.
“…a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench…” (Mt. 12:20)
Jesus meets us in our weaknesses with His presence, His Word, and with each other.
The Christian life is a long obedience…full of twists and turns, ups and downs, struggles and strife, victories and defeats, assurances and doubts, all…in the same direction: Heaven.