Wouldn’t it be nice if Jesus just promised us an easy life? Wouldn’t it be nice if life were as easy as my 3 year old Adeline makes it look here as she lounges mid afternoon with not a worry in the world? I mean personally there are days where I would kill for things to just go smoothly. There are moments I wish I had everything I ever wanted right at my fingertips. There are occasions that I desire things to be the way I want them to be and happen when I say so. And of course there are endless situations where I prefer to wish away the pain, sorrow, or struggle that so many battle through. As a pastor I see it all; I am continuously reminded that life is far from easy, never pain-free, and that our faith certainly does not exempt us from overwhelming challenges and disruptive crisis. And yes I admit it, there are times I wish it wasn’t this way.
So why is it this way? I mean why doesn’t our faith in God exempt us from tough times? Why does our trust in Jesus not prevent us from sorrow and pain? Why does it seem like our faith often has a cost we are not ready for?
Just the other day I was talking with my husband about how difficult it is to leave our girls behind to go to work everyday. I was confessing that maybe I am not cut out for full time ministry with two young daughters. I was sharing my struggle, my pain, my current difficulty. You know what he said? He said he too would rather be home with the girls than work. He admitted that he felt that tension too: between the need to provide and not wanting to be away from his daughters. Then he reminded me of something: My call. He reminded me that God has called me to the church I am serving in and granted me the position I have by his grace, but that being faithful to that call has a cost – and sometimes that cost comes in the form of your family (or at least the time you have with them).
It costs to follow Christ. Being faithful costs us something. We never know what that is until we are in the midst of it wondering why we are suffering or why it isn’t easy or why God’s faithfulness doesn’t look like we think it should or want it to. Serving in ministry, especially full time ministry, requires great sacrifice. I knew this getting into it, yet somehow I seem to be surprised every time I experience the reality of such sacrifice. Something like this: No sorry family I cannot do a weekend away because I need Saturday night to be an early one so I am ready to lead worship Sunday. Oops, nope friends we cannot afford that vacation with you guys because we live on a super tight budget. Sorry girls I can’t be there to put you to bed 2-3 nights a week because I have meetings at church with my members who have to work all day. It costs to follow Christ. Being faithful has a price tag. But Jesus is pretty up front about this with his disciples. He tells them they will have to sacrifice much to be with him.
17 For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because Herod had married her. 18 For John had been telling Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” 19 And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, 20 for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him.”
Of course if you keep reading you know that Herodias is finally able to get her way when she has Herod take the head of John the Baptist as a promise he made to her. Yup, that is right? His call to ministry cost John the Baptist HIS HEAD! He was beheaded because of the claims he made in the name of Jesus. His ministry: to pave the way for Christ. His cost: his life. John the Baptist was beheaded for Jesus. He paid the ultimate price for his ministry, it cost him his life. I suppose the sacrifice of time with my family, sleep, and a little anxiety seems like nothing in comparison.
Jesus promises us hope. He promises us eternal life. He promises us love, justice, and wholeness in him. He also promises use this: “Here on earth you will have many sorrows and trial.” He is clear about one thing: we will face trial, sorrow, pain, tribulations. He tells us that when we follow him it will costs us our comfort and our ease many times. He tries to prepare us by saying that ministry will be hard, really really hard. He is upfront with us about the life of a disciple, that it is no afternoon nap in the park; this life is far from easy.
But of course we have to read on to the very next sentence. Because right after Jesus tells us we will face trials and wrestle with sorrow, he reminds us of one rather important detail that actually answers my earlier question of “Why Can’t Life Be Easy?”. He declares that even though life will not be easy, it can be lived in victory over the difficult challenges we face. He says, “But take heart, for I have overcome the world.” It is done. He has won. We have hope. By following him we are always on the winning side. But it ain’t free, it ain’t even cheap, it will cost us everything we have, we are, and we know at times . . . It might even cost us our head.