Dr. Luke, in writing the history of the early church, better known as the Acts of the Apostles, underlines for his readers how tough it is to be a Christian. In speaking of the missionary trips of the Apostle Paul, Luke writes, “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” Why in the world would he write that? Didn’t he want to encourage people to be a part of this movement of God? Wasn’t the goal to grow the church, not tell people how hard it is to be a part of the church?
As we read the story of how the early church was established, we cannot escape the fact that there was suffering involved in living the life of faith. There is trouble that comes from inside the church and trouble that is external to her. We see Christians, who tried to get away with false appearances in Acts 5, then there is trouble with the widows in Acts 6, Stephen is martyred in Acts 8 and Christians are scattered because of the persecution! That is just the first 8 chapters of the book. Sounds like fun, doesn’t it, anyone want to sign up!
We are told that there are more Christian martyrs today than at any other time since the first century. Not only do people suffer for their faith but believers are not exempt from the same pains as people who do not know the Lord. Christians die of terrible diseases, they are killed in traffic accidents, and they are even murdered.
The hope and joy of being a believer is not found in anything we think will alleviate our pain. Life hurts, it is difficult and no one is safe. Our hope is found in the truth that Jesus has conquered our biggest enemies, sin and death, and has promised us victory as well! That encourages me! I am encouraged that the Sovereign God knows me so well that He has a plan for me life. The plan He has for me is that not only do I have hope in a future life but that I have hope today because of the victory He has obtained for us through the resurrection of His Son!
I recall the story of a would-be basketball player who got roughed up under the basket and came away with a bloodied nose. On returning to the bench with his proverbial tail between his legs, the coach offered the following words, “Stop sulking and get back out there, what did you think basketball was like?” No one can learn to play real basketball by watching the pros play on television. You cannot see or experience everything that goes on under the basket! You cannot feel the elbows to the nose on your 40” plasma!
Life for the Christian is lived in the difficulties that we experience. They help us develop a dependency on the Lord, and how great is that! We often want to be self reliant but God’s desire is that we be dependent on Him! I have learned and still am learning that I need to trust Him more and more as He works out His plan in my life. And that is exactly where He wants us to be!