Nobody ever said following Jesus was going to be easy. At least, nobody that matters. Even Jesus warned that it was not going to be a cake walk. He told His disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:23 ESV). On another occasion, He warned, “And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:38 ESV). And just prior to making that profound statement, Jesus had said, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:37 ESV). None of that sounds like an endorsement of the Christian life as the trouble-free life. In fact, just before sending His 12 disciples out on their first official excursion without Him, He gave them these inspiring words to boost their confidence: “Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, you will be hated by all for my name’s sake” (Matthew 10:21-22 ESV). Wow. Wouldn’t that make you want to hit the ground running and tackle the day with a vengeance? But Jesus knew that following Him was going to be costly. After all, His message was going to end up costing Him His life. And most, if not all, of His followers would experience martyrdom as a result of their decision to follow Him.
So what’s my point? The life to which we have been called as followers of Christ was not intended to be easy. Jesus said, “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matthew 7:13-14 ESV). The path that leads to life is narrow and hard. Few find it. Why? Because they’re looking for a broad, easy, pain-free pathway that requires little or nothing of them. And over the years, many in the church have been more than willing to promote a pathway that looks exactly like what most people are looking for. They have sold following Jesus like it was a quick-fix, trouble-free, happiness-inducing elixir that promises everything from an improved marriage to better grades and good health to even better financial success. That’s why books like Your Best Life Now are hot sellers. People want their best life now. They want their desires met, their dreams fulfilled, their wishes granted, and all their troubles removed. But that is not what we have been promised. Yes, Jesus did say that He came to offer us life more abundantly. But we can’t translate that offer to mean something Jesus never intended. Abundant life is NOT the good life. It is not about cars, clothes, popularity, prosperity, happiness, healthiness or any of the other things we tend to seek in this life. It is about life lived with an eternal perspective, where the things of this earth take their proper place on the priority scale. Paul would remind us, “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17 ESV). And Jesus put it quite clearly and succinctly. “So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need” (Matthew 6:31-33 NLT).
The life we have been called to live as followers of Jesus is not an easy one. But it is also not an impossible one. We have been given the Spirit of God and all the power available to Him. He lives within us and empowers us to live holy lives. He equips us with all we need to do all that we have been called to do as Christ’s followers. Jesus warned us that we will face persecution and trials for our faith. We will be hated by the world. The enemy will attack us. Our own friends may not understand us. But we can enter that narrow gate and walk that hard way, knowing that we have all we need for the journey. “By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence” (2 Peter 1:3 NLT). So let’s walk with our heads held high. Let’s walk with confidence, even though we know it will be hard at times. Let’s pursue this not-so-easy life with a vengeance, knowing that God is using the difficulties of this life to prepare us for the life to come. “Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing” (James 1:2-4 NLT).