The things they did not tell me when the Lord regenerated me would have affected my decision to become a Christian—humanly speaking, of course. Looking back on it now, I’m glad the Lord did not give me a peek into my future because I probably would have “passed” on the opportunity to become a Christian (Matthew 6:34; James 4:13-17).
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I realize what I’m saying is theologically flawed and intellectually lacking, but it is something worth pondering. What if you could reject the Lord’s effectual call on your life? Stop for a moment and think about what I’m saying.
Before I became a Christian, I was ignorant of what a life with Christ meant. I had no category of God or religion. If I did have an idea of what it meant to have a relationship with God, it was something along the lines of blissfulness and problem-free living.
Do you think I would have followed Christ if He revealed my future with Him? No. Two murders, one divorce, loss of two children, loss of all worldly possessions, and alienation from the Christian community were just a few things He planned for my future (Jeremiah 1:5).
Before becoming a Christian, I thought to become a Christian meant I had to ride around on bicycles, telling people about Jesus. In my estimation, Christians were kooks and to become one was the last thing I wanted.
And the LORD said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand.” So Satan went out from the presence of the LORD. – Job 1:12
Do you think if the Lord had given me a peek into the future, I would have said, “Yippee, where do I sign up?” No. It was a mercy from God not to tell me about my future.
But this also presents a problem. Though the Lord should not and will not tell us what He has written into our script, we should do a better job “briefing soon-to-be-converts” about the life they are choosing to live.
The Missing Piece
For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake. – Philippians 1:29
Christianity gives a person two gifts, not one, as you embark on your “born again journey” (1 Peter 2:21). When the Lord saves a person, He grants him salvation and suffering. I think most people are naive when they come into Christianity.
They quickly embrace and enjoy the “belief part,” but there is no preparation for the “suffering part.” Before salvation, the lost individual walked with the world (Ephesians 4:17-19). They went with the flow. And then the Lord converted them by the mighty power of the gospel. They did an about-face and began walking contrary to the world (Ephesians 4:1-7).
This “about-face part” creates relational resistance and conflict with their former selves (Ephesians 4:22) and with their old culture that will never go away until Christ returns. When the Lord talked about our life on earth, He framed it as a call to die.
Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. – Luke 14:25-27
In this text, everyone was getting juiced up on Jesus. He was doing cool stuff, and His fandom was growing. Being with Jesus was the in thing. They wanted their WWJD bracelet just after they asked Him into their hearts.
The ever-perceptive Savior discerned a problem with this “easy-follow-ism.” Hanging with Him meant more than networking in the here and now and eternal bliss in the afterlife. The door He was asking folks to walk through was narrow (Matthew 7:13-14). His evangelism style was not politically correct.
Imagine sitting in His “Evangelism 101 Seminars.” He would most certainly cover salvation, adoption, justification, and glorification stuff. He would also include the “come to die” things.
It wouldn’t be like some of the sweepstakes material you receive in the mail where “You’ve Won $100,000.00” is plastered across the face of a glossy card. Only later do you notice the fine print that tells you about a snowball’s chance in Hades to win the loot.
Jesus is a full-disclosure kind of guy. If you choose to follow Him, you will have to die. To resist your death will have a combo effect on your soul: you’ll be a miserable worldly person and unhappy Christian. You won’t fit in with either crowd. You’ll live in the sad gray space where you become of little value in God’s redemptive plans.
You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. – Matthew 5:13
Learning to Suffer Well
- How did we get here?
- How do we get out of here?
One of the most significant sin issues that I encounter among Christians is anger. The anger I’m talking about is not so much a fit of volatile rage, but low-grade irritation that burns in the Christian’s heart.
It’s like a low-grade fever that is just annoying enough to keep a person off their spiritual game. It churns below the surface of their lives and is hardly perceptible to their friends. Only when someone provokes them do you realize that there was this low-grade burn.
Otherwise, it’s their miserable secret that only God perceives, ironically the One with whom they must give an account (Hebrews 4:13). Here are a few of the words that make up the “anger complex” that characterizes this kind of person.
E.g., frustration, disappointment, discouragement, discontentment, anxiousness, worry, despair, depression, fear, regret, bitterness, jealousy, coveting, hard heart, criticalness, self-reliance, arrogance, grumbling, and complaining.
All of these words makeup and flow out of a person’s angry heart. And you can connect these descriptors to a person who has a wrong view of God, His sovereignty, His gift of suffering, and the purposes of the gospel.
This anger constellation forms a “heart construct” that keeps the person in bondage to his misguided desires while blinding him to all the Lord offers him through the door of death (Hebrews 12:2). He has not learned the value and purposes of suffering.
We could avoid a lot of the bitterness in our hearts if we did a better job discipling new believers. There is no “vaporizing of Adam” after our regeneration (Genesis 3:7-19).
What does happen at salvation is a new way of thinking about and responding to the wrong things that happen to us. The Lord changes our animating center from death to life (John 4:14, 10:28). We have new God-generated power to overcome our difficulties.
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 8:35-39
Maturing through Temptation
An excellent diagnosis question to measure where you are regarding your disappointment with God is to listen to how you respond when bad things happen to you. The crucible of suffering will draw out the content of your heart more effectively than anything else.
Being surprised or caught off guard is the moment when you reveal your true self to yourself (and others). Those unguarded times of disappointment will show your authentic character. While it’s easy to present yourself well when prepared, it’s those unsuspecting times that reveal your “functional theology.”
These moments are the theology that you want to examine. While it’s essential to know a lot about God (intellect), what is just as important is how you respond to what you know about God (practice). See Matthew 7:21-23.
Knowledge of God is good, but knowledge without application will tempt a person to become arrogant (1 Corinthians 8:1). The wise person is always seeking to learn more about God while proportionally learning how to apply what he is gaining practically.
This perspective should change how you think about your trials. After you sin, in response to an unguarded moment, the most useful thing you can do is to ask the Father to teach you how you can change, so you don’t respond that way again.
This response is biblically mature for your trials. The worst thing you could do is get sidetracked by focusing on what happened to you primarily. If your main focus is on who did what to you rather than how you can change, two things are guaranteed.
- You will not learn from what happened, which will position you to make the same mistake the next time a similar temptation comes along.
- By focusing on the other person, you will continue to perpetuate relational dysfunction in your life and theirs.
There may be a time in the future to help a person who is sinning against you, but that’s not the most important thing you can do when bad things happen to you. This tension reminds me of the time I received the news of my brother’s murder.
The Lord prompted me to talk to Him about the tragedy before doing anything else. The first order of business was to get alone with my Scriptwriter to try to discern what He was up to and how He wanted me to respond to this horrible circumstance.
Before I could minister to my family or respond to those who perpetrated the evil, I had to examine my heart (Matthew 14:23). It was vital for me to “dial-in on my heart” to discern what the Father was writing into my life. This critical response prepared me to act redemptively toward others.
This view of suffering positions you to be a redemptive agent in your world. It also prevents you from becoming bitter, angry, vengeful, and unforgiving. By redemptively reflecting on your heart and making the necessary changes, you are now positioned to follow your Savior.
If you don’t do this, you won’t be able to follow Him effectively, and your life will never experience the shalom of the soul that you crave. This truth about suffering is a hard pill to swallow. It goes against our understanding of the survival of the fittest instincts.
Our undivided loyalty is to ourselves, and we don’t have enough sense to know what is best for us. This reality may be one reason the Lord does not tell us all the plans He has for us. We are not mature enough to handle the truth.
I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. – John 16:12
Still yet, it would serve many of our brothers and sisters well to know the truth about God’s call on their lives. We don’t need to know the specifics about His plans, but there are a few things that we must know.
- The Lord will systematically put you to death.
- There is no other option.
- You can walk through death with Him or without Him.
- If you choose to walk through death with Him, it will be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life.
My loving and merciful heavenly Father knew not to tell me all the things that He had in store for me. I’m glad for this. As I sit here now reflecting on His kindness to me, there is no question that all the pain and suffering was for my good and His glory (Genesis 50:20).
But I see four men unbound, walking in the fire, and they are not hurt; and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods. – Daniel 3:25Why It’s Not Wrong to Expect Love in Return To Live the Resurrected Life You Must Die—To Yourself »