One of the oft neglected little secrets that is seldom shared with want-to-be apostolic church-planter-types is how much will be demanded from them by their Lord in choosing to follow and serve Him.
In all fairness, Jesus himself warned those thinking about following him, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it." Yet few of us really believe that we have to deny ourselves anything in order to follow Christ. Nor do we have a clue about what it means to take up his cross and lose our lives for his sake. Aren't we good Christians if we are good people?
Few of us--including myself--have experienced anything close to what Christ says is the norm for those who choose to follow Him. We don't give up much of anything, and certainly suffering for his sake is relatively unknown to most of us. We somehow expect that if we do suffer a little, He will surely take notice and reward us for our faithfulness. Not so. The above invitation only promises that we will find life when we lose it for His sake. Nothing more is guaranteed.
So why follow Christ if the price is so high?
Catherine Marshall said it well, "I can see that Jesus drew men and women into the Kingdom by promising them two things: first, trouble--hardship, danger; and second, joy. But what curious alchemy is this that He can make even danger and hardship seem joyous? He understands things about human nature that we grasp only dimly; few of us are really challenged by the promise of soft living, by an emphasis on me-first, or by a life of easy compromise."
In our dealings with those we mentor, disciple and train, we try to be as straight forward and realistic as we can about hardship and suffering. Once released onto enemy territory the going gets rougher, not smoother.
Nice Christian cliches like "Yes, it will be hard, but the Lord will give you the grace and strength to withstand whatever the enemy might throw at you" are quickly forgotten when real and unexpected hardship hit the new worker. While this and similar statements are certainly true, we feel people need to be ready for just about everything to go bad for them--at least for a while. This is Satan's way to try and knock out early any well-intentioned do-gooders. I also suspect the Lord allows it as well. Much like he allowed Satan to mess with Job. Who are the ones He can count on long-term? Who will fall by the wayside when the going gets rough? All that to say, it isn't easy to do what Jesus asked us to do. There is a price that will be paid in more ways than we can imagine.
2 Corinthians 11:23-28 is a partial list of Paul's trials and sufferings. I believe the Spirit inspired Paul to share his sufferings so that we aren't surprised when similar things hit us as well.
Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.While our own list does not come close to the kinds of sufferings Paul endured in his own obedience to Christ; nevertheless, we openly share the kinds of things we have personally endured. We repeat over and over, "this is the norm, not the exception."
Over the years of service here in Ecuador our own 2 Corinthians list goes something like this,
Are they servants of Christ? (We are out of our mind to talk like this.) We are more. Twice, thieves have broken into our home and stolen our earthly valuables. Twice we have been assaulted at gunpoint and robbed. In one robbery our car was stolen (later retrieved.) We have had our skull cracked by the butt of a pistol and dumped onto the street bleeding and dazed from the blow. Fire in our house. We lost our daughter for seven weeks when her biological mother took her back without our ever knowing her whereabouts or well being. We have had stones thrown at us and been cursed as devils. Our car windows and headlights have been bashed by angry people intent on hurting us. Many times we have been verbally threatened and warned to leave...or else. We have had brothers in Christ refuse to shake our hand or talk to us, and have been publicly denounced as heretics. Our car has been broken into so many times I have lost count (the latest being only a few days ago.) We have been wrongfully sued. One place where we were gathered with fellow believers the house was stoned by a mob of angry people. Trees have been cut down to intentionally block roads where we have gone to preach the Gospel. We have been shot at (luckily they missed!) We have had to escape at night down dangerous mountain dirt roads fleeing from an angry mob coming after us with sticks, machetes, torches and broken bottles. Not to mention all the common ailments of being human: sickness, depression, loneliness, family problems, being cheated, separated for years at a time from family and loved ones, lied to...lied about, and discrimination for being an American. And, like Paul, we too face daily the pressure of our concern for all the churches.Still want to be a follower of Jesus? Still want to serve the King as one of his ambassadors to the nations?
What I have described is truly only kindergarten stuff for what most of the people we serve alongside with go through for the sake of Christ. Many have faced death, imprisonments, gasoline poured on them and matches lit in their faces, persecutions of all descriptions, hunger, loss of everything they own, humiliation, kicked out of their homes, lands taken away from them, disowned by their families, kidnappings, shot at, stabbed, disease, raped, verbally and physically abused...and the list goes on and on with all these simply being because someone decides to follow and obey Christ. The emotional and physical scars and wounds are very real.
Yet, like Paul says, "I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish in order that I may gain Christ...that I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death..."
These things are very much a part of what it means to follow Christ. Somehow we have lost sight of the things that really matter and have entangled ourselves in the affairs of everyday life. We are more concerned about our well being and comfort than we are about pleasing the one who enlisted us as soldiers of the cross (2 Tim.2:4). Christianity has become more about the latest fads, gadgets, going to church, slick conferences, debating nuances of Biblical interpretation, and taking one another out to dinner where we discuss the latest Christian books.
Very few of the people we work alongside have ever experienced "that side" of Christianity. Theirs is a much harsher reality where they find themselves clearly marked targets for Satan's constant onslaughts. Yet, honestly, I stand amazed at the joy and spiritual power in their lives and ministry.
May Paul's words encourage us today as they certainly did for those 1st-century Philippian believers "I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am...I can do all things through Him who strengthens me...keep living by that same standard to which we have attained [and] join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us..."