Did you ever play that game? I’m not sure it’s got an official name and the rules are usually made up as it goes along. I remember it having the same name as the invitation the receiver would issue to the giver: “Go ahead. Punch me as hard as you can.” Sometimes the target was a flexed set of abs. Most times when I played the target was the outside of a bicep. The older I get, the more ridiculously stupid engaging in the game – particluarly as “me” – seems.
Ironically, the older I get the more I realize that following Jesus is like playing the game. Saying “yes” to Jesus every minute of every day is also an invitation to the enemy to “go ahead. . . punch me as hard as you can.” I’m convinced. Still, our desire to live the easy life and to believe that following Jesus should somehow lead to the easy life leaves us thinking that something must be terribly wrong when the frequency of the blows picks up. Bad theology. Jesus told those who have taken up their cross that “In this world you will have trouble.” That’s a promise. “But,” he continues, “take heart! I have overcome the world.” Then, he went on to pray for us (John 16&17). My perspective has changed. When the blows pick up, something must be gloriously right! Attacks from the enemy come when the enemy is threatened. The game’s not stupid, but a sign of great blessing.
This is all fresh on my mind because of life. . . life for me and the lives of many I love who have been getting pounded lately. In the entitled and comfort-seeking church of America, we tend not to think this way. That’s too bad.
Yesterday, I emailed a trusted, wise, and spiritually mature friend about this kind of darkness. He wrote these words in his return email:
One thought I have in response to your mention of the “darkness,” is that I’m sure when we were younger and pondering whatever we thought a call to ministry looked like, we probably naively thought most pastors or people in any form of Christian ministry work from a platform of personal strength and spiritual wholeness.
But if anything is validated by wide reading I have done in the lives of many effective Christians in all fields, it is the suffering, opposition, temptations, depression and general darkness many have had to wrestle with – not just occasionally, but in the long term. This is true for Reformers like Calvin and Luther – they had “fightings within and fears without.” Spurgeon dealt with depression, and many lesser known figures would testify that it was only out of their almost desperate weakness that they ministered at times.
The older I get, the more I feel assured that next in importance right after maintaining courageous Biblical truth, we need both major quantities of humility and compassion to minister to broken people. God allows painful things into our lives that induce these qualities. He needs us to be on our faces before Him!
Do we know what it means to really follow Jesus? And, are we telling the truth to our kids?