It is no surprise that it’s easy to follow Jesus when …
- The market share is up and to the right.
- Your kids are attending their college classes you paid way too much for.
- Your marriage is thriving, and you are healthy.
- Your ministry is blowing up in the best way.
But when those things aren’t happening, what do we do?
We all (I’m talking to myself here, too) have to answer this question: Are we only following Jesus when Jesus is coming through for us? And come on, who doesn’t want Jesus to come through? Who doesn’t want to have faith that moves mountains and moves your kids out of your house? Who doesn’t want to believe God for miracles (like Tom Brady signing with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers)? Who doesn’t want to have bold faith that believes God can and will make it better? Who isn’t trusting God for a bigger and brighter future? Come on!
But when Jesus does not come through like that … ?
We are left with the uncomfortable reality that maybe our version of following Jesus has a lot to do with what we get from Jesus. Let me be fair: It is difficult not to love that Jesus. I love that Jesus. In the United States and other parts of the developed world, we can go decades clinging to that version of Jesus, and it works! He comes through. Life is good. He makes it better.
Until He doesn’t …
The bottom drops out. The bottom always drops out. Eventually, our “Prosperity Jesus” (even if He is disguised behind our “non-Prosperity Gospel selves”) is exposed. And we must decide if we like what we are left with.
Are we still hyped to follow a Jesus who …
- Allowed my business to fail because of COVID-19?
- Allowed my depression to overwhelm me?
- Allowed my ministry to shrink and maybe not recover?
- Allowed my friend to get sick?
- Allowed my marriage to end?
And that’s the point, right? God allowed those things. We believe that God could have changed those circumstances we would never have chosen, but He didn’t. What do you even do with that? I think you have two options:
- Option 1: You continue to cling to the version of Jesus that’s going to always make it better: He’s going to turn everything around. But when your reality doesn’t match that version of Jesus, it’s hard not to be angry. Heck, it’s hard to continue to follow Jesus.
- Option 2: You consider the possibility that your faith has been propped up on a version of Jesus that doesn’t exist. And honestly, a version of Jesus and faith that’s not nearly as good as the original.
Here’s what James the brother of Jesus said in James 1:2 (NIV): “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds …”
When life hits the fan, it can break your faith, or it can make your faith. The “Make It Better Jesus” won’t hold up when your world is falling apart. Faith in this Jesus is always dependent on the winds of your circumstances. When life is good, Jesus is good. When life is bad, Jesus isn’t coming through and you think you must have screwed something up. When you decide to surrender your preconceived ideas of who Jesus is and how He works and you follow Him regardless of what He allows into and out of your life, a different kind of faith is born. You can experience pain and follow Jesus anyway. You can face uncertainty and follow Jesus anyway. You can feel the disappointment and follow Jesus anyway. You have a faith in Jesus that remembers our world is broken and Jesus never promised pain-free, problem-free. He promised His presence and His peace. This Jesus is above and in the midst of our circumstances.
James keeps going and says in verse 3 (NIV): “Because you know [but do we know?] that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.”
We view hard circumstances and difficult seasons so negatively. We question ourselves and the God of the universe and think that one of us dropped the ball. But could it be that God has a bigger plan for our circumstances? Maybe He wants to use this hard season to make something better (our families, our jobs, our finances, our characters, our ministries, our futures, ourselves). Difficult circumstances reveal who we are and what we really believe. We are stripped of everything that doesn’t matter and are left clinging to what truly does matter. Hopefully, it’s our faith in Jesus — that He has a plan and a purpose for our lives and that He will come through. If we don’t have that, then what do we have and what ultimately is the point?
This kind of faith brings freedom from:
- Circumstances taking the legs out from under our faith.
- Having to explain away and ignore the pain we feel.
- Resentment that somehow God owes us.
- Having to allow our current situations to dictate our contentment.
James continues: “Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:4 NIV).
You have all that you need to face all that is coming. You don’t have to fear the future. You don’t have to run from the past. You don’t have to be anxious in the present. Jesus is with you and for you and will give you everything you need to face what’s right in front of you. That’s freedom.
Life wasn’t easy for Jesus or His early followers either. But they had a strength and a confidence in who Jesus is because they remembered what He promised: Life was going to be hard because we live in a broken world. But “Take heart!” because “I have overcome the world!” (John 16:33 NIV), and one day, “[I] will wipe away every tear” (Revelation 7:17 NIV). But until then, “let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus” (Hebrews 12:1-2 NIV), not the circumstances. We have what Hebrews 12:1 says is a “great cloud of witnesses” cheering us on. These witnesses experienced terrible circumstances but finished their races well because they remembered they were called to something greater: They were called to love and to live as Jesus did and to point people to a faith and a hope that transcends circumstances. This is strength. This is power. This is confidence. This is faith.