Following Jesus When It’s Difficult
Telling people that they’ll inherit the ‘easy life’ might be a good way to get people to sign up, but it’s a terrible way to make followers of Jesus!
If it’s just about how many people raise their hands, or come forward at the close of the service, if it’s just about stats at the end of the outreach event, or camp, or rally—then sure, tell people that Jesus will solve all your problems and give you a life full of happiness, over-flowing wealth, and divinely-blessed health.
But that is plainly and simply not true. It’s a lie.
That message might be preached in some churches, but it’s not the gospel of Jesus Christ—it’s a doctrine of demons.
Apart from the fact that it is theologically bankrupt, it doesn’t even hold up on the crucible of life.
By all means, come forward to accept Jesus and receive the ‘good life’, but from the moment you walk out the door you will face trouble after trouble—the life of a disciple is difficult. You know it. I know it. Even the false teacher know it—however a message on ‘difficult discipleship’ is nowhere near as lucrative, so they’ll continue with their ‘health, wealth, and happiness’ gospel.
A World Full of Trouble
We live in a world full of trouble.
You don’t need to look very far in the Bible to see it. Even Jesus warns his disciples that to follow him meant following him into trouble.
John 15:18–21 (ESV)—18 “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. 20 Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. 21 But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me.
Or after promising the gift of the Holy Spirit to those who followed him, Jesus would again warn them of the harsh reality of living as a disciple in this world.
John 16:33 (ESV)—33 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
So, yes, we get that following Jesus is difficult. The Bible teaches that as so, as does our experience.
But how do we face those difficult days?
It’s Hard To Follow Jesus
Step One—Be Honest
The struggle is real. It’s no use pretending otherwise, though it’s a game many Christians are pretty good at playing. You will never fight this fight if you pretend it isn’t happening.
Take Paul as your example:
Romans 7:18–25 (ESV)— 18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.
Can you identify with that? Of course you can! We all can. But will you admit it?
See how Paul, even in his struggle, quickly casts his eyes around to see who will deliver him from this great battle—his answer? God! God is his deliverer through Jesus Christ. That’s why Romans 8 starts like it does. In Christ, all condemnation is cancelled. We are freed from the law of sin and death by the Spirit of life!
So while the battle is real, the victory is secure.
Spiritual realities, not your fleshly circumstances, determine the outcome of your faith.
This leads us into our next step:
Step Two—Be Certain
I want you to recall the time where the disciples became discouraged and many walked away from Jesus because of his teaching.
The whole story can be found from John 6:22-71, but I want you to focus for a moment on how people responded to what Jesus was asking of them:
John 6:66–69 (ESV) — 66 After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. 67 So Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” 68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, 69 and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”
Don’t miss the significance of this. Jesus had just delivered some incredibly challenging teaching, the implications seemed enormous, so many of the ones who had previously followed Jesus everywhere said, “This is too much for me, it’s too hard, I’m out of here!”
Jesus, seeing his followers walk away, turns to his closest friends and asks the question, “Well, what about you? Are you leaving as well?” Look at Peter’s response.
I’m sure that the teaching Jesus had just given was just as hard to Peter and the other of the 12, but Peter’s response gives us an important insight into how we can resist in this great battle we all face.
“Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”
Peter had settled in his heart what was the truth. Peter was certain. He didn’t try and enter into the debate of the teaching, or justify how Jesus could have said those things, we don’t even know if Peter understood all that Jesus was really saying. But what we do know, is that Peter looked at Jesus, and said, “I trust you.” Basically, Peter says, “I’m not going anywhere Jesus. I may not understand you. I may not be able to see where you’re leading me. But I trust you. You are where life comes from, and that’s enough for me.”
So settle it today—tell Jesus right now, “I’m here, and I’m not going anywhere else.”
Or, as the Apostle Paul was able to say, as he reflected on the good news of the gospel, and how because of the gospel he was under attack:
2 Timothy 1:12 (ESV) — But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to me.
So, Be Honest—you are are great sinner. But Be Certain—you have an even greater Saviour. Then finally, Be Focused—the story isn’t finished yet.
What was it that Paul was so certain about? Well, in these verses, it is two great truths:
1. He knew who his trust was in. Just like Peter had, Paul now looked at Jesus as said, “I know who you are, and I’m not going anywhere!”
2. But he also knew that Jesus was trustworthy to finish what he had started.
See that? “I am convinced that he is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to me.”
Paul knew that Jesus was completely trustworthy, supremely capable, immensely powerful, and absolutely committed to Paul’s success as a disciple.
Paul knew that the story wasn’t over. Despite the setbacks, the trip-ups, the battles, the struggles—Jesus was at work, and that once Jesus set out to accomplish his work, nothing—not even death or the devil—could stand in his way.
Remember who you are—you are Christ’s bride, his church, so when he said to Peter:
Matthew 16:18 (ESV) — 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
…he was shouting in the face of everything that would stand against you, against us, “I will build you up, and hell itself will not succeed in tearing you away from me.”
The end of your discipleship journey has already been secured, and there is no safer hands to be in than in the pierced hands of your Saviour.
So lift up your eyes, even in the midst of your struggle, especially in the midst of your struggle, and focus on that Day. The day when Jesus welcomes you home, a bride ready to meet his groom.
Can you imagine it? Can you picture it in your head?
Maybe you can’t.
Maybe the struggle seems too great at the moment, the distance seems too far. If that is you, then stop and hear what God is saying to you today:
Philippians 1:3–11 (ESV) — 3 I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, 4 always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. 6 And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. 7 It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. 8 For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. 9 And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, 10 so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.
Jesus will finish what he started.
Just Keep Swimming
In the words of a forgetful blue fish, “Just keep swimming.”
As a follower of Jesus, there are difficult days, and even if you haven’t experienced them yet, you will. So what will you do?
1. Be Honest—The struggle is real. You are a sinner.
2. Be Certain—Take courage. You have a great Saviour.
3. Be Focused—Lift your eyes to the finish line. You are an incomplete story, and God has not finished with you yet.