Let me go ahead and say what many of you are thinking: Trusting the Lord does not mean everything will go OK for you. There is a thing called “disappointment with God,” and if you do not know how to navigate this truth when your difficult time comes, you will have a hard time recovering.
The preacher blared from his pulpit, “You follow God and He’ll take care of you.” And there were a smattering of hearty “Amens” throughout the church building, followed by, “You preach it, brother.” Everyone went home happy and confident that life was going to be OK because God takes care of those who give their lives to Him. That was the message Biff heard as a 20-something-year-old new convert. Biff is 43 today.
He’s divorced, hurt and angry at God. The Lord did not take care of him, at least not the way that he expected. How many of you can relate to Biff? Maybe you were not divorced, but your life took turns that you never expected, especially after you made your decision to follow Christ.
Biff’s story is most definitely my story. I was a 25-year-old biblically illiterate young man who trusted Christ. Somehow I picked up on the notion of God taking care of me and things would be different—according to my expectations.
At the beginning of my walk with Jesus, life was refreshingly different, and mostly positive. I came out of an abusive family structure and the drug culture. I guess looking back on it reflectively, how could religion miss? I mean, anything was better than the life that I was living. And so it was. God was new, fresh, alive and pure. For once I was living a preferred life.
Then there was a bump in the road, and I fell off the “God will take care of me” bandwagon. When things began to go bad for me, it revealed an unprepared heart that could not accommodate these new turn of events. It caught me by surprise, as I fell between the regretful tension of a “would’ve-should’ve dream” and the actual story that God was writing in my life.
Mist Life and Future Life Are Different
Biff was not prepared for the pain either. Somehow he slipped into the mindset of thinking that he could have his best life now. He confused life on earth as though it was supposed to be like living in heaven. He wanted to experience heaven on earth rather than fallenness on earth.
He blended this two-part Christian life into a hybrid of his own making. Though he believed in the two parts, the earth part and the eternal part, he got them blended and twisted in his mind. James talked about the earth part as a mist when he gave us this quotable line, “What is your life?”
What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. – James 4:14
The Hebrew writer gave us his big thoughts about the future when he fixed our gaze on our permanent dwelling—the eternal part. That part has very little in common with our life on earth.
These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. – Hebrews 11:13
You can find scores of other passages that separate the “mist-life” from the “future-life.” The keys to remember about this perspective are (1) you will live both of these lives, (2) in a particular order, and (3) the two are connected, but not overlapping.
- The mist life is on earth, which has battles, wars, evil, sin and casualties.
- The future life is in heaven, which has no war, evil, sin or casualties.
A Theology of Suffering
If you don’t have this dichotomy and order fixed in your head, you will be set up for a lot of disappointment. And from there you will fall into the traps of discouragement, discontentment, disillusionment and possibly disbelief.
This confusion is what happened to me. I had a future hope for my present evil world but did not realize the danger that this kind of thinking would wreak havoc on my soul. When I fell, it was hard, and when the numbness wore off, I was discouraged, discontented, disillusioned and on the verge of unbelief.
I mused, “Why should I follow God? I was doing His bidding, and He couldn’t keep me from being hurt.” Do you see the problem in this kind of thinking? My understanding of suffering in an evil world was immature and incomplete.
Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. – 2 Timothy 2:3
There were passages that I had read and taught, but did not personally and practically apply. These verses were the ones that talked about suffering in an evil world. Every New Testament book has the verses. And they make great preaching texts, albeit hard living texts.
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
For to this, you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. – 1 Peter 2:21
Do What Jesus Did?
The Peter passage is one of the most difficult and challenging passages you’ll ever read. The context goes from 1 Peter 2:18 to 1 Peter 3:7. It’s important to get the context, because of how he takes his preamble on suffering (2:18-25) and applies it to marriage (3:1-7).
In 1 Peter 2:18-25, he develops a robust theology of suffering as he connects the heart of your “mist-life” to the Savior. He says that there is a call upon you to suffer, just as your Savior lived out His call to suffer. He then appeals to you to walk in His steps. The irony here is this verse was the premise for the book by Charles Sheldon called In His Steps. You may not know of Sheldon’s book, but you probably remember the slogan that came from it—WWJD.
Back in the ’90s, the Christian community went bonkers over WWJD. The context for that idea was all about suffering. You are called to suffer. The slick bracelets were cutesy, but the reality of genuinely living that kind of life is like thunder and lightning in the soul. Dying a martyr’s death is far more traumatizing than wearing a high-gloss bracelet or making millions by placing it on T-shirts and hats so the Christian community can sport their relevance and herd mentality.
You’ll know if your WWJD bracelet is authentically working for you the next time someone breaks your heart. When you step out onto the courthouse steps, just after the judge declares you divorced and in a matter of seconds you lose your wife and children.
That is the moment when the evil in this world crushes your life and either your faith will carry you through, or it will disappear like a worn out novelty bracelet. Though WWJD was a cool fad, it won’t help you in trauma. Your help won’t come from what’s on your wrist, but what is in your heart.
Problem-Centered or God-Centered?
Biff was a relevant Christian, but the power of the gospel did not shape his heart. The gospel talks about someone murdering a man who came to earth to live a Christian life—or in this case, that man was the Christ.
The mind-bending other side of the gospel talks about a heavenly Father permitting those evil people to murder His Son. Isaiah said it was the will of the Lord to crush His one and only Son (Isaiah 53:10). We have two ways to look at this problem.
- On one side we see a man being put to death by cruel people—all true.
- On the other side, we see a man being crushed by His Father—all true.
These two concepts are essential for you to know. Both of them are true. Yes, God allowed sin to happen to a perfect person. Yes, God can use sin sinlessly. It would be interesting for you to diagnose how you think about the problems that come into your life.
- Do you see your problems primarily as what is happening to you on earth, by evil people or evil circumstances?
- Do you see your problems primarily as your heavenly Father being up to something profound in your life?
Both of these things are true, but one of these ideas should have primacy in your heart. Which one? Sadly, if you are problem-centered and can only think about the evil that is happening to you at this moment, you’ll miss the truth of a kind Father working in your life.
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SOURCE: Church Leaders