I think the biggest mistake people make regarding Christianity is to assume that giving one’s life to Christ will lead to guaranteed comfort and security. I don’t know where this idea of contented and easy faith came from, but it is certainly not biblical. When God called Jonah He did not ask him to visit a quaint group of believers and prophesy about their future glory. Rather, he was told to warn dangerous sinners of their eminent destruction. Paul had to be blinded in order to be converted, and his life did not become any easier after deciding to follow Christ. Imprisonment, shipwreck and floggings seemed to follow him wherever he went. God’s own Son was subjected to rejection, excruciating pain, and death by the hands of those He had never wronged. The idea of comfortable Christianity so commonly seen in modern sermons and testimonies misses the mark and fails to adequately express the true nature of the faith. All too often, when trials befall, this superficial Christianity fails and believers are forced to either reshape their faith or abandon it. It is easy to point a finger at those who sugarcoat Christianity, but I have learned after many years of being humbled, that there is always room to acknowledge some fault in my own life. I hate to admit that despite everything I know Christianity to be, I still find myself wishing God would step in and eliminate my problems rather than walking me through them.
Last spring a friend convinced me to go to a church service with her. Except for chapel services at school, this was the first time I had attended church apart from my family, and the experience of being surrounded by students my age choosing to spend their weekend worshiping God was overwhelming in itself. I regret to say that I do not remember about what the pastor preached, but at the end he touched on Jesus’ death and resurrection. Instead of highlighting the sacrifice of Good Friday or the miracle of resurrection Sunday like I have heard so many do before, he talked about what Saturday must have looked like for those left behind. Because the ending of the story is already known, it is so easy for us to forget about the friends, family, and followers of Jesus who had to live with the pain and loss of the One who meant everything to them. The mixed disbelief and joy accompanying the resurrection are so much more powerful when one acknowledges those long and confusing hours Jesus’ disciples spent without Him. As I considered this familiar narrative in a new light, I could not help but think about the pain I was experiencing in my own life after the loss of a close friend just a few months earlier. I resonated deeply with the lost and confused apostles, who I surmised were probably questioning and doubting as well. Trying to make sense out of the situation, I took some comfort in believing that my Saturday moment was only temporary, and I prayed that I would soon be filled with the peace and understanding of Sunday.
Fast-forward several months to the fall of my second year of college. I found myself attending a service at the same church with another friend who managed to drag me out of my room on a Sunday night. Once again the same pastor delivered a sermon that I’m sure was moving, as I have since come to realize that they all are, but unfortunately I do not remember a word of it. He concluded by talking about the confusion and disarray felt by those closest to Jesus during that awful day between his death and resurrection and the pain they felt that is all too often overlooked. I don’t know why he chose to deliver the same short message at the end of his service both times I happened to be in attendance. My best guess is that God knew his words were exactly what I needed to hear. I was hit hard by the realization that I had heard this message before, and even harder when I was forced to recognize that I was still living in my Saturday moment. I had expected God to answer my prayers by eliminating my sadness and frustration and bringing about the joy of Sunday in my life. The thought that this had not occurred and might not occur for a long time was difficult to accept, and I wondered how the good and loving God I had been taught about could allow Saturday to carry on for so long.
The next week I attended a different church with my roommates. The pastor spoke on the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego – three men who refused to worship their king, were thrown into a fiery furnace, and were saved because of their faith. Once again, I found myself thinking that this familiar story couldn’t possibly teach me something new or have an impact on my life. God certainly has a sense of humor, and I think He finds joy in proving me wrong. Rather than talking about the faith of the three brave men at the opening of the story or their salvation at the end, the pastor focused on their time spent within the furnace. The Bible says that King Nebuchadnezzar asked his servants why there were four men walking around in the fire (one being an angel of God) unscathed. The idea of the men remaining in the flames rather than being immediately rescued and redeemed by God seemed illogical to my flawed humanity. If I were an omnipresent and omnipotent God I would have rescued my followers from their fate immediately. But I am not God, and His plans always seem to exceed my own. God did not immediately remove Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego’s trouble. Rather, He chose to exist with them in the midst of the situation that was intended to break them. The pastor, recognizing that no one can escape hurt and suffering in a fallen world, challenged the congregation to ask God to step into the middle of their storms rather than praying that they be immediately removed from them. Although reluctant at first, I took his advice.
God is faithful and He made His presence in the midst of my Saturday unmistakable. It’s not that He had been neglecting me, but I had been so focused on making my storm a thing of the past that I refused to recognize He could work and move in the present. To say that God took away all pain would be a lie, but He unquestionably stepped into the middle of my storm. I can’t say that my Saturday is completely over, but the glimpses I have been given of God’s grace and love are enough to encourage me to remain exactly where God has me. Once I stopped running away, God began to teach me lessons. I have learned that hurt does not have to be forgotten in order for healing to take place. More often than I care to admit, problems are meant to be embraced rather than ignored. Pain might temporarily blind one from God’s presence, but it does not negate it. Christianity is not synonymous with comfortability, but being pursued by a loving and faithful God in the midst of mistakes and misfortunes is so much more worthwhile. After all, God is not meant to be sought after only on Sundays, but regardless of circumstance, moves and works each and every day someone asks Him to show up.
What were you created to do?
Romans 8:38-39 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.