In a world where people often expect their needs to be met immediately and their wants to be met even faster, where does the Christian stand amidst such a demand for immediate gratification of desire? Answer: Right in the thick of it.
Whether it’s at the local McDonald’s (they are everywhere) or at the gas station or at the local coffee shop, at least in America one would not be hardpressed to find at least one person throughout the day who is frustrated with having to wait. What’s astonishing is that this wait doesn’t even have to be more than a minute or two to see people slowly get angry and irritable with others. It’s true, we do live in a faster world where at one point it took the better part of a year to travel from New York to Los Angeles whereas today it’s only a matter of finding a ride to the airport (or parking if you can afford it) and then sitting for a few hours in a cushioned seat reading a book, taking a nap, or checking email until you arrive. It used to be when you are away from home and need to contact someone you would find a local pay phone or public place with a phone available. Now, nearly everyone and their children have cell phones. As opposed to not hearing from a friend or relative for several months, one only has to login to Facebook or Twitter to read about any random thought or occurrence that happened that very day/hour.
Okay, so I think the point has been made that we live in a fast-paced world where people are accustomed to being able to do things much faster than they used to, but what about when it comes to Christians and churches? Sadly, it is often no different than one might expect to find at a McDonald’s or coffee shop. People want their sermons to be a specific length so that they aren’t too uncomfortable and can have plenty of time to beat some other denomination to lunch. People want community, but don’t give the time to small groups and only shake the hands of people who they are comfortable with in church and sit in the same spots on Sunday mornings. People want discipleship, but cringe when their pastor asks them to memorize a verse of Scripture. People want evangelism, but often people live such busy lives that they present a number of excuses (myself included) to exempt them from sharing the Gospel. As a result, you have a routine for church that is often thing-driven or time driven as opposed to being Spirit-driven.
Francis Chan was a popular pastor of Cornerstone Church in Simi Valley, California, for many years and the author of several popular books Crazy Love and Forgotten God. In Forgotten God, Chan makes an appeal for believers to live Spirit-led lives and to not abandon the Holy Spirit in their Christian lives. Recently, after planting a church and seeing it go from a handful of friends to one of the larger churches in the country, at the peak of the more prosperous year for Cornerstone Church their famous pastor Francis Chan decided to leave. Why? Why would a famous pastor at a church that was thriving decide to go elsewhere? In some of Chan’s final sermons available online through iTunes, Chan states that he simply felt that the Spirit was leading him elsewhere. He also said that he has noticed that in his walk with the Lord that he often has to “rock the boat” per se and radically change his life in order to open more doors to be used by God and to serve others.
Is that not amazing! How many churches that are prosperous find their pastor decide to leave their church and work at planting a new church elsewhere in a more difficult and needy place? Some people might view this as stupid, however, Christianity is not meant to make sense or be comfortable, mind you. This does not mean that we are not to be comforted as Christians, there is a difference. James tells us that we are to be joyful that we experience all sorts of trials and tribulations because they produce endurance (James 1:2-4). Paul tells us that we are to rejoice in our sufferings (Philippians). Jesus says in Matthew 5:10-11 that those who are persecuted are blessed. What does persecution and suffering have to do with Chan leaving his church?
Great question! It means that Francis Chan saw the opportunity to suffer more and to perhaps even be persecuted for leaving his church and starting a new ministry elsewhere, and he voluntarily jumped at the opportunity. You see, many of us as Christians experience suffering, pain, and persecution at times, but how many of us truly embrace our suffering? Do we identify with our Lord Jesus as the early apostles did in their suffering, or are we greatly distressed because we aren’t in the ideal situation? We are called as Christians to not merely be comfortable with our suffering, but to embrace it and perhaps even to seek it. This doesn’t mean that we are to become sadistic pain seeking people, but rather we are called to put ourselves in places of suffering for others. After all, is this not exactly what our Lord did on the cross? How much more should we then being less than our Lord strive to imitate him in his weakness!
Now, to tie things together a bit…
What does all of this talk about embracing suffering and putting one’s self at a disadvantage for others have to do with people’s impatience in the midst of a fast-paced culture? Another great question. It means that when you are in a traffic jam on that highway you are always on, you do not respond as everyone else does by getting agitated and irritable. It means that while in said heavy traffic and other cars are trying to pull into your lane, you actually slow down and let them get in front of you. It means that when you are at a grocery store waiting in line forever, you greet the cashier with loving words as opposed to bitter words. It means that when we are in church and the sermon is going long, our focus is on the content of the message and not on the time of the message. It means when we are hurting for funds and someone in church/work/school is in need of funds for a mission trip, living expense, or some other need we give more than what we can to put ourselves at a disadvantage. Why do we put up with all this waiting and suffering and pain as Christians? That is because being a Christian is about putting yourself in the place of those who are disadvantaged and taking upon yourself their pain, struggles, suffering, and problems.
Tim Keller calls this “generous justice,” but I call it imitating Jesus Christ (and I believe he agrees). Jesus took upon himself the sins of the entire world both past, present, and future while having done no sin himself, and suffered, died, and was buried on account of what we have done. In Jesus the sins of humanity were taken from us and in exchange by grace through faith we have been given his righteousness in participation in him. In theology, this transaction is traditionally referred to as the substitutionary atonement which is a cornerstone of evangelical Christian doctrine and is one of many points of theology being disputed today. Though, I don’t solely claim the substitutionary atonement and believe there is great value in the other major views of the atonement, nevertheless I regard the substitutionary view with great importance. This is another reason why knowing theology is not only beneficial, but important for the Christian. If the Christian life is based upon God in the person and work of Jesus Christ, than is it not important to know as much as we can about Jesus in order to not only imitate him better, but to share his testimony with others?
In the midst of a dying world with moral depravity and human failure around nearly every corner, how crucial it for us to submit ourselves first to the word of God as revealed in the Bible, to the Lord in prayer, and then with similar importance to the pursuit of knowing our own beliefs as Christians in the study of theology. It is only then that we can strive to run the race a Paul did being constant in prayer, diligent in study of God’s word, and fervently seeking to know God and our faith and ourselves better by studying theology. Though, the diligence, the fervency, and the constancy are not enough to be a Christian, it is much more challenging than that. To be a Christian one has to not only seek to learn these things well, but to live them daily. In the midst of a busy and fast-paced world we are called as Christians to show this world an other-worldliness in that we imitate our Lord Jesus Christ as best we can and seek with all our affections to love him, desire him, and love others with godly love. It is in this sense that we embrace our suffering as Francis Chan has and in this sense that we are patient, slow to anger, and abounding steadfast loving kindness.
The call of the Christian is not an easy one and though it is for the weak, it is not for the weak to remain weak but rather to become strong by loving God and others while being continually viewed as weak and humble in the eyes of the world. This is part of what it means to live Spirit-driven lives and this is what we as Christians are called to do and be.
May our Lord grant us strength to embrace suffering to identify with our Lord, pursue it we are to, and to be a living testimony to our Lord Jesus Christ in our suffering so that we might be able to further imitate him while still being imperfect ourselves, and seeking to grow in the knowledge of the saving righteousness of God in Jesus Christ through a better understanding through reading the Word, the spiritual disciplines, and the pursuit of theology with great zeal not to save ourselves as if our feeble imperfect works could merit our salvation, but to bring greater glory to God in gratitude and thanksgiving for who he is and what he has done. Amen.