In 1965, The Rolling Stones sang a song that said, “I can’t get no satisfaction, though I try, and I try, and I try.” Depressing? Of course, they’re rock stars; they don’t have the fulfillment of living for a purpose or cause bigger than themselves. They live a morbid, selfish, shallow existence. So… Why is it, then, that believers in Jesus Christ, even those in ministry, deal with the same feelings of emptiness, loneliness, pain, and frustration?
That’s a good question.
As Christians, aren’t we supposed to be living satisfied lives brimming with joy and purpose? Isn’t this the Christian generation of Purpose Driven Life? What about Pentecostal prosperity and the pursuit of Your Best Life Now? We grow up in church, go to a Christian college, graduate with big dreams, find a lucrative job with a high-dollar salary, get married, have children, and teach Sunday school or get involved in other church ministries. This should be enough. So what’s wrong? Hello, Rolling Stones!… most of us aren’t satisfied either!
Here’s a simple question: Is Christianity as a religion, reasonable? One would have to say yes under certain cultural conditions. It has its social benefits in this country. It fills a need for understanding in the same way that all religions do. We have our traditions and our services and our faith, and these all help make the world a happier place in which to live. So, in this respect, serving God is reasonable.
However, what happens when, like in the book of Job, you lose everything? (I was reading Job today… so now you know where all this reflection came from) What about Christians who are persecuted for what they believe? How do you explain to a Christian friend why their son or daughter has a sexually transmitted disease or why they are dealing with bankruptcy or cancer when they have given of themselves for Christ’s sake? The answer has been around for a while but it doesn’t make it any easier to communicate.
Pleasing God does not mean your life will be free of trouble. In fact, far from it! If you choose to please God, it’s the tougher road. Peachy and Pollyanna perfect are descriptions sometimes associated with Christian life when, in fact, the opposite is often true. In her fiction book, Soulforge, Margaret Weis uses a description that could very aptly depict the Christian life: “You choose to go voluntarily into the fire. The blaze might well destroy you. But in surviving, every blow of the hammer will serve to shape your being. Every drop of water wrung from you will temper and strengthen your soul.” It’s called testing. (Like in I Corinthians 10:13) It gages your level of learning and can be passed (about as easily as a kidney stone sometimes). No one likes tests.
As a personal example, thinking about this has not been emotionally easy because my parents who have been in pastoral and evangelistic ministry since I was a child are dealing with overwhelming pain and frustration even as I write. Why? is a question they ask continually. If all we want to do is serve you, why would you allow us to go through all of this? Sometimes it’s an incredibly lonely place where no one seems to have any comprehension of what we’re going through. Sometimes all I can do is cry with my parents and try to be supportive. There have been moments when the pious programmed responses of brothers and sisters in Christ grate on me like fingernails on a chalk-board. Yes, I have heard countless times the common Christian mantra that says living for Jesus makes life good and that you must be missing something if you are not feeling fulfilled. If you’re a Christian and you’re not feeling happy and fulfilled, don’t worry; that just means you’re human like the rest of us.
In Larry Crabb’s article, On the Occasion of a Friend’s Retreat into Sin, he says that a prevailing heresy in our evangelical culture is the idea “that living for Jesus reliably provides the soul with a depth of satisfaction that exceeds the satisfaction found in sin.” If this is, indeed, what Christians in this country live for, they won’t achieve it! Ultimately, in the case of my parents, I’ve realized that they’re not ministering with the intention or goal of fulfilling their own personal desires; if they were, they would have left ministry years ago. They serve out of faithfulness and a committed relationship to the Lord. It has been an incredible example for me, my brothers, and sister.
According to Ted Dekker, in his book The Slumber of Christianity, “The incomparable great power we have as believers is tied up in hope; lose the hope and you lose the power.” This is where our answer lies. Our hope can’t be in doing everything according to “God’s will” because perfection in that area is humanly impossible; we can’t hope in ministry and accomplishing great things for God or we’ll be ripe candidates for burn-out; our hope has to originate from the unconditional, unfathomable, and deep love God has for us. Our roots need to be grounded in that relationship over all others. Yes, he’s the Creator of the Universe, the One whose words became reality, but He’s also my Daddy.
The relationship we can have with God today as opposed to the way things were in Job’s day are vastly different. We don’t have to make daily or weekly sacrifices for our sins but we do have to be willing to sacrifice our desires, our drive for fulfillment, and our preconceived notions concerning cushy Christian living. “In this world, you’re going to have trouble but take heart (hope!) because I have overcome the world!” (John 16:33)