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An Inconvenient Life

Carry the cross

by Dennis Pollock

I get ideas for the devotional articles I write in all sorts of ways. Most often they come as I read through the Bible. It seems like as long as I stay in the word, the ideas never stop coming. But sometimes they come through life experiences I have. The idea for this particular devotional study came to me in Africa. Benedicta and I had just endured a grueling three-flight, two-day journey and landed in the relatively obscure city of Port Harcourt, Nigeria. When we stepped out of the stifling airport, we expected to meet our host pastor who was to drive us to the community where we planned to stay and minister. But he was nowhere to be found. We convinced one of the local taxi drivers to call his phone number, only to discover that his car had broken down and he would be late picking us up. To make matters worse, the locals around us assured us that he was not a mere thirty minutes away, as we had expected, but that from where he was it might take a couple of hours for him to reach us.

We took a taxi across town and got a couple of Diet Cokes in the lobby of a local hotel while we waited for him to come. We were bone-tired from our long journey, and hour stretched into hour as we waited and waited for our driver. It turned out that the second car he procured also broke down, which delayed him further. Rather than being able to settle into our hotel at around 4:30 in the afternoon as we had expected, we ended up finally reaching our hotel at around 10 pm. It was during this mind-numbing wait that I received the basic thought for this message. It came in the form of both a Scripture and a single thought. The Scripture was this: “I endure all things for the sake of the elect…” The thought that accompanied the Scripture was simple, and yet powerful: “Following Christ is not always convenient.”

According to Plan

We all love convenience. Convenience is just so… well, convenient! We love it when things go smoothly and according to plan, and when we have as few frustrations and difficulties as possible. If only we could so order our lives, that every day, every project, every mission, every relationship, and every activity in which we involve ourselves would run like a well-oiled machine, with no unexpected hassles or the need to ever go beyond the most minimum efforts! And if we didn’t know any better we might suppose that this is how it’s supposed to be, now that we are Christians, and have God on our side and the Holy Spirit working within us and for us. We might think that when we are really and truly filled with the Holy Spirit that God’s blessings would be so powerfully at work within us that every obstacle would be demolished, every plan of the evil one would be dissipated before it could ever touch us, and that we would ride on a wave of uninterrupted blessings and success with no frustrations, disappointments, or serious challenges. That might make a nice theory, but anyone who has ever been serious in following Christ knows that is just ain’t so!

Convenience may be defined as “a situation causing as little effort or stress as possible.” If my wife asks me to drop off some clothes at the drycleaners when I am going somewhere, and if the drycleaners is on way to my destination, causing me to lose no more than five minutes’ time, that is convenient. But if the drycleaners is in the exact opposite direction of where I plan to go, and it is going to cost me and extra 40 minutes, that is inconvenient. When American’s drive ten minutes to church in an air-conditioned car, that is convenience. When my wife Benedicta lived in Nigeria, and had to walk half an hour in her high heels, mostly uphill under the blazing African sun to get to church, guaranteeing that regardless of how well she bathed herself beforehand, she would be drenched in sweat by the time she reached church… that wasn’t exactly convenient!

Paul’s Inconvenient Life

I never cease to marvel at a word our Lord Jesus sent to Paul by the mouth of Ananias just after appearing to him on the road to Damascus and converting him. When Ananias questioned the wisdom of going to the man who was single-handedly trying to destroy the church, Jesus told him that Paul was a “chosen vessel” to bear His name before “Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel.” Immediately afterwards He said something that you might suppose wouldn’t be the wisest thing to reveal just at the beginning of Paul’s ministry. Jesus told Ananias, “I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake.” Jesus seemed to be giving Paul advance warning: “It’s not going to be particularly fun, and it definitely won’t be easy – you will suffer much in this ministry to which I am calling you.”

Paul PreachingAgain we might wonder, “Why?” Why not just bless Paul so abundantly, and make his ministry so powerful that no man or demon will be able to resist him, and every difficulty, every hassle, every frustrating circumstance, every person who would hinder him, would simply melt away before they can ever touch him? Just keep him from ever being sick, ever being imprisoned, ever being challenged, ever being exhausted, ever experiencing setbacks, ever facing betrayals, ever suffering disappointments. Let him ride on a continual high. Make his every plan work perfectly and so sustain his body that he would never know exhaustion.

Anyone who is familiar with the life and ministry of Paul knows that this was far from the case. To be sure his ministry was successful and powerful. But he faced continual challenges and obstacles. Let’s hear Paul tell it in his own words:

Are they ministers of Christ? – I speak as a fool–I am more: in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often. From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness –  besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches. (2 Corinthians 11:23-28)

Wow! And this is made especially powerful when we consider that with Paul’s intellect and training in Jerusalem, he could easily have been a well-respected Jewish rabbi, enjoyed the quiet life of a scholar, and living in a most comfortable and convenient manner. No, for Paul following Jesus Christ was not an especially convenient life.

Us Regular Folks

Nor will it be for us. Few of us will suffer and experience hardship as Paul did, to be sure, but in our own little quiet way we will discover that to follow Christs will not always be “convenient.” In the gospel of Luke Jesus declares:

“If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.” (Luke 14:26, 27)

Crosses are painful, humiliating, and most inconvenient! And yet Jesus tells us that to approach Him with our discipleship application in hand and yet insist upon a “convenience clause” is to be rejected out of hand. Request denied!

Crossless Christianity

We see the unwillingness to be inconvenienced among professing Christians in both big and small ways. The idea of making a profession of Christ, and being assured that we are now accepted by God; we will go to heaven, all our sins are forgiven, we have a loving Heavenly Father who watches over us – all of this is most appealing and requires little inconvenience. Say a short, simple little prayer and bang – you’re set, all is well. But if we fail to tell people about the life of discipleship Jesus demands, we are making things a little too convenient for them.

All over our nation we have men and women who profess Jesus and pretend to be disciples, but neglect even the most basic and rudimentary sacrifice that Jesus desires in their lives – they refuse to rise a little bit early on Sunday morning and attend a Christian church. Of course they have their excuses: “I work hard all week long, and Sunday is the only day I have to sleep in” is one. Another is that tired line, “I don’t need to go to church to worship God. I worship Him wherever I am.” Or sometimes they will tell you in pious tones: “Sunday morning is our family time to relax.” But one has to wonder: If this, the most basic and easiest of commands, is neglected– that of assembling together with other believers, then how could they ever be expected to make any real and serious sacrifices for Christ? Theirs is a religion of convenience. Ease is their god, how to remain comfortable is their religion.

The life that Jesus calls us to is decidedly inconvenient to our flesh. Is it ever convenient to apologize for wronging someone? This can be tremendously painful, but often our Lord will give us no peace until we do. Many people are ready to break relationships and drops friends or even spouses at the first sign of difficulty, but Jesus firmly instructs us to bear with one another, to work through problems, and to forgive, even as He has forgiven us.

And sometimes we find unexpected responsibilities thrust on us at most inopportune times. When my dad was in his eighties, he ended up becoming the primary caretaker of my mom, who had had both her legs amputated due to diabetic complications. As an elderly man he was not strong himself, and at an age where he should have had his life made easier and been pampered, instead his life became immeasurably more difficult. Not only was there all the necessary physical labor of packing and unpacking her wheelchair and wheeling her around, but she became far needier toward him in an emotional sense and could hardly stand to have him out of the house or away from her for more than an hour. He knew that for him there was no choice in this matter. Integrity and responsibility required him to tend to Mom’s needs, and he served her patiently and well, until his passing at 87. The closest I ever heard him come to complaining about it was in a simple statement he made to me in confidence one day when I was visiting. He said in his quiet way: “This is not easy.” No, it was not easy, but it was necessary, and the grace of Christ in Dad was equal to the task.

The Ultimate Model

As in all matters of virtue and excellence, the ultimate model of this is Jesus Christ Himself. It was not compulsory that He should come to this earth, and it certainly was not convenient for Him to take on flesh and become as one of us. Not only that, but He appeared as a lowly Galilean, who were the scorned “hillbillies” of Israel. And once His ministry began, He had to endure constant trekking all over the land of Israel, constant scorn by the intelligentsia of Israel, even hatred by the men who should have welcomed Him as Israel’s King and Messiah.

But worst of all was the cross. Any cross Jesus asks us to bear is as nothing compared to that terrible bloody cross with its cruel nails tugging on His tender skin for those long, agonizing hours. Why should our Lord so inconvenience Himself? He did it for love’s sake, or as Paul might put it, He did it “for the elect’s sake.” For the sake of you and me and all those who would believe on His name, and in His death for our sins and His resurrection, and then go forth bearing our own little crosses through this world. Is it an inconvenient life? Yes, often it is, but no other life can possibly compare to that which we gain by obeying His command, “Take up your cross, and follow Me.”


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