The cultural quest for comfort and convenience is killing American Christianity. Following Jesus is not something done from the ease of a lazy boy chair, with television clicker in hand, waiting for the microwave to ding. Following Jesus is not a walk in the park with butterflies fluttering and sunshine beaming. Jesus made it clear that following him can be an arduous task. After all if they crucified him, the master, then what can we expect our treatment to be like. Following him requires that we be ready and willing to pick up our own cross. That kind of thinking puts followers of Jesus on a collision course with western culture.
Far from embracing struggle and hardship as valuable, our culture has as one of it’s highest values that life should be as comfortable and pleasant as possible. Any hint of struggle, hardship, disappointment, stress, or grief, is taken for evidence that something is seriously wrong. Hardship is to be avoided, pain is to be masked, strain and stress must to be alleviated. Need examples? When did we start giving every child on every Little League or Youth Soccer team a trophy at the end of the season, so that nobody would have their feelings hurt? How about school districts that outlaw the use of red pens by teachers when correcting papers because the color is too traumatizing to students? Are you kidding me?
My point is, we have become soft and that softness of culture has infected the church. In fact, I believe that the Church at large has become so immersed in this cultural value that abhors struggle and hardship that we are literally the proverbial frog in the kettle. Put a frog in comfortable water and ever so slowly raise the temperature and the frog will never notice that it is slowly going to die from the heat. Christians have been having the cultural water of comfort ever so slowly consume us and we are at risk of having any real semblance of the lifestyle of Jesus disappear from our midst altogether.
It all reminds me of the Roberta Flack hit from the 70’s, “Killing Me Softly”. That’s what is happening. We are not dying from a vicious assault that is pummeling us to death. We are not being worn down and traumatized by violent persecution and a daily struggle to live our faith in the face of unrelenting anger. Instead, Christianity in the west is dying from a slow softening of our resolve, strength, courage, and willingness to face the hard realities of life for a greater good.
This cultural value of comfort has been spiritualized in the Church. If anything becomes a struggle or hardship or strain, many will immediately start looking for some Satanic opposition behind the hardship. Why? Because if God was involved wouldn’t it be a huge success, no opposition, only pleasant and joyous? The airwaves are full of preachers telling you that Jesus wants you only to be healthy and wealthy and problem free. Anything less than that is an attack from Satan or a lack of faith on your part.
Even if you don’t buy into the false Gospel of prosperity you may well have been taken in by more subtle ideas. How often have you heard any sense of discomfort getting translated into “not having a peace” about the thing and that God must not be in it. God’s blessing is often evaluated in terms that are borrowed directly from the culture. Peace, comfort, ease, and numerical success, become sure signs that you are one the right track and in Christian terms, that God is blessing you.
I recently returned from a trip overseas where I gathered with 180 church planters who came primarily from countries that are closed to the Gospel and hostile to Christians and Christianity. What a contrast to the softness and comfort seeking of the west. These are people who have lost their jobs because they converted to Christianity. In the west we would be outraged and start suing someone. In their context they took it as a sign of honor that they were truly following Jesus and now had the privilege of trusting him everyday for their needs. I sat and listened to people tell about being arrested and beaten, on multiple occasions, simply because they were following Jesus. How did they respond? With delight that the experience gave them other opportunities to share Jesus with their captors. I heard tales of people having their houses burned down because they followed Jesus and of the blessing it was to the rest of the church because it gave them a chance to demonstrate the love of Christ by helping a brother rebuild. I have shared a meal with one pastor who had to hide in the woods for a month, with people bringing him food, while hoodlums looked for him in order to kill him. We ate at his church to which he returned once things quieted down. Why did he go back? So he could continue to share the Gospel in his village and with the people who hated him.
Have you ever wondered how the generation that Tom Brokaw calls “The Greatest Generation” was able to endure and overcome during World War 2? I think a big part of the answer is that generation was coming of age during the Great Depression. They grew up learning that life was a struggle and you had to embrace the hardship and let it shape you. They had survived the Great Depression and when it came time for a bigger challenge, saving the world, even if it meant laying down their lives, they embraced it. Oh to have a church in the west that embraced that kind of mind set. What impact could we have if we sought first, not our comfort, ease, and convenience but instead the Kingdom of God and all it entails, hardship, struggle and all? How different might your life and witness be if you did not always seek your comfort and safety but rather the Glory of God found in carrying your Cross?