Thursday, 12 April 2012
What does it mean to be a Christian? This question has haunted me for a long time. I thought I knew, but I couldn't help being disappointed with the way my life turned out, and with myself. I looked around and wondered what being a Christian had ever gotten me, besides let down a number of times. My dad has been a pastor since before I was born, and what did being a pretty devoted Christian ever get him? Nothing that I could see. He's penniless, hapless, and as he gets older, I can see more and more desperation inside him, tearing him up inside.
And what about these mega-churches, these polished pastors that lead thousands of members every Sunday? Aren't they full of hypocrisy and feel-good, empty fluff sermons? Weren't they at worst a gluttonous cave full of lies that sucked up people's donations at the expense of their souls? And at best, weren't they preaching a baby-Bible that did nothing but make people feel good about giving up two hours of their week while giving them an excuse to look down on those that didn't? Why should they be so blessed, when I've struggled my whole life to mature in my faith and get closer to God?
People often say that God rarely blesses monetarily. He gives us other blessings like happiness and inner joy, but not money. That, we have to get for ourselves. I don't see that. I do see that God sometimes calls us to live simply, to give of ourselves so someone else can have more.
But God also sustains us, and He very often blessed Israel in the Old Testament with abundance when their king was obedient and had the people worship their true God. This happened over and over. The king would obey God and observe His sacrifices, and the people would prosper. Then the king would rebel and worship other gods, and the people would fall to their enemies and be made slaves. Then another king would come back to God, and the nation would be freed from their slavery and would be prosperous once again. Why these kings couldn't get it into their heads that God equals freedom and peace is something I do not understand. But my point is made: God both understands money and works with it.
In the New Testament, things were a little different. God's disciples were often poor or in prison because they had obeyed Him, not because they had rebelled. Paul says in Philippians 4:12, "I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need." New American Standard Bible.
There are situations of both poverty and abundance. The next verse is Philippians 4:13, "I can do all things through Him who strengthens me." The disciples are put into situations where God uses them, where He has a job for them, and He gives them the strength necessary to do that job. The comfort of their situation is not dependent on their obedience to God. Sometimes, being obedient to God requires being in a situation that is uncomfortable.
So what does it mean to be a Christian? And closer to my struggle: if I am penniless and uncomfortable with my life, does that mean that I need to be a better Christian? I don't think it does.
I don't like that answer, because it means that there isn't a magic button I can push; a thing I can do or a prayer I can say or even a lesson I can learn to instantly open the door to prosperity and abundance and all those other wonderful things that people expect when they sign up for this.
My long and winding point is this: sometimes being a Christian doesn't feel good. Sometimes it makes us suffer or go hungry. Sometimes it gives us blessing and abundance. But that's God's decision, not ours. True Christianity relinquishes the right to ourselves and thus, to the 'right' to always be comfortable.
Which I don't like, because I want to be comfortable; I want God to just flip a switch and make everything in my life turn into roses. Who doesn't want that? But if something like that happens, it'll be God's doing, and it'll be because He has a purpose in doing it. It won't be because I deserve it or because I did anything to get it.
I'm going to try to post more on the idea of what it is to be a true Christian. I don't pretend to have the answers; I'm learning as I post. But I think there is a difference between the kind of Christians we see today and the way Christianity was meant to be. I go so far as to dislike the term 'Christian' because it evokes the idea of the mainstream church-goer, a person I tend to despise. I differentiate 'Christians' (ick) from 'Disciples,' a term I use to describe Christians as it seems to me that we are meant to be. More on that later, probably.
In your experience, is it easy or difficult to be a Christian? Does the amount of money you have indicate how good of a Christian you are? Does God ever say that Christianity is comfortable?