This week I feel like I am reminding my present and future self about the perils of the Christian walk. I do not know where God is taking me on my pilgrimage but I know there will be seasons of triumphs and trials, moments of certainty and doubt and times when I will wrestle with my faith. Last week a famous American author and pastor posted on social media that he was no longer a Christian. I listened to his story with sadness and a very sober mind because it occurred to me that the same thing could happen to me. This was a man who was once so certain about his faith, what happened?
The truth is holding on to our faith is not easy. Usually, when you are holding onto anything, there is pressure to let go. The Bible regularly reminds us, especially in the letter to the Hebrews, to hold fast to our confessions [Hebrews 3:6, 14, Hebrews 4:14 & Hebrews 10:23 to mention a few]. It issues this warning because life will apply pressure on us and the devil will tempt us to renounce our faith in the harsh circumstances of life. I am reminded of Jesus at the Last Supper praying for Peter because he was about to face enormous pressure to deny Him [Luke 22:31-32]. No one is exempt from this pressure and we shouldn’t be surprised when it comes.
For Christians in the spotlight, the pressure is greater. They face temptation and challenges in the full view of the watching world. Peter was vocal and visible among the disciples of Jesus, so if the devil could drag him down, it would affect those who looked up to him. So it is with any Christian in the spotlight, they are all targets because if the devil can bring them down, there will be collateral damage. This is why it is so important to pray for Christians in the spotlight because many are influenced by how they live out their faith. Even more sinisterly, there will be people who would like to see them fall.
For those of us who aren’t in the spotlight, we must realise as C S Lewis put it that: “there is no neutral ground in the universe. Every square inch, every split second is claimed by God, and counterclaimed by Satan.” There is a battle going on and we are called to stand firm [Ephesians 6:12-13]. For this reason, we must abide in God’s word and make it the focal point of our lives [Deuteronomy 6:4-9]. Do not rely on someone else to feed it to you, learn to feed yourself so that you can stand firm when (not if) the storms of life come. Remember that preachers and people, in general, are fallible. Some will make honest mistakes and sadly, some will try to deliberately lead you astray. As such, it is imperative that you know God’s word for yourself so that you can identify and refute error.
Be warned though, God’s word can be tough to hear and difficult to do. This is not new, John recounts how some disciples were so appalled by Jesus’ preaching, that they walked away [John 6:60-71]. As G K Chesterton once said: “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.” We are imperfect, so we will naturally resist God’s word because it convicts us [Hebrews 4:12] and highlights our imperfections. Therefore, we have to make a conscious effort to push through that resistance to become who God wants us to be. It will require commitment through the periods of certainty and doubt. That said, it helps to understand why God commands a certain way of life, usually, there are very practical reasons. On the rare occasion where you can’t find the reason, you will need to lean on who God is. This will mean accepting “…because God said so” because you know His character and you trust that His infallible word is for your benefit, not His. This level of trust takes time, but it also requires discipline and daily commitment to study and live God’s word.
Our culture likes to idolise its heroes. So often, famous preachers and church leaders are put on pedestals. They may not always want the fame but it tends to comes with their platforms. For some Christians, these men and women become conduits to God. This should never be the case because Jesus invites each of us into a personal relationship with Him, one on One. He calls us to pick up our cross each day and follow Him [Luke 9:23]. If we do this, it will be difficult to put anyone on a pedestal since that position will already be occupied by Jesus. It will also be very difficult for anyone to lead you astray.
Paul once described the Christian life as a race [1 Corinthians 9:24]. Often when I set myself the target of running 5km, I think about giving up halfway. Everything hurts and I am struggling to breathe, sometimes all I can do is focus on getting through the next minute. I have to shut down that voice in my head that’s screaming at me to give up and strain every sinew of my body to get to the finish line. I try to apply a similar principle to my Christian walk, especially in the tough moments when I am weary [Isaiah 40:31], I remind myself of the promised reward of finishing the race [1 Corinthians 2:9]. However, I know that I will not be able to end well like Paul [2 Timothy 4:7-8] by relying on my own wisdom and strength. So, I have placed all my hope in God’s grace to get me safely to the finish line. I pray for an outpouring of the same grace on all who are struggling with their faith and especially those who have lost it. Nothing is irredeemable for God.