Here’s the best piece of advice I received about a school we were starting. A friend said, “Under-promise and over-perform.” I gave people a sales pitch, and it was ending up better than reality. That is dishonesty, though it doesn’t feel that way. I was just being positive about a good thing.
Jesus is not like me. Surprise!. He talks about hardships we will need to endure. He warns as much as He encourages. He wants us to know what we are signing up for. He told would-be followers, “Foxes have holes, birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Luke 9:58). In other words, get ready for tough times, not a comfortable ride.
We somehow expect that because God is good, so is the future. The Christian life will be like a wonderful vacation. That is not what we are told or sold. Peter said, “Do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal which comes upon you,” but we are. And maybe we expect that the better the Christian, the better the deal. The opposite is more often true. Look at Paul and Peter, super-apostles who suffered much and died as martyrs.
We are told to put all our marbles in the age to come. Peter, writing to exiles of the Dispersion about suffering, said, “Set your hope fully upon the grace that is coming to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (I Peter 1:13). He said that our “living hope” is waiting for us in eternity, and it is “imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for” us (1:4). Justice comes at the end of the end.
Paul didn’t remind Timothy of all the people who were saved, healed and filled with the Holy Spirit like we pastors often do. He said, “You have observed my teaching, my conduct…my persecutions, my sufferings” (2 Timothy 3:10,11). He promised that “all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (12). Then he added, “Evil men and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceivers and deceived” (13). Every New Testament writer said that it was going to get worse before it gets better–Jesus, Matthew, Luke, John, Peter.
Do they struggle with pessimism? No, but we do. So we give people the good news and not the “bad” news, which amounts to false hope. We give hype but not reality. And people are surprised that marriage, family, and the Christian life are harder than anticipated. Discouragement sets in because they think something must be wrong with them. Life is harder than it was supposed to be. Like the grandfather said to his grandkids, “Life wouldn’t be so hard if you didn’t expect it to be so easy.”
Dear Christian: life is supposed to be hard. Paul “encouraged” his struggling understudy with these words, “Do not be ashamed then of testifying to our Lord…but share in suffering for the gospel in the power of God” (2 Timothy 1:8). Eternity is the payback. We live for what is not yet. So we are not pulled down by hardship. It actually gives us blazing hope! Like a pastor friend preached, “Life is hard, but God is good!”