The Key to Christian Growth
The Key to Christian Growth
“If man were happy, the less he were distracted the happier he would be, like the saints and God. Is therefore the man who finds delight in diversion not happy?” Blaisé Pascal, Pensees
As most battle-hardened christians know, seasons that contain suffering and hardship can produce vast amounts of growth in one’s life. In a sense, suffering and hardship are simply the lock on the door which leads to Christian growth. What I will be writing about is the key. And the key, I am afraid, will look most disagreeable.
Because this is a blog post, I will try to be quick and to the point by showing you my logic in a simple argument, followed by a defense for each premise.
How to Grow
- Life is full of constant suffering, trials, and hardship
- Hardship/suffering produces dependence on God, and dependence produces growth. (2 Corinthians 1:9, 4:8-11)
- Hence, we should always be growing/maturing in our faith.
- Therefore, (if 1 and 2 are true) it logically follows that if Christians are not growing it is because we have found a way to avoid the hardships which exists to make us reliant upon God instead of ourselves.
Conclusion = In order to grow, Christians must rid themselves of the diversions which keep them from being dependent on God.
All of Life is Suffering?
Many people know this fact all too well, but for others reading this, life is currently fine and dandy. Therefore, this claim may seem rather extreme and counterintuitive. However, just because life might not feel hard in the moment doesn’t mean your “feelings” are in accordance with reality. In fact, most Philosophers throughout history, especially in the nineteenth and twentieth century, have come to the conclusion that if one actually thinks about life, and if one actually takes the time to slow down and be still, one will almost always come to a conclusion that life in itself is quite disheartening, wearisome, and if focused on for too long, unbearable. Which is exactly why Blaise Pascal (one of the great Christian thinkers of the Enlightenment era) makes the claim that all human beings revert to “diversions” or distractions to try and escape this uncomfortable reality. The very fact that we need escapism implies that we find the reality in which we live quite unpleasant. No one needs to escape from a life where everything is easy and all is well.
Of course, I am not saying that literally all of life is full of complete misery and dread. But I am saying, to one degree or another, life has a heavy disposition that never quite goes away. There always exists a quiet stream of hardship that constantly flows beneath our callused lives of distraction, which can always be heard if one slows down enough to listen. Which is exactly why most of us can’t go more than five minutes without needing something to do! We hate the unfulfilled silence because it always begins to reveal to us this reality that intellectuals have always agreed exists.
Don’t agree? That’s fine, it’s a hard pill to swallow. But I submit that if you simply tried going a week, just one week without preoccupying yourself with work, games, TV, social media, music, etc., you would begin to find this uncomfortable fact of life slowly beginning to come into existence.
Why We Cannot Face This Fact
The fact of the matter is that human beings, Christian or not, simply cannot handle the reality of this life and all it demands of us; therefore, we will do everything within our power to escape the weight of this reality. From not feeling liked or loved, to feeling deeply alone and depressed, the list is almost never ending. The pressure to provide for your loved ones, the anxiety that stems from uncertainty and death, or simply the wear and tear of everyday life, I don’t think I need to give much of a defense for why we feel the need to “escape” so often.
Yet for the Christian, I think what we run from the most is (more often than not) that we are not loving and living for God the way we ought. Being a Christian is hard, and our continuous failure to die to self is enough to make anyone lean towards escapism. Who wants to face the reality that we are almost continually living in the wrong? So, how do we handle these facts? More often than not, we don’t. We merely bury them underneath hours of mindless activity via “name your poison.” For some, it is a bright screen, for others it’s a hobby or work. Regardless, they all get the job done.
Don’t misunderstand me, I am not claiming that any fun or enjoyable thing in life is a distraction and that we shouldn’t ever let loose and have fun. There are many good things in this life, and God wants us to be able to enjoy them as they were created to be enjoyed. Friends, spouses, games, even work, these are all good things that make life sweeter. I am simply saying that when these good things become ultimate things which we run to and hide in, they then become distractions we idolize instead of being objects we merely enjoy. Only when this happens should we dismiss them until they can become merely good things once more.
Fighting against Sanctification
But how exactly does this play out spiritually? Better yet, is is this concept even biblical? To be honest, I have begun to see this theme of hardship and dependence throughout the entire Bible, but a perfect example to answer both of these questions is the Apostle Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians. In chapter four, Paul is explaining that they are “afflicted in every way…persecuted…struck down…always carrying in the body the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be manifest in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifest in our mortal flesh” (2 Corinthians 4:8-12).
What is this verse saying? Of course there are different interpretations, but the general idea is that Christians experience hardship so our selfish life and its desires will be put to death and the selfless life of Jesus may take its place. Pain and suffering, therefore, tear down our prideful walls of independence and slingshot us into the arms of Christ. Hardship is the safety net of every complacent Christian! But notice the language Paul uses; he says the word “always” in each sentence. Paul seems to be claiming that, as Christians, we are always experiencing hardship, to one degree or another, so that we may be always be relying on God; hence, always growing. Unfortunately, this system that God so beautifully set up will never take place if we refuse to let the hardships of this life take their toll.
I hope most people reading this blog have come to the realization that this journey was not meant to be traveled alone. God created this life in such way that it is simply impossible to depend solely on our own strength. The overwhelming sense of “I can’t do this anymore” testifies to this fact! Yet this, as Paul states, “makes us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead” (2 Corinthians 1:9b). When we attempt to “rely on ourselves” we are merely living in an illusion brought forth by pride. Suffering is the hammer God uses to shatter this illusion. In order for this to take place, we must first learn how to lay aside our distractions and let the hardship of life have its way. Nevertheless, do not look at this challenge with despair, for with this suffering comes bliss, joy, and unimaginable peace. Notice how children are so often unaffected by the storms of this life. This is not because of their ignorance, but because their faith to overcome is entrusted to their parents instead of themselves. This principle remains the same in our lives as well. All we have to do is set aside our distractions. The rest will follow suit.
“That is why, for the sake of Christ, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10)