Reading J. Cal Davenport‘s latest piece about the sickness of the American church, and the vibrance of house churches in China stirred to my mind a Sunday school lesson I once taught.
American Christians are truly being lulled to sleep by ear-tickling preachers and a consumer-oriented religion. But even in this great troubled time–and yes, ultra-prosperity is trouble for Christians, read Revelation 3:14-22, Christ’s message to the church of Laodicea–followers of Christ can be moved to great faith.
We all face troubles in our lives, and blessings are not normally of the kind we think they are: riches, fame, respect, power to affect lives. It is not us who saves a single soul or moves a single finger of God’s hand to raise up the poor and downtrodden.
So here’s my lesson, as written. It’s called, simply, “Difficulty.”
William Cowper is quoted as saying “a life of ease is a difficult pursuit.”
Does God really call us to an easy life? Does the God who can do anything with a simple word from His mouth not preserve us to happiness? Why is there such difficulty in our lives even when we surrender to God?
William Cowper was a man of means in 18th century England. He was born well-off, one of the “landed gentry” who were the upper-class in England. A romantic setback in his young life drove him to question God, and his own life, which he repeatedly tried to take.
Sometime after his 31st birthday, he accepted God’s grace and dedicated himself to the Gospel.
His life, however, was still filled with difficulty. He had another breakdown at the age of 42, and became suicidal once again, believing that God wanted him to take his own life. It seems that every time Cowper was about to get what he desired—a wife, a family of his own—his mental state would break down and some dedicated soul would help him with unconditional love to draw him back to the arms of Christ.
Cowper never married, and died in 1800 at the age of 69.
The Apostle Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 11:24-27:
Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.
The greatest missionary evangelist recorded in the New Testament suffered great difficulties in his life.
2 Corinthians 12:9-10:
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
Everything in this world has a cost. The world was freely given to Man at the beginning, but Man traded his birthright for a bite of fruit. That birthright was a life of ease and all our needs being met. Now there is a cost to everything, the price being sin. Jesus Christ came and bore that price—he paid it in full, for us. What price might we pay to follow Him and receive our birthright anew?
God does not call us to unhappiness. God does not minister difficulty. But God calls us into difficult pursuits, to pay the cost of a life lived in opposition to sin. A life of ease is a life of sin in many cases, and it is a difficult pursuit because it is always just out of reach.
Blessed is the one
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,
but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
and who meditates on his law day and night.
That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
whatever they do prospers.
Not so the wicked!
They are like chaff
that the wind blows away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.
For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.
It is not the difficulty in life that God uses: it’s the fruit. The fruit of Prosperity is not yielded in ease or leisure, but in the delight of God with us. Such fruit is frequently born of difficulty, yet His grace is sufficient.
William Cowper’s life was not a life of ease. His fruit, however, endures. His God, our God, is the same God who blessed Moses, Elijah, and John the Baptist. The same God is Jesus who went to the cross for our sins.
Oh for a life that bears fruit!
William Cowper wrote some hymns…you may have heard them.
There is a fountain fill’d with blood.
Drawn from EMMANUEL’s veins;
And sinner, plung’d beneath that flood,
Lose all their guilty stains.
Olney Hymns (1779)—‘Praise for the Fountain Opened’
GOD moves in a mysterious way,
His wonders to perform;
He plants his footsteps in the sea,
And rides upon the storm.
Olney Hymns (1779) —‘Light Shining out of Darkness’
In the same collection of Olney Hymns, we find another famous work: John Newton’s “Amazing Grace.” You see, Cowper and Newton were contemporaries and collaborators. They knew each other well.
Such company to keep, such fruit to bear, it is all worth a difficult life—lived under God’s grace and care.