If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. —Luke 9:23
A couple of days ago I had lunch with the daughter of one of our missionaries who was visiting in the states. She is 30 years old, unmarried, and has spent most of her life on the mission field. I asked what her long term plans were. She said she wanted to be a missionary. “Where?” I asked. She answered, “I want to go to a country where living is hard—Maybe a remote village in Africa.” I was impressed by her answer, but also convicted. Living in America has made me somewhat “soft.”
I am reminded about a man who wrote to the great African missionary David Livingston, asking for the easiest way to get to him. Livingston wrote back, “I’m not looking for a man who wants the easy way. I need a man who will make his own way.”
I think as most Christians read their Bible they miss how little God seems to care for the ease and comfort of His people. How we love to be coddled, but I don’t see God pampering His Old Testament saints. On the contrary, they “had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented… they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth” (Heb. 11:36-38).
It was no different in the New Testament. When Jesus prayed for His followers, He did not pray for their physical comfort. He knew the harsh and cruel world they were facing. So He prayed, “I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from evil.” Jesus was not so concerned for their comfort, as He was for their character.
New Testament Christians never expected an easy life free of pain. They did not pray for an escape from discomfort, but rather greater boldness in the face of opposition. Hear them pray, “And now, Lord, behold their threatenings… Grant unto thy servants, that with all boldness they may speak thy word.”
Notice the difference in the conversation of the two thieves who were crucified with Jesus. The repentant thief prays, “Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.” He was not praying to be taken off the cross, but that he would be remembered in heaven. But the other thief prays, “If thou be Christ, save thyself and us.” He couldn’t care less about Christ’s kingdom. He just wanted to be removed from that painful cross.
When Peter rebuked Simon the sorcerer in Acts 8, Simon asked Peter to pray for him. And what was Simon’s prayer request? For forgiveness??? No, he said, “Pray ye.. that none of these things which ye have spoken come upon me.” He was more concerned about his comfort than for conversion.
Paul’s prayers are a pattern for Christians today. When in chained in prison, does Paul ask the church to pray that God would heal the wounds on his back or set him free? No. Paul’s prayer request was that “utterance may given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in bonds.” He asks not for the easy way, but rather for grace to walk the hard way.
Compare the prayer requests of church members today to the prayers in the Bible. Big difference. The saints in the Bible never prayed for a smooth way. They took the hard road.
May the same be true of us.