It's about living a life of hardship, of pain, of suffering and about living a life that might seem just as bad at times as everyone else's. There's not always special privileges for following Christ in the natural. It's also about living a life of joy, celebration and happiness. Paul puts it well when he talks about the things that he as a follower of Christ can boast in.
2 Corinthians: 11
18 Since many boast according to the flesh, I too will boast. 19 For you gladly bear with fools, being wise yourselves! 20 For you bear it if someone makes slaves of you, or devours you, or takes advantage of you, or puts on airs, or strikes you in the face. 21 To my shame, I must say, we were too weak for that!Paul understood that life in general, whether you follow Christ or not is tough. For him there were many physical trials, for other people there may be many emotional trials. James 1:2 says "Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds," And it certainly is helpful, despite our human weaknesses to recognise that the joy of the Lord can be our strength in times of toughness and disaster. Paul again later wrote the following in 2 Corinthians 12:
But whatever anyone else dares to boast of—I am speaking as a fool—I also dare to boast of that. 22 Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they offspring of Abraham? So am I. 23 Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. 24 Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; 27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food,b in cold and exposure. 28 And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant?
30 If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness
7 So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations,a a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 9 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 of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.My little reflection and encouragement for today is this: Christianity is not about any doctrine, teaching idea or anything else that other religions can be about. It might feature some of those concepts: peace, love, joy, faith, hope etc. and they are all important to living a Godly life. But what Christianity is meant to be about first and foremost is the ultimate relationship.
In life we can spend time chasing after the wrong kinds of relationships, after all it's not just what you can do as much as who you know that will get you far in life for the most part. And whether those be friendships, love interests or mentor type relationships if they are bad relationships for us then they will tear us down. And even good relationships can never truly bring us the satisfaction we desire in life. I saw an interesting TED talk by a woman who talked about looking for love in relationships rather than being satisfied in who she was. While there's definitely an element of truth in that - you need to be satisfied in yourself to be happy and whole to a degree - it doesn't go deep enough.
Ultimate, means final. It's the end of it all and nothing can surpass it. The ultimate relationship is the relationship we were created for: relationship with God. No religion, no effort, nothing can get you that relationship that we all crave - and the reason we try to be in great relationships with other people and ourselves. Because in the end we all are looking for the greatest love we can ever find and the greatest intimacy we can find. And that is with the one who first loved us.
For those who are reading this and have that kind of relationship this is just a reminder to you (and myself again) that He is the finishing point of it all and the centre. From loving Him we can learn to love other people, and from His love we can walk through life's trials. For those who do not I encourage you, if you feel like something is missing in your human relationships, why not ask if you are really searching for something deeper and more authentic. I promise you that if you reach out to God He will reach out to you even further.
Life sucks: it's a basic principle most of us cynically learn to accept at some point. Life isn't fair in the natural view of things. But we are called to live by faith and not by sight so that we can understand that even though everything might be good or bad it doesn't matter. Sure it might matter for a time but it doesn't truly matter. What matters is who you travel through the storms and the good times with: are you going to be alone or just with other people, or are you going to have a reliance and intimacy with your true Lord and Saviour?