Do not underestimate the power of desperation to do good for your soul.
A couple of years ago I listened to a sermon by a friend who leads a missionary team that has planted itself into one of the least reached nations in the world. The most optimistic estimates of the number of indigenous Christians in this nation is less than the number of people who attend Bethlehem Baptist Church on a Sunday morning. A lot less.
When I listened to him preach it was like listening to the writer of Hebrews. This man had known what he was getting into. He had planted a church in this nation previously. The cost to follow Jesus there is high. A good week is when no one in the church has been beaten.
These brothers and sisters are experiencing “a hard struggle with sufferings” (Hebrews 10:32). They face violence, property plundering, heresies, divisions, and immorality. Most church troubles we read about in the Epistles, they have it. Their tribulations make them cry out to God because they feel their desperate need for him.
Listening to this missionary left most of us American Christians wondering if we’d be able to hack it.
But Prosperity Can Choke Us to Death
And that’s unnerving. Because the New Testament teaches us that whether or not our treasure is really in heaven is most clearly seen when it costs us our earthly treasures in order to obtain it. But American Christians live in the most prosperous nation in world history and the one in which it costs very little to be a Christian. This environment can be deadly to faith.
Jesus said that “the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful” (Matthew 13:22). Prosperity has extraordinary power to dissipate zeal and energy and mission focus and a willingness to risk. But its power is subtle. It doesn’t come to us with the clear, focused threat of direct opposition. Instead it comes to us with countless options for pursuing entertainment and health preservation and career advancement and financial security and home improvements and ways to procure a promising future for our children.
Prosperity can cause faith to die a thousand deaths. Suffering has a tendency to drive us to the word out of clutter-clearing desperation for God. Prosperity has a tendency to choke the word and numb our sense of desperation.
And it’s the lack of a sense of desperation for God that is so deadly. If we don’t feel our deep need for God, we don’t tend to cry out to him. Love for this present world sets in almost imperceptibly, like a spiritual leprosy, damaging spiritual nerve endings so that we don’t feel the erosion and decay happening, sometimes until it’s too late.
Pray for the Mercy of Desperation
So we must pray and fast and support our suffering brothers and sisters as they battle the diseases that can set in from harsh adversity. I do not minimize or romanticize the hard struggles they endure.
But we must also pray and fast for God to deliver us from the diseases that set in from prosperity. We are no match for its choking power. We need God desperately. And it is a priceless gift to feel it. Anything that drives us to dependence on God, even if it is “a messenger of Satan” (2 Corinthians 12:7), becomes a means of grace to us.
If God has allowed into your life some exquisite pain, some difficult burden, some struggle, some anguish in the secret place that drives you to him frequently, sometimes with loud cries and tears because you feel your need for him so desperately, do not begrudge it (Hebrews 5:7). It is likely a gift of greater mercy than you know. It may be your deliverance from choking.
Heavenly Father, do whatever it takes to keep us desperate for you so that the deceitfulness of sin does not harden our hearts (Hebrews 3:13). And grant to our suffering brothers and sisters the mercy of sustaining grace. Keep us all faithful by strengthening our faith. And help us to keep praying for each other. In Jesus’s name, amen.
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