When Christian Hedonism Heads to the Hard Places
While there may be many Christians in the world truly qualified to speak on suffering for the gospel, few of them are Westerners. One with some qualification is Zane Pratt, who lived and ministered in Central Asia for 20 years and is now dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions and Evangelism at Southern Seminary. For two decades, he sought to reach Muslims for Jesus in some of the regions most resistant to the gospel.
In Theology and Practice of Mission: God, the Church, and the Nations (B&H, 2011), a valuable volume edited by Bruce Ashford, Pratt writes that affluent Christians in the West “need to cultivate the mindset of readiness to lose anything and everything at a moment’s notice for the sake of the surpassing value of Christ. Affluence and safety are dangerous conditions in which to be a disciple of Jesus, and those who live in them need to exercise special diligence.”
This comes from a man who moved his family to a place so dangerous to Christians that it’s best not to name it here. For Pratt and his wife and children, this isn’t a nice idea, but a reality they’ve walked through together.
Pratt’s Twofold Solution
Typically in our dog-eat-dog world, it is the have-nots that struggle to survive, while the haves appear to thrive. But the inverse is often true spiritually. Wealth and comfort are no guarantors of spiritual health and security. In fact, they can threaten to starve our souls and leave us begging for more from this life. Apart from Christ, the more we receive, the more we think we need. And the more we have, the less full we feel.
Pratt’s solution is at least twofold: 1) treasure Jesus enough to lose anything for his sake and 2) invest liberally in his mission among the nations. For well-to-do Christians, hope is found in holding everything we have more loosely — everything except our Savior and his mission to win worshippers everywhere.
A Possession That Can Never Be Taken
Ironically, perhaps the safest thing we can do is sacrifice our safety and possessions for the sake of Christ. Pratt writes, “For the sake of real treasure, the believer is willing to let go of lesser things like possessions, temporal comfort and security, or even his life. The point is not what you lose. The point is the surpassing value of what you gain.”
When you love Jesus like that, you lose differently. When you lose financial stability or physical security or proximity to family because of your Christian faith and calling, you can have a profound and enduring sense that while the pain may last for a night or month or decade, what saves, satisfies, and sustains you can never be taken away. You already have everything in God forever. In Jesus, we have “a better possession and an abiding one” (Hebrews 10:34).
The Temptation of Going into Survival Mode
Pratt says, “We need to beware of the very real temptation to go into survival mode, and instead remain active in advancing his glory.” We need to ask, does my understanding and appreciation of God and his gospel free me from fear and anxiety about my needs and desires in this life, the things that quickly tie up my resources in lesser pursuits? Or am I still continually consumed by a need to establish myself in a world that won’t last and for which I wasn’t made?”
Pratt’s dream is a Christian Hedonism drawn to the hard places in the world, the hostile places furthest from joy in our one, true, and living God. The people among the unreached peoples of the earth simply may not hear the Good News if people like us are not satisfied enough in God to leave the comfort and convenience of our familiar living rooms and neighborhoods.
If you, like me, need to be prodded to pour your joy in God out for the sake of unreached, not-yet-believing people around the world, Pratt’s chapters in this worthwhile book are an excellent place to start.