A bluesman once sang, “Everyone wants to get to heaven, but no one wants to die.” Everyone wants to go to a better place. Everyone wants to enter paradise. But, no one wants to suffer, struggle, and succumb to death to enter into eternal life.
That’s why we hold back. It’s why we quit before we begin. It’s why we like to talk about the bad habits we need to change, but don’t change them. It’s what makes us cowards. We’re afraid to suffer. We don’t want to die struggling for life.
This is why we will have no peace. We ditch the battle. We avoid conflict. We drop everything and run away from danger. We abandon our comrades to save ourselves. And maybe, by running away from troubles, we can spare ourselves from some of the wounds and scars of life. But we will never know peace.
For many people, life would be better without demons, criminals, and bad habits. But what would we do without them? We would roll over in bed and go back to sleep. We would snore our lives away in luxury and comfort. We would embrace a spirit of timidity and demonize the spirits of courage and strength.
But what would be the use of our mind, body, or our soul, without harsh conditions and crises, to stir us up to pray? Would we pray to God for courage and strength without harsh conditions? Would we act for our neighbor’s good and counter-attack the demons that prey upon our cowardice if God never put us into a crisis?
That doesn’t mean we should pray for God to make our lives hard, but it also doesn’t mean we pray for God to make our lives easier when times get tough. When we suffer, struggle, and recognize that death is always with us, we pray for strength to deal with it because there’s only one who’s fought with death and won. We pray for his courage and strength to be given to us so that we, too, can treat death like a sparring partner. In Christ, death is just a challenger to us. Death comes to test our mettle.
Jesus will strengthen and encourage us because he is true life, and life has defeated death.
So the question is, what are we going to do when we’re challenged and tested? Are we going to accept and tackle the challenge head-on? Or will we throw in the towel after the first jab we take on the chin? Will we lean into God for courage and strength, or will we admit defeat before the fight begins?
It’s an important question, maybe the most important question for Christians. It’s why we go to church, sing hymns, pray, stand around the baptismal font, listen to preaching, and kneel at the communion rail. Whether we like it or not, life is supposed to be hard. It’s a fight, not a dance. But we make it harder when we try to avoid confrontations with demons, criminals, and bad habits. Think about how unlivable life is when so much of our time, attention, energy, and focus is dedicated to escaping a conflict that won’t let us run away. We will never know peace so long as you live this way because death is aggressive and violent, and it will not find another opponent.
But that’s good news for us because death is where Jesus is most God, most Savior for us. Engaged in battle with death is where he is strongest. In the midst of death, Jesus lives.
So the question isn’t if life will throw some punches at us, but when. And when it does, Jesus will strengthen and encourage us because he is true life, and life has defeated death.
The way to eternal life is through suffering, struggle, and succumbing to death. But on account of what Jesus has done for us, we don’t have to be cowards anymore. We don’t have to allow ourselves to be victims or to complain and throw in the towel at the first sign of difficulty. We don’t have to get frustrated and start crying that life isn’t fair.
Perhaps our lives aren’t fair, but true life, which is how Jesus refers to himself (he is the reason we’re alive because he is life itself), is stronger than death. He makes us stronger than death in the power of his resurrection from the dead.
Difficulties will come, and challenges will confront us, but this just means that God is matching us up with a sparring partner. Why? Because, as it turns out, entering into paradise takes sweat: the bloody sweat of Jesus who wrestled us away from death. Through his Good Friday defeat and Easter victory, we too may live a new life, a true Christ-life that doesn’t fear suffering, struggle, and death because we know without a doubt, this is the way... this is the way of Christ Jesus. This is the way into eternal life.