Being a Christian is hard.
I don’t mean that it’s hard to do all the Christian things, like pray regularly, fast every Wednesday and Friday, confess sins honestly, or to read the Bible daily. Though these things do require a great deal of a discipline, which is often difficult to foster.
No. I mean, being a Christian is hard because being alive is hard. Our human lives are difficult, marked by overwhelming realties that are frequently unbearable.
Cancer. Infidelity. Addiction. Depression. Abuse-filled childhood. These are all extremely difficult realities and frequently lead to feelings of despair, to the desire to just give up and let the negativity win.
But our lives don’t have to be beset with some kind of “major problem” to feel overwhelming. What seems minor on the outside can cause us to experience an incredible depth of pain, and feel the impulse to simply give up.
I think it’s funny that, the more overwhelmed we feel, the more tempting it can be to either pretend that everything is okay, or to hunker down and try to fix the problem. After all, we’ve all heard the popular saying: “God won’t give what you can’t handle.”
(Because that’s totally the way to make someone feel better after the crippling loss of a parent or a relationship.)
These cliché responses don’t help because they’re nothing more than epic denials of the world as it actually is: difficult, complicated, and often overwhelming. And we, as Christians, are particularly prone to this because of our deep-seated belief that God is on our side.
First of all, let me say that I totally agree that God is for us. You don’t have to read too far into the Scriptures or listen too attentively to the Church services to gather that God is particularly fond of humans, and wants to heal and save us.
But just because Christ is for us doesn’t mean that everything will be awesome all the time. Things will sometimes get overwhelming, or at least feel overwhelming. The Gospel promises us never-ending life, not never-ending fun times.
This Sunday, we read about a man who comes to Christ with a son who is demonically possessed. The demons would throw the son into the fire and water in order to destroy him, leaving the father clearly at the end of his rope. He brought his son to the disciples, who were incapable of casting out the demon, so he then turns to Christ saying, “Lord, have mercy on my son…I brought him to Your disciples, and they could not heal him” (Mt. 17:15).
The disciples, stunned and disappointed that they couldn’t help the boy, ask why they were unable to cast out the demon themselves., Christ responds, “Because of your little faith. For truly I say to you, if you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, 'Move hence to yonder place,' and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you. But this kind never comes out except by prayer and fasting” (Mt. 17:20,21).
Ever try moving a mountain?
[pause for dramatic effect]
Spoiler alert: You can’t.
Yet I’ve heard about “moving mountains” in countless sermons, youth talks, and even inspirational posters. People use the phrase to explain that, when there is something hard in our lives, things will get better if we just hang in there and stay positive. Or something along those lines.
But “moving mountains” isn’t just hard. It’s actually impossible using just our own power.
And that’s the point.
The so-called “mountains” in our lives aren’t simply the “hard things” that come our way. They are the impossible, unbeatable, unimaginably difficult things that are in our lives.
The things we will never overcome on our own, yet continue to face on our own.
So when Christ says that the disciples have no faith, it’s because their faith in their own power crowded out any faith in God. They failed because they succumbed to the belief that they would be able to do this great work without Christ.
This is why they are baffled that they couldn’t cast out the demon themselves: because they approached the situation confident that they could handle it, rather than confident that God would give them the strength to handle it.
And yet, how often do we display the same misplaced faith and confidence? How often do we stand on the brink of crisis and personal breakdown and delude ourselves by saying, “I got this.”
The reality is that we don’t got this. We are utterly dependent on God.
And that is terrifying, which is why I think prayer and fasting are so difficult. Prayer and fasting bring us into direct confrontation with our creatureliness, our need for God. Without the breath of God, we cease to be. Without food, we die. As creatures, we are in constant need and live under the shadow of death.
Christ does not mention prayer and fasting to imply that they are somehow the magical ingredients to some kind of mountain-moving potion. Rather, prayer and fasting reorient us to depend on God, rather than ourselves. They free us from the false belief that we can make it on our own.
As prayer guides our lips, our hearts are guided back to the Lord in humility and contrition. As fasting empties our stomachs, our hearts are emptied of whatever remaining (deluded) faith we have in ourselves so that God may become the subject of our faith, the One who will move mountains for us.
So yes, being a Christian is hard. Being human is hard. It means to be faced with things that are overwhelmingly impossible for us. But being a Christian also means that we can have faith in a God who does the impossible, moving mountains, healing the sick, and raising the dead.
To say that God doesn’t give people what they can’t handle simply misses the point. The Scriptures are full of people who reach their human breaking points so that God may work through them. In other words, God doesn’t give people what He can’t handle.
He walks with us to the point of breaking, and doesn’t abandon us once we’re there, going into the grave with us and bringing us out with Him.
Depressed Girl: Ocean blues via Compfight cc
Mountains: thor_mark via Compfight cc
Christian is a Young Adult Ministries Coordinator for Y2AM. He is a husband, father, mover, shaker, coffee drinker, sandal wearer, and CrossFitter. Christian has his MA from Azusa Pacific University in Marriage and Family Therapy and is working toward a second MA in Children, Youth, and Family Ministry from Luther Seminary. Christian and his family live in Phoenix, Arizona.
For another perspective on "mustard seeds," check out this episode of Be the Bee:
For more on God being our strength, check out this episode of Be the Bee: