Getting our Challenges in Perspective
The intention of this article is to help same-sex attracted Christians to get their particular challenge(s) in perspective, and to recognise that many other Christians also carry significant burdens resulting from their faith.
Jesus said to the crowd, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me.” (Luke 9:23, NLT) Although Jesus’ cross has fully born the weight of our sin, following Jesus is costly, and He calls each one of us to suffer for being His disciple.
Comparing the relative sizes of the crosses we bear with those of other Christians is an unhelpful exercise – my pastor has a phrase he repeats whenever any member of his household is feeling hard done by: “Comparison is the killer of joy!” If we judge that our particular burden is greater than that of others, it’s likely to fuel self-pity, resentment and pride.
However, the Bible never encourages us to dismiss or minimise the weight of our burdens. The Apostle Paul, in 2 Corinthians 11: 16-32, catalogues his difficulties as a contrast to the comfortable lives of the false teachers in Corinth. He goes on in chapter 12:7-10 to describe something of his mysterious “thorn in the flesh”, which kept him humble and leaning on God’s grace. If we can respond well to them our sufferings have great value in developing our characters and our dependence on God. But we are not to be Stoics, struggling on alone. Paul exhorts the Galatian church (Galatians 6:2) to, “Carry each other’s burdens.”
Ed Shaw writes in ‘The Plausibility Problem’, “I’m most encouraged to obey what God says about sex by the costly obedience I see other Christians make in some totally different areas of their lives.” (pp. 70-71)
In the following accounts, several Christians write about how they have endured hardships resulting from following Jesus, such as persecution, rejection by family, discrimination or material privation. My hope is that these accounts help each of us to get our own individual burdens in perspective, and to recognise that wholeheartedly following Jesus will lead to experiencing hardship in some form.
John’s story of domestic violence
Low-level violence by my wife started soon after I married and got worse over time. I felt I had rushed into a marriage, and it was nearly three years before I stopped putting myself under a cloud for having let God down. However, I decided not to divorce. This was partly for the sake of the children and partly because I thought that, as life hadn’t worked out for me, I should make God my priority. Without being completely sure, I felt that He probably wanted me to stay in the marriage.
After our second child, my wife and I had no kind of sexual intimacy, so I have now been celibate for 20+ years. I think this would have been much harder if I had been younger.
My wife, who was suffering from depression, would spend days in bed, coming downstairs for angry outbursts. Her aggression was towards me, never towards the children, although they would have suffered neglect if I hadn’t been there while she spent days on end in bed. She would rip or smash things: my clothes, computers, window glass, furniture, car windscreens, my glasses – anything not of value to her. I once needed stitches after she attacked me with a saw but, typically, scratches to my face were the only physical hurt I received. However, I was always on my guard to keep my wallet, phone and keys in my pockets at all times otherwise they would quickly disappear.
Sometimes she would get out a kitchen knife, but the police warned me not to waste their time calling them out. I realised I was on my own and had to make sure that it never escalated to that point, so I started leaving the house whenever she became violent. She would then try to lock me out and return to her bed upstairs. At night she often came to my room, working her anger up until she started a physical attack, so I was always ready to leave, keeping my keys attached to my pyjamas and everything needed for work the next day already in my car. For five years, I spent about one night in four sleeping outside the house, in the car or elsewhere.
I tried to get rid of anger very quickly and was resolute in avoiding self-pity, although I remember going forward for ministry at the end of a church service and barely being able speak through tears! I was so hungry for God. I started having unusual experiences of God that were very precious. Feeling sure of his love gave me the strength to be cheerful.
Eventually, social services got involved and police policy changed. With their intervention, the violence virtually stopped, and life got enormously easier. Twenty-two years after we married, she moved back to her country of birth. Today, I feel my experiences of discontent have left me peaceful and strong in the face of life’s challenges.
By featuring John’s story, TFT is not advocating that a person remains in an abusive marriage. Please do get in touch with the staff team if this account has brought up painful personal memories for you.
Phil’s life as a missionary overseas
Following Jesus for me has meant moving a great deal, living in five different countries on three continents in my adult life, learning (and then forgetting!) languages along the way, making friends and then sadly losing touch. I have lived among persecuted peoples, but I can’t say I’ve suffered persecution myself. However, sometimes my moves were forced upon me, once by a government hostile to Christianity, and once by the risk of terrorist violence. It’s so sad to think of people suffering so much where I used to live, but the hardest thing personally is the lack of connectedness, the lack of people around whom I share a history.
Whenever I looked at the comfortable life I could have had, I thought it might have left me cold and drifting away from God. I felt that my faith wasn’t strong enough to resist those temptations and that I needed a life that forced me to depend on God and trust in his promises in real, tangible ways.
I was single when I started my life overseas in mission, but 13 years ago I met my wife, and she joined me on the journey. We’re so grateful to God for each other. We have been through even more challenging situations together overseas than I did alone before we met, and additionally childlessness has been a painful factor we’ve had to endure together. Again, this keeps us dependent on God.
We’re now based in the UK, continuing our ministry at a distance. Whenever the temptation comes to put my comfort first or to compare myself with others who have achieved more, I have to remind myself that this life is short, and eternity is long.
I would say to any Christian who feels that their particular cross is too much to bear, you’re in a good place even if it doesn’t seem like it. That sense of powerlessness you feel, knowing that the burden you bear is beyond your ability to carry, can take you into a much deeper place in your walk with God. It’s those who sense no vulnerability before Him who should worry – “everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:14b).
God loves it when we cry out to Him as vulnerable children, asking Him to lift our burdens from our backs, even when we can’t articulate more than a sigh in His direction. He promises that He will respond, “Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). He is not limited by our tiny imaginations – His answer to your prayers might well be something you’ve never even thought of.
A pastor’s experience of persecution
Since India became independent from British Rule in 1947, it crafted for itself a democratic, secular constitution. It functioned by that constitution up until 2014 when the Hindu Nationalist party came to power with an overwhelming majority. Since then there has been quite a surge of violent opposition to Christians, mainly in the rural and semi-rural areas of the country. We’ve been trying to support people in some of these churches, but the fierce sporadic violence has been increasing, unabated, in large parts of the country. The Constitution of India guarantees the freedom to practise and to propagate one’s faith, but that is being sidetracked by what is called the Anti-Conversion Bills in the states of the union. These laws, on the face of it, seek to prevent forceable conversions. However, what typically happens is that trained militant outfits disrupt and attack a Christian gathering and beat up the pastor and members. They then take the Christians to the police station, where they are accused of forcible conversion. This is being played out in an almost systematic and ongoing manner throughout India. Within the cities, there is considerable protection; however, in villages and semi-urban areas, Christians are very vulnerable today.
These Christians who no longer have consistent protection from the police are going through very challenging times. Although we have been able to organise a team of lawyers who resort to legal relief, these Christians invariably spend some time in prison: typically 15 days, and sometimes one month or even more. By the time the case comes up, in most if not all cases, the charge of forcible conversion can’t be proven. However, they have already suffered the damage, with church buildings burned down and people attacked. The justice system is holding up so far, but for how long?
It’s quite amazing to see men and women of God boldly facing all these blows and turning emboldened to God in prayer. There are stirring testimonies of men and women of God going back to burned-down buildings in many places. I know one instance where a pastor, whose building was completely burned down, has seen phenomenal growth after this intense persecution.
Despite all this, there’s an intensification of prayer here like never before. Christians are really finding hope in God. For the first time in many years, I heard this altar call at a leaders’ meeting: “Which of you are willing to die for Christ? Come up.” 90% of the people responded, saying they were willing to die for Christ. This altar call has been given in place after place, which is very heartening to see. I think the body of Christ in India is being equipped through challenge and also through being given support. Other churches across India are sending immediate medical help to those suffering by covering medical expenses. Sometimes, where people may not return to their homes, other Christian brothers and sisters are providing places of refuge where they can go.
Slowly but surely, the faith of Christians in India is being refined and deepened through these times.
By a Church Leader in Mumbai
This article was originally published in the Spring 2021 edition of the TFT magazine, Ascend, under the title "My Cross is Bigger than Yours". Click the button below to download your copy.
Download the Spring 2021 edition of Ascend