“Jesus is going to make your life better.”
“Jesus is going to set you free from your discontentment.”
“Jesus is the key to living a completely satisfied life.”
I’m in the far back pew. The pastor’s words reverberate in the wall behind me. The people around me echo him, too. I want to lean forward and rest my forehead on the back of the pew in front of me. I want to disappear from this church.
I thought I knew what the prosperity gospel was. God wants you to be rich…or God is going to make you rich. Then the pastor launches out of the stadium in a jetpack while his congregants watch for their mobile bank accounts to triple in funds—God’s “triple-score blessing”. Or something like that.
I thought it was about financial wealth. But the churches I’ve recently visited have set their sights on a different idol: happiness.
In her column on The Christian Post, author and speaker Joyce Meyer writes:
“[God] wants to be good to you and He will never disappoint you…You can have true contentment and satisfaction in Christ!”
Happiness. Contentedness. Satisfaction. In a more practical sense, freedom from longing. Freedom from loneliness. Freedom from the feeling that something is missing. Freedom from the things that hinder our enjoyment of life. I’m told everywhere that being a Christian sets us free from these things.
“While most Christians freely embrace the idea that the world doesn’t satisfy, many believe the remedy is to find contentment in a relationship with Christ,” author Amy Simpson writes in her article on Christianity Today. “As long as we are in relationship with Jesus, he will fill that ‘God-shaped hole’ inside us, and once that hole is filled, we will no longer ache with desire or longing,” she adds.
I used to believe this. I used to think that even if I find God doesn’t exist at the end of my life, I’ll still be happy that I believed in Him. I’ll be happy I lived the Christian life. Because it’s a good life. Right?
It didn’t take me long to see why this was actually a naïve thing to believe. Sometimes, living an obedient Christian life means suffering. Jesus foretold that His followers would face persecution:
“Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles.” Matthew 10:16-18
Sometimes, leading an obedient Christian life means fighting a never-ending struggle. Perhaps a recurring temptation. Or a physical disability. Or, as the Apostle Paul called it, a thorn in his flesh:
“To keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.” 2 Corinthians 12:7
Sometimes, having an intimate relationship with God can leave us feeling unsatisfied. We desire more. More communion. More dialogue. More understanding of our Father and His ways so we’re not left in the dark during seasons of hardship, wondering why. Why is this happening to me? Why is this happening to people I love?
I believe in the peace that surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:7). But I also believe in the kind of discontentedness that compels us to long for a perfect relationship with God. It draws us to the eternal. After all, if we were fully satisfied with the Christian life, we wouldn’t feel this longing for more of God.
Simpson writes, “While knowing and following Jesus has its priceless rewards and eventually leads to fulfillment, it won’t fully deliver on this promise now.”
So, what freedom does the Christian life promise? Well, we’re free from “earning” Heaven. Only through faith in Jesus are we saved from God’s wrath (Romans 3:23-24).
I believe in the freedom the cross offers us…freedom from the sting of our sin.
I believe in the hope of being with God one day.
I believe in God’s sufficient grace which allows us to boast in our weaknesses (2 Corinthians 12:9).
I believe in the freedom to pray and seek God as our Comforter.
But total freedom from discontent? Freedom from loneliness? Freedom from the occasional Sunday blues? Perhaps those are signs that the earthly Christian life does not and will not satisfy us, even as we seek a relationship with God. I believe this reality becomes clearer and clearer as we draw closer to God—closer to the eternal.
Our ultimate hope is not in our ability to get out of bed in the morning. Our hope is not in the smile on our faces despite being stuck in traffic. Our hope is amid exhaustion, stress, or depression, we can seek a Father who will one day satisfy our emptiness and make us completely whole.