We have all seen the bumper stickers, t-shirts, and quotes on social media – “God has a wonderful plan for your life!” Many people view Christianity through this type of false lens. The preaching and teaching that presents Christianity as a positive and uplifting message to encourage people don’t understand what Christianity is. Often at graduation time, we see these images on Facebook, often with Jeremiah 29:11-13 as the proof text. What if God’s plan isn’t so wonderful, would you be satisfied? What exactly is the definition of “wonderful” in the great scheme of life? Could God’s plan for your life be wonderful even it it doesn’t meet the standards of wonderful in this life?
Could Wonderful Mean – Sickness and Early Death?
I had coffee with Brad Horton, one of my close pastor friends yesterday morning. In recent days, his health has declined greatly. He had been battling with many different symptoms and after receiving a false diagnosis and going through a treatment process that failed, he was diagnosed with a rare blood disease called POEMS. Although a young man, he is now walking with a cane and forced to step away from work until next year to fight this disease. As I sat there in Starbucks drinking coffee, I was so grateful to hear my friend talk about his disease and look at his diagnosis through a gospel lens. He clings to the sovereignty of God and trusts God with his life. Even as he sat there across from me, both of us the same age, and here he is with a cane and compromised health, he was grateful to God and praised God during the conversation. He was not bitter, angry, or jealous of other men in the room who had better health than he does.
The reason my friend Brad could face life and the uncertainty of his future with a cheerful heart that praises God and trusts God is because he has not bought into the lie that says – “God has a wonderful plan for your life.” Brad understands that God’s plan might not be so wonderful in this life. A rare blood disease is not wonderful, but he isn’t looking to experience his best life now. Brad is looking forward to a better life in a better city whose maker and builder is God. We must come to the conclusion that Christians are not immune to the loss of spouses, the loss of health, sickness, pain, rare diseases, and early death. Life is short and we must redeem the time in order to love God supremely and glorify Him in the days we have.
Could Wonderful Mean – Suffering and Martyrdom?
The fact is, God’s plan is not always bigger, better, and more. The evangelical church in America has bought into the lie of the health, wealth, and prosperity movement. We must realize that from the beginning of time, God’s people have suffered and died for their faith. It doesn’t always end well in this life for Jesus followers. We must learn to not cheapen Christianity with bumper sticker theology. We must learn to tell the truth to people about what following Jesus might mean.
According to The Voice of the Martyrs, 171,000 Christians die for their faith annually around the world. Although we are often shielded from the harsh reality of true Christianity, following Jesus has never been an easy thing. Jesus made the following statement to His disciples in Mark 8:34, “And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.'” The cross has always been a symbol of suffering, pain, and shame. It was never intended to be decoration pieces on jewelry. The cross is a symbol of death. Jesus made it clear that real Jesus followers will suffer for Him.
As a Christian, it’s possible to have a successful company, to have a happy life with a big growing family and to grow old and drift off into eternity in your old age. But, we’re not promised any of these blessings just for following Jesus. It’s much more likely to end in a different way. A life of self denial looks different than the typical picture of self indulgence that we see in the American church. This life is about glorifying God and enjoying Him forever. How does God intend for us to glorify Him? If God wills for us to have a life of sickness, pain, and early death – it can still be wonderful. It might be God’s will for us to display true Christianity through a rare blood disease. It might be God’s will for us to exemplify true Christianity in poverty rather than riches.
In this world that’s filled with shallow bumper sticker theology and improper views of God, we must be committed to real Christianity. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his book titled, The Cost of Discipleship said:
Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession…Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ…When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.