In relationships, even our best intentions can go ridiculously awry. I read of one man who thought he had planned the perfect date with his wife: “For Valentine’s Day,” he wrote, “I decided to take my wife out for a nice romantic dinner, and all she did was complain. Next time I want to eat at Hooters, I’ll go by myself.” We can bring this same selfcenteredness into our relationship with God. Much of what we say, or even think, we’re doing on God’s behalf is really being done for ourselves.

On a deeper level, I believe many of us are hungry and thirsty for a faith based on sacrifice instead of on self-absorption and simplistic denial. We don’t want to become Christians in order to become an improved man or woman, but an entirely new man or woman — people who live with a different outlook on life, who find joy while others pursue happiness, who find meaning in what others see as something to simply be overcome or cured, who want to drink deeply of life — with its mountains and valleys, twists and turns — rather than to “rise above it.”

This is an authentic faith, prescribed for a disillusioned world. It is a faith taught by Jesus, passed on by the ancients, and practiced throughout two thousand years of church history. It’s our heritage, our birthright, and our blessing. It has been witnessed to as ultimately the most fulfilling life ever lived, though it is frequently a life of hardship and difficulty.

To embrace God’s love and kingdom is to embrace his broken, passionate heart. It is to expose ourselves to the assaults brought on by the world’s hatred toward God. The active Christian life is a life full of risks, heartaches, and responsibilities. God does indeed bear our burdens. Certainly, he blesses us in many ways, but this initial relief is for the purpose of assigning to us more important concerns than our own. Only this time, we weep not because our house is too small or because we have overextended our credit, but because we are taxed to the limit as we reach out to a hurting world. Yes, we experience peace, joy, and hope, but it is a peace in the midst of turmoil, a joy marked with empathy, and a hope refined by suffering.

Ultimately, spiritual maturity is not about memorizing the Bible and mastering the spiritual disciplines. These are healthy things to do, but they are still only means to a greater end, which in itself is learning to love with God’s love and learning to serve with God’s power. In a fallen world, love begs to be unleashed — a love that is supernatural in origin, without limit, a love that perseveres in the face of the deepest hatred or the sharpest pain. It is a love that becomes silhouetted in a broken world, framed by human suffering, illuminated in an explosion of God’s presence breaking into a dark cellar.

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In a world where suffering and difficulty are certain, friendship with God frees us from being limited by what we don’t have, by what we are suffering, or by what we are enduring. Mature friendship with God reminds us that our existence is much broader than our suffering and difficulty.

God doesn’t offer us freedom from a broken world; instead, he offers us friendship with himself as we walk through a fallen world — and those who persevere will find that this friendship is worth more, so very much more, than anything this fallen world can offer. In short, we are missing out when we insist on self-absorption, affluence, and ease over against pursuing a deeper walk with God. We miss out on an intimacy that has been heralded by previous generations, a fellowship of labor, suffering, persecution, and selflessness. It doesn’t sound like much fun initially, but those who have walked these roads have left behind a witness that they have reached an invigorating, soul-satisfying land. These women and men testify to being radically satisfied in God, even though others may scratch their heads as they try to figure out how someone who walks such a difficult road could possibly be happy.

In a broken, fallen world, we really only have two choices: mature friendship with God, or radical disillusionment.

From Authentic Faith by Gary Thomas.

Copyright © 2005 by Gary Thomas, Published by Zondervan. Used with Permission.