What’s so hard about being a Christian? Part 1: Sacrifice
I know you likely read that title and thought that it could be read multiple ways. That, my friends, is a deliberate choice in ambiguity. Many would read that title and think I am going to talk about how it is so difficult to be a Christian. I am instead going to pose the question the other way: Why does everyone else think it is so hard to be a Christian? This is part 1. I am going to focus on the topic of sacrifice.
I have heard many complaints throughout my life about the “sacrifices” of being a Christian. It is interesting to note that many of those complaints came not only from non-Christians, but Christians too! Sure, being a Christian involves sacrifice, but don’t other things in life demand the same? Let me show you what I mean.
I suppose my perspective on the “sacrifices” of a Christian life came a few years ago when I first started college. I was on fire for God, but I also was struggling with some deep-rooted problems in my life. I was wondering why I was having so much trouble controlling my thoughts and, in turn, my behaviors. I was also being troubled by some things I was experiencing, such as bouts of extreme fear at night. I felt like there was a dark presence in my room that just wouldn’t leave me alone. I never talked much about it, because honestly, people would think I was crazy. People in my church thought that those who experienced such things were crazy. I didn’t want to be labeled as crazy, but I knew something was very wrong.
A short time later, I met a girl who became a good friend of mine in college. I felt she was stronger in her Christian walk I than I was. One day, I got the courage to ask her if she believed in demons. She had told me that she definitely did. She had said that the Bible talks about angels and demons. It especially makes note that our battles are against the spiritual forces of evil, and not flesh and blood (Ephesians 6:12). I told her about my struggles. She told me that I needed to get rid of the things in my life that would draw darkness into my life and mind. She said that those things were sabotaging my close relationship with God. She had told me that I would know what to do if I listened to the Holy Spirit. I was rather confused, but relieved that at least one person didn’t think I was crazy. I began to pray for the Holy Spirit to open my eyes to what the problems were in my life.
About a week later, I was researching a television show on the internet. Somehow I ended up on a forum where people were talking about the show. One comment made me stop in my tracks. The commenter was talking about one of the ungodly symbols worn by one of the people on the show. Linked in the comment was a video series about ungodly symbolism and how to distinguish it. I felt the spiritual tug to watch the series. I was amazed how God was answering my prayer. That series was life-changing for me.
The video series was hosted by an ex-Satanist. He went into a church one day determined that he would commit suicide that night and came out a born-again believer in Jesus! In order to help others break free from the bonds of darkness, he goes to speaking engagements at churches. He teaches believers how to get rid of things in their lives causing them to live in bondage. He talked a lot about the schemes of the enemy. The Bible says that the Devil goes around “prowling like a roaring lion in search of someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). That same verse says that we are to be “self-controlled and alert”.
I read recently about how lions attack their prey. They don’t attack the herd; they search for a member of the herd who has drifted away from the herd’s protection. The member that drifted away doesn’t even have to be a weak member, but any animal that drifts away can easily fall prey to the lion’s attack. When we allow things into our lives that cause us to drift away from God and the protective power of Christian fellowship, we make ourselves vulnerable to an attack from Satan. We are oftentimes just like the member of the herd that drifted away; we are unaware of the danger we have put ourselves into. We discover that we have drifted too far when it is too late, and Satan is attacking us full force.
The ex-Satanist explained that one of the biggest schemes Satan uses is deception. If we are unaware that the things we are letting into our lives are bad, then we can unknowingly grant Satan greater access to our lives. In using my herd analogy, we wander away from the herd without even realizing what we are doing. After watching the entire series, my eyes were opened to everything around me that was ungodly in my life. I prayed for guidance, and the Holy Spirit said “You know what you need to do. Get rid of it!” What He was referring to, was the many forms of ungodly entertainment I had been subjecting myself to.
Unknowingly, I had been drifting from Jesus’ flock towards the hypnotic pull of ungodly entertainment. Thankfully, God stepped in. Looking back, I can imagine Jesus standing there, between me and the waiting mouth of Satan. He would tell Satan he could come no further after me. Satan would smirk and tell Him that he hasn’t moved; I was willingly coming to him. Jesus would look me in the eyes and with a wave of His hand make me truly see again. Jesus would point toward Satan.
“Do you want to continue to him?” He’d ask me, “Or do you want to come back home with Me?” Jesus would then point to His own flock of docile sheep where I had wandered from. He’d given me a choice. He wouldn’t stand in my way of going to Satan, but if I wanted Him to, He’d escort me safely back to His flock. I made my choice.
Over the next several weeks, I perpetually had a garbage bag in my room. I went through every single thing I owned, praying the whole time. If I felt the need to get rid of it, I did. God was gracious to let me do this in stages. At the time, it was very hard for me. I felt the spiritual struggle constantly. I would get thoughts in my head like:
“That really isn’t that bad.”
“You don’t have to get rid of that.”
“God’s being too unfair!”
“God doesn’t want you to have any fun.”
“What are you going to do with yourself when you get rid of all of this?”
What the enemy doesn’t realize is that no matter what he does, it backfires. By bombarding me with those thoughts, I knew I had confirmation that I was doing exactly what I needed to do.
Three huge garbage bags and a few weeks later, I stared at my near empty bookshelf and closet. In my lap, I cradled the last couple of things I felt God tell me to get rid of. They were among my most prized possessions. It was a book series from a famous author that I had the privilege of meeting. She spent nearly an hour talking to me about what to do when you get writer’s block. In the books I owned, she wrote a personalized message encouraging me to continue my writing. I had them in a place of honor on my bookshelf, and I looked at them often when I got discouraged in my writing. The problem was that the books definitely contained ungodly themes.
I had asked my mom to take me someplace to get rid of the books I was holding. She was silent as she drove me to the paper recycle bin at our church. She thought it was fitting that I would get rid of ungodly material at our church. The money our church received for the paper recycling was used to support the church. When we got there, she reached over and squeezed my hand. She had been completely supportive of what I was doing, but she also understood how hard it was for me to let these books go. If I told her to take me back home, she would have. She knew it was ultimately my decision of what I wanted to do.
I walked over to the recycle bin. The battle inside of me reached its peak while I stood there. I knew that getting rid of these books would help me in the long run, but that thought was not strong enough to overpower the other thoughts coursing through my head. I was crying so hard, I could barely see straight. “I can’t do this!” I whispered to Jesus, sobbing. I had never felt such a strong force influencing me before. My whole body was shaking from the strain. I stared down through my tears at the books in my hands. “I really can’t do this!” I thought, feeling an irrational amount of agony and despair of getting rid of these books.
Just then, I saw the ring on my finger. It was the ring I had placed there after Jesus came after my heart. I focused on it. The cross and hearts design on the ring reminded me that my Husband had died for me because of how much He loved me. I remembered what His Love felt like at that moment when I said “yes” to being His bride. If I kept these books, I was not only hurting myself, but my Husband too. I looked up at the starry sky. My tumultuous thoughts made it hard to concentrate. I stood silently and focused harder on Jesus. I knew I could live without these books, but not without my Husband. These books didn’t love me, but He sure did. Did I really love these books more than Him? I made my decision.
“I love You more,” I said softly, but firmly, as I threw the books into the recycle bin as hard as I could. The pain immediately went from unbearable to a dull ache inside. The whirring of thoughts quieted to blessed silence. I looked back up at the sky with a small smile. I could feel God’s love and approval upon me. I wiped my eyes and got in the car to go home. I knew that with God’s help, I was going to be fine.
You want to know the amazing thing? Once I got rid of those things from my life, my mind cleared and the dark presence I felt in my room never returned. The best part: my relationship with Jesus blossomed and went to a whole new level! Sure, I had the occasional doubts, insecurities, and temptations, but I was like a whole new person. I felt alive. I felt free!
I now carefully guarded myself from any entertainment that I felt was not God-pleasing. I almost completely stopped watching television. I carefully researched movies before I watched them. I stuck to reading only Christian, non-fiction, and historical books. My bookshelves, which once held many ungodly novels, now overflowed with Bibles, biblical commentary, and uplifting Christian books.
You want to know the other amazing thing? As I purged my life of ungodly stuff, I found I didn’t really miss it. I ached for some of the things I got rid of for a short time. I also found that I struggled for a few weeks to transition to my new lifestyle, but afterwards, my lifestyle was no longer a sacrifice. In fact, I considered it to be a blessing! The impact on my thought life alone was utterly amazing.
Therefore, when people say that it is so hard being a Christian because you have to “give up” all of the ungodly things in your life, I have an answer for them. That answer is in the form of a question: Who would you rather sacrifice to or for, and how much of yourself do you sacrifice?
I used to sacrifice my soul and a closer relationship with Jesus for the god of entertainment who gave me nothing in return, except a few moments of pleasure. The entertainment I consumed was never enough. Sometimes my desire for certain entertainment bordered on obsession. I let my mind be engulfed with ungodly thoughts that were in direct opposition to the pure and lovely thoughts that God wanted me to dwell on. I was slowly poisoning my mind and hardening my heart to what I found acceptable, not just in the entertainment I was seeking, but in the way I was viewing the world around me. I never knew it then, but I was sacrificing my mind; I was giving it over without much of a fight to be a breeding ground for Satan’s lies. I was wandering from the flock right into Satan’s waiting mouth.
What I want others to see is that whether they realize it or not, everyone has something or someone they sacrifice to. Some are slaves to the god of beauty. They sacrifice their body for a god who cares nothing for it, who tells them that they are worthless as they are. Some are slaves to the god of money. They sacrifice their lives and character for a god who tells them that they never have enough. Some are slaves to the god of fame. They sacrifice their lives and body to a god who makes them hate both their money and their body. Some are slaves to the god of popularity. They sacrifice their identity and worth, by handing it over to a god disguised as a group of people. Some, like I once was, are slaves to the god of entertainment. They sacrifice their mind for a god who gives them fleeting pleasure, but that is never enough to satisfy.
Now, I choose to sacrifice for God. Instead of asking and demanding my sacrifice like the others gods do, He first sacrificed Himself for me. Instead of making me hate who I am, He tells me how much He adores me. Instead of keeping records of my performance, He gives me His grace. Instead of telling me how little I have, He tells me what riches I have in Him. Instead of telling me how I need to change myself, He tells me that my identity as his beloved daughter is secure in Him. By sacrificing what I thought I wanted, I instead gained everything I needed. God helped me regain the battleground of my mind and keep it safe from Satan’s lies.
God doesn’t demand sacrifice; instead He grants freedom from the other gods who demand it. That is the key: To other gods, sacrifice is demanded. To my God, sacrifice is a response. I want to do it for Him, because He first sacrificed for me. I want to do it for Him, because He first gave me His love. No other god does that. To serve and sacrifice for God is to find true joy, peace, and contentment in your life.
That leaves me with a question for you: Who do you sacrifice your life for or to, and how much are you sacrificing?