I grew up in churches that assumed if you really followed Jesus, you would be miserable. Therefore, the more miserable you were, the closer you were to Jesus. Our pastors told us that it was better to be miserable at church on Sunday night than to be at home watching the "Wonderful World of Disney." It was better to be miserable missing your prom than to be at your prom and be in danger of the fires of hell.
We never could understand Pentecostals. They seemed to enjoy church too much. We knew church was a burden to be endured so we could show how much we loved Jesus. As Baptists, we knew Methodists and Presbyterians could not be true followers of Jesus because they did not have Sunday night church. They were at home watching the "Wonderful World of Disney." We were falling asleep listening to a warmed-over Sunday night sermon.
Our heroes were missionaries, who really suffered for Jesus in far-away places. When the missionaries came to speak at our church, they always let us know what they had given up so they could serve God. Valda Long was a nurse from our hometown who had gone to serve in Nigeria. When she came home on furlough and spoke in our church, we thanked God she went and we didn't.
Though I knew at an early age I was called to be a pastor, I feared being called as a missionary. I didn't want to go far away from home. I kept hoping I would not hear "the call." Then, during finals week at college, I laid down for a nap (after pulling an all-nighter). Unknown to me, some jokers rigged a mic to their stereo system and began to blare a message through the dorm: "This is God. I want you to be a missionary. I want you to go to the jungle and live without indoor plumbing. I want you to marry an ugly woman to be your missionary wife and have ugly missionary kids." Awakened by this message, a ball of fear formed in my stomach. I guessed God was calling me to a life of misery for him. Only when I heard the guys laughing did I realize it was a joke. I was relieved.
The danger of thinking God wants you to be miserable is you can make life harder than it needs to be. You feel guilt for any pleasure you enjoy. You start to avoid God, fearing another message of misery is on its way. You resent others who seem to have faith and enjoy life. You want them to be as miserable as you are. When offerings are taken, you are not a cheerful giver but a miserable one. You feel like all God wants is something from you.
The whole idea that God wants you to be miserable is wrong. Jesus said, "I have come that you might have life, and that you might have it in abundance!" He also said, "I spoke all these things to you so my joy might be in you and your joy might be full up to the brim."
I love the way Andy Stanley captures this: "God wants something for you, not something from you."
Isn't this the whole reason Jesus came? God wants you to be forgiven. God wants you to be set free. God wants you to live in his power and his blessing.
This means when God asks you for something, he wants something for you, not from you. When God asks you to give money to his work, he wants you to be set free from greed. When God asks you to serve, he wants you to find your purpose. When God asks you to tell your story to someone, he wants you to discover the joy of encouraging someone.
It's time to shed miserable thinking. God wants something for you, not something from you. Whenever you hear his invitation, give, serve, and share with enthusiasm, because God will provide something better for you.
Clay Smith is lead pastor of Alice Drive Baptist Church in Sumter.
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