Don’t make what is already hard harder than it has to be

Evangelism is hard. Let’s not soft peddle it – I find it hard, everyone else I know who does it finds it hard and the people who won’t do it typically refuse because its hard. Without doubt, evangelism is difficult. It is relationally tough, emotionally draining, culturally awkward, socially odd at best and barely acceptable in polite company at worst. Pressing through all of that and still trying to hold it together to credibly explain the gospel to someone in words they might understand is most definitely hard.

That is not, therefore, a reason not to do it. Since when has something being hard ever been a decent reason not to bother doing it? Jesus never said following him would be a bed of roses. Those of us expecting to follow Christ and be on easy street have, frankly, failed to understand the gospel, failed to properly read the words of Jesus and not understood the tenor of scripture on the Christian life.

We share the gospel because we love Christ and we can do no other. We do it because the Lord tells us to do it and we love him and want to serve his glory. We do it because, if we don’t, people face a lost eternity that is far harder than anything the Lord calls us to do here and now. We do it because we know that God is a good father who loves us – who could do it all on his own far better without us – and so calls us to do these hard things because they work to our eternal good. So, for all those reasons (and maybe some others) we do what is hard for the Lord even though it is hard. And that is entirely right and proper.

So why are we often so intent on making what is already hard – that the people doing it recognise is hard and are (hopefully) doing with the best of God-glorifying motives – even harder than it has to be? I am not necessarily talking about the mode of evangelism we employ – though that probably bears thinking about under this particular heading – but the necessary supporting things that allow evangelism to happen. There are lots of ways we can make the work the Lord calls us to do easier; not inherently so but by not insisting on tangential things that make it unnecessarily harder. Very often these things are justified on some grounds that lose sight of the bigger issue. It is easy to insist that everything is a ‘sacrifice for the Lord’ whilst failing to recognise that, sometimes, we are just making life harder for people unnecessarily.

If we have a week (or more) of mission planned, scrimping on food is no way to help people give their best for Christ. We can claim that we’re being good stewards by saving money, but all we’re really doing is making the mission harder for those who have already signed up to do what most would consider pretty hard already. Even if we give people enough food, making sure its the cheapest, nastiest food on the grounds that we’ll save money is not going to help people press on. It is treating things like food as nothing more than a functional thing that has no bearing on morale beyond people feeling hungry. It is easy to make things unnecessarily hard by making decisions that make what is already difficult even tougher. Making people feel a bit happier with nice food is not an ungodly decision, but one designed to make people more effective in the mission. Buy people chip shop chips one evening, rather than making them own brand beans on own brand toast for the fifth consecutive night, will payback in team morale.

But we can have this same grinding effect by the culture that we set. If our churches and mission teams are beset with unnecessary “rules”, again, we will end up making the work harder than it has to be. Don’t get me wrong, there are times when we have to insist on certain things for anything to happen. Free for alls rarely get anything done. But all too often we go well beyond things necessary for the work and begin insisting on things… well, I don’t know why but some of us feel the need to insist on them. Maybe it makes us feel important to set our particular stamp on things. Maybe we prefer things a particular way and therefore set things up according to our preferences, without any reference to anybody else. But if people have signed up to do the hard thing that we would hope they might do, we are hardly going to encourage them to keep doing it if we grind them down with an unnecessary rule book of our own creation. We should be aiming for maximal freedom when we are asking people to do what is generally agreed to be difficult work.

This sort of thinking – along with broader thinking about how we live out our Christian lives – tends to view God as something of a boss (albeit a potentially benevolent one) rather than a loving and gracious father. We must save church money and not use it on things that might serve morale or make us more effective in the mission because we’re saving money for the boss and that might be seen as frivolous. We are ‘in’ by the patronage of the boss whom we must pay back with our hard work. The highest good is less the glory of God served by our faithfulness and instead becomes the work itself.

But God is not our boss; he is our father. He calls us into his work because he loves us and wants us to grow. Whilst he tells us clearly enough that the work will be hard, he also gives us grace to continue. God’s grace extends to us both in the sustaining ministry of the Holy Spirit at work in us and in the ordinary means of grace such as good food, comfortable beds to sleep in and things to enjoy. These are the means God uses to sustain us in the work. Which begs the question why we would deny each other the good gifts God gives to his children to help them persevere in the name of glorifying God and serving in his work? We hardly glorify God by spurning his good gifts and reveling in the misery that we have effectively created for ourselves. If we are already doing what is inevitably hard, why on earth would we not partake of the good gifts – given to us by our good and loving heavenly father – to help us press on in the hard work he has given us to do?

If you like your references old and puritan, let me point you in the direction of Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress:

I looked, then, after Christian, to see him go up the hill, where I perceived he fell from running to going, and from going to clambering upon his hands and his knees, because of the steepness of the place. Now, about the midway to the top of the hill was a Pleasant Arbour, made by the Lord of the hill for the refreshing of weary travelers.

As Christian goes up Hill Difficulty, he comes to an Arbour. It was built by the Lord partway up the hill to refresh weary travellers. It wasn’t a place to settle to keep you from pressing on in your journey and nor was it something built for its own sake. It was intended to be a point of refreshment to serve weary travellers in their journey.

If we want people to press on in the mission, we ought to provide them with pleasant arbours to help them persevere. That may be as simple as providing them, not just with a filling meal but a genuinely enjoyable one. It may be as simple as giving them somewhere helpful to sleep rather than suggesting terrible accommodation is a “sacrifice for the Lord”. It may be as simple as giving people maximal freedom in the work so they don’t feel constrained both in the work and during any free time they may have. It means not making what is already hard work unnecessarily harder.