I grew up with a lot of “Jesus makes life happier and easier” songs (remember “I’ve got happiness all the time…since I found the Lord?”). So those were my expectations. Is that true, though? Does spiritual maturity bring increasing exhilaration and ease?
The clearest answer I can give, based on my own experience, is yes and no. Is that helpful? I think growing spiritually is a mixed bag. Before I explain, let me add a caveat. I will be speaking here of a growing, maturing believer. This, of course, isn’t true of every Christian. Some go for it spiritually while others dither. If you’re choosing to live in a spiritually half-hearted, or carnal state, this column isn’t about you. You have a different set of issues. I’ll address those another time.
How our walk with Christ gets easier
1. My walk with Christ gets easier because I develop solid spiritual habits
Spiritual habits, also called spiritual disciplines, include practices like prayer, Bible reading, meditation, church attendance, and so on. Each of these, enhanced by the Holy Spirit, provide spiritual nourishment, strength, healing, and wisdom. Trying to follow Christ without them is like running a marathon without proper training and nutrition, hydration. A godly life burns enormous spiritual calories and, when these practices become a habit, we face each day well-nourished and re-energized.
2. My walk with Christ becomes easier because I gain wisdom
The longer we seek Christ the more we learn, both from the Bible and from life experience. I grow wiser through both my victories and failures. I gain insight from others. With this knowledge, my walk becomes easier, because I learn to avoid certain unnecessary difficulties and take a more positive path.
3. My walk with Christ becomes easier because I gain confidence each time I have a victory
The first time we face temptation or opposition, it’s easy to be intimidated. But when the Spirit gives us wisdom and power to conquer it, our confidence grows. This doesn’t always make life easier, but when we know that we’ve faced various situations before and gained victory, we become more confident that, with God’s help, we can do it again.
4. My walk with Christ becomes easier because I become more realistic
It’s common to be idealistic about the Christian life, especially if we’re a new Christian who’s experiencing the honeymoon high. It is worth rejoicing when we’ve crossed over from death to life and seen a dramatic change in our spiritual disposition. But the high doesn’t usually last. The Christian life, though great, is a lot harder than it may at first seem. More about that in the next section. We’re not in Heaven yet. Paul says in Romans 8, that even believers, “groan inwardly as we wait patiently for our adoption as sons; the redemption of our body”(Rom. 8:23).
5. My walk with Christ gets easier because I learn to relax in His grace
The better we get to know God, the more we realize that He’s extremely gracious with us. He “remembers that we are dust” (Ps. 103). While God does have high standards, He’s also realistic about the limit of our abilities in this current, awkward stage of spiritual development. He doesn’t expect perfection – just the best we have to give at a current stage. His love and acceptance are based on His grace, not on our performance.
6. My walk with Christ gets easier because my spiritual instincts develop
As we consistently seek God’s face, we are slowly transformed. At first, we often begin by learning to obey externally, even while fighting conflicting emotions and desires. So we act patiently, even though we feel impatient. This is okay, by the way, when it’s the best we can do. Over time, however, often a long period of time, we become patient. More and more we do what’s God-honoring instinctively without having to consciously make ourselves do it. The fruit of the Spirit spills out of us naturally.
How our walk with Christ gets harder
1. My walk with Christ gets harder because I become more aware of my sins and my flaws
If I took my shirt off, and stood next to Mr. Universe at a body-building contest, it would humbling, to say the least. As we get a better look at Jesus, and seek to be like Him, we become aware that He’s way beyond us. We discover dark corners of our souls that, in earlier days, we would have been oblivious to. Maybe we no longer cuss, but we still have hidden pockets of pride and jealousy that no one else may even we aware of. The Spirit, in his gracious timing, reveals only the weaknesses we can deal with at one time. We’d be overwhelmed if we saw them all at once. This leads to the next point:
2. My walk with Christ gets harder because God raises the bar
We don’t expect a two-year-old to act like a forty-two-year old. While God’s perfect standards never change, what He expects from us increases as we grow spiritually. “To whom much is given, much is expected” (Luke 14:28). God eventually calls us to spiritual adulthood. This is a fantastic place to be, but it’s harder too. God has invested a lot in our growth and He expects us to use it.
3. My walk with Christ becomes harder because long-term commitment is tougher than beginner’s enthusiasm
As others have noted, the Christian life, well-lived, is a marathon, not a sprint. Paul warns us, in Galatians 6:9, “Let us not become weary in doing good.” Living for Christ has plenty of challenges. At the beginning, everything is new and fresh. But after a while, we encounter conflicts, disappointments, distractions, weariness, and so on. God allows us to be really stretched at times. It’s easy to quit, or at least, to lose that “first love” and just coast. It’s the perseverance part, though, that makes all the difference. James 1 says that through trial we learn perseverance which makes us “mature and complete, not lacking anything”.
4. My walk with Christ becomes harder because the holier I become the more the opposition grows
A radical Christian has a target painted on their back. They don’t fit in well with the world’s way of thinking and Satan, the “roaring lion” is more apt to go after a mature believer since they are more of a threat to him. Plus, our own internal opposition, those unyielded sin strongholds, become more apparent and have to be faced.
5. My walk with Christ becomes harder because I grow in my desire to be with Jesus
The more we taste of Jesus, the more we long to shake the shackles of sin, blow away the mists, and see Him face to face in all His beauty. The pleasures of this world seem insipid next to Jesus. Paul said, “I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far…” (Phil. 1)
Living for Jesus gets both easier and harder. But even the harder is good. God uses it for our benefit.