Three Stages to the Christian Life. Where Are You?
There are three stages to the Christian life. They are the innocent, naive stage. And then the complex, suffering stage. If you trust the Lord through your season of complexity, you will experience the restful and wisdom stage, which will be where you’ll find your most significant usefulness in God’s world.
Look at the baby in the picture, a picture of contentment, as she is living her best life now. Every adult knows that these are some of the best days of her life, though no child knows how good they have it. She is secure, protected, and loved by her daddy. What you see is how things are supposed to be.
But it’s not how things will continue to be with her. A storm is brewing. There is coming a day when her life will not be so simple. There is coming a time when real challenges and difficulties will calibrate and govern this little girl’s heart and the choices she makes when her time of suffering comes will determine the quality of her life.
This worldview means that this baby is that she is like the rest of us-suffering is the only option. Nobody in the history of humanity has ever had another choice about personal complexity. Even Jesus had no other door that he could walk through when it came to His suffering.
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. — Hebrews 4:15
You know that what I’m saying is accurate, and while this knowledge may not make you warm and fuzzy, you know you will not escape this life without heartbreak and adversity. There are no exceptions. But here is something that you may not have thought. While there are no exceptions to the suffering mandate, there are options regarding how you respond to the suffering that comes into your life.
How you choose to suffer will make all the difference in the world. Do not misunderstand this; you do have a choice in how you want to endure hardship. You may not be able to control your suffering, but you can choose how you respond to it.
It is imperative for you to work through your complexity in a God-honoring way and when you do, you’ll find an inexpressible gift on the other side of your complexity. Oliver Wendell Holmes said that there is a simplicity on the other side of complexity. Here is how he said it: “I would not give a fig for the simplicity this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity.”
I have found his statement to be true in my life, as I have run it through the filter of Scriptures. There is a simplicity on the other side of complexity for the Christian. It is a beautiful place to be when life is hard. Let me explain.
After I first became a Christian, I was wonderfully naive-like the little girl in the picture. God had regenerated me by the power of His gospel and life was fresh and fun. The sun was shining, I was not guilty because of the gospel, and it seemed like everything was finally turning around for me.
I was living in a blissful innocence that was real and hope-filled. I did not need anything. My God supplied all my needs through Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19). He was kind, life made sense, and there was a clear path forward. I was full of optimism.
The Storm Came
Within five years of my rebirth, things turned terrible for me. My life hit a major roadblock, which would be more accurate to say impending annihilation. The life I thought I was going to experience as a Christian was slipping through my fingers and the more I grabbed for what I had, the faster it slipped away.
One of the many mistakes I made during the days of my naiveté was this blooming idea that my life was going to resemble a happily ever after scenario. I thought I was living the happily ever after life and it never occurred to me that it was in the here and now but in heaven.
He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” — Revelation 21:4
It did not connect with me that I would have complexity in my post-regeneration life. I thought that I had lived through the complexity, which was my pre-regenerate days as a child of Satan. The rest of my life would be, for the most part, persecution and trouble-free-so I thought.
Somehow the Scriptures that spoke of suffering while on earth did not resonate with me. Quite frankly, it is odd that I did not know this because almost all of the Word of God is a book about people going through present tense troubles.
I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world, you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world. — John 16:33
Even the man who said the words above was about to be killed for His faith. It’s kind of like the lady you see on the local news when asked about the tragedy that just happened to her family. She says, “I have heard about people going through such things as this, but I never thought it would be me.”
Well, now it is you. Or in my case, it was me. My life of innocence had come to a screeching halt. It was time for me to grow up. Just like the little girl in the picture who is living within the insulated care of her daddy has to grow up, it was time for me to grow up, too.
Simplicity Before Complexity
The early days of my Christianity were happy days. Jesus loved me, and I loved Him. We were doing great together. I was okay, and He was okay. Those were the days of my innocence. Those were also the days of being naive. It reminds me of a friend who gave me some unrealistic parenting advice several years ago. He also did not have any kids.
Then God gave him a child. That made all the difference in his world. He came back and apologized for his naive counsel. He did not have to confess his ignorance to me. I understood that there was a simplicity on the other side of complexity and he had not entered into his complexity yet.
His day was coming, and it did. My day also occurred when the season of my youthful Christianity was about to take a turn that would forever change me. This transition happens to all of us. Our walk with Christ must go through the refining fires of complexity for us to be shaped by Him-for His glory, for our good, and the benefit of others.
In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith-more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire-may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. — 1 Peter 1:6–7
Gethsemane Is the Oil Press
When the Savior entered into Gethsemane, He stepped into the oil press, which is what the word means. An oil press is essentially two flat rocks, where the olives are placed on the one, while they lower the other on top of the bottom one with the olives between the two. The mashing and grinding of the olives produce valuable oil.
Though God will call none of us to suffer like Jesus, we all will be called upon to endure our unique challenges. That is the inevitable, unavoidable option that none of us can escape. To suffer is one of the callings that the Lord places on all Christians.
For to this, you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. — 1 Peter 2:21
When these truths began to dawn on me, I complained to God. I hated the complexity that came over me. I wanted the simpler days when life was happy. But it did not matter how much I complained; my situation was not going to change. God could not let up. He had me in His press that He had ordained for me, and He was not going to stop squeezing me. He was going to complete in me what He started (Philippians 1:6).
But he is unchangeable, and who can turn him back? What he desires, that he does. — Job 23:13
Finding God In Your Complexity
Complexity has always been my concern for the people who come to me for counseling. The Lord hurls them into their complexity, like the tossing of Daniel into a den full of lions (Daniel 6:16). But unlike Daniel, rather than looking for God during their complexity, they respond in anger, hurt, bitterness, and self-pity.
Rather than reclaiming what used to be, God allows suffering in our lives to show us how things can be. All Christians know this and all Christians can sign-off on it-as long as they are not asked to go through personal suffering.
The key to personal suffering is finding God in hardship. Daniel’s friends, Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego, were three men who not only looked for God but found Him during their time of heated persecution. Because of this, they experienced God in their complexity, while the heathen around them glorified God because of their complexity.
Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent his angel and delivered his servants, who trusted in him, and set aside the king’s command, and yielded up their bodies rather than serve and worship any god except their own God. — Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 3:28)
Simplicity On the Other Side
Though I did not like it when God sent me into my complexity, by the grace of God, I found Him in it. And that is what made all the difference. God will make Himself known to anyone who wants to see Him during their time of suffering, but don’t think you can fool Him, as though you can change His mind.
If you genuinely want to find God, He will let you find Him. If you’re playing a game or being stubborn, or manipulative, or are determined to be self-seeking, the pain you receive in your complexity will not redound to God’s glory, your good, or the benefit of others.
There have been many Christians who have died in their “sphere of complexity,” never able to escape, and never willing to accept what God was writing into their story. They resigned themselves to a lesser life of sublunary lovers that never really satisfied their souls. They wanted what they wanted, more than they wanted God.
And there have been millions of Christians who have persevered during some of the harshest trials imaginable, and because of the persevering grace of God in their lives, they experienced something other-worldly. It was a peace that passes human comprehension.
And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. — Philippians 4:7
This kind of perseverance comes only through faith. Though you do not see Him, will you trust in Him (Hebrews 11:27)? If you will trust God through your difficulties and tenaciously cling to Him, you will find and experience what every Christian experienced when they came out on the other end of their complexity.
But he knows the way that I take; when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold. — Job 23:10
Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory. — 1 Peter 1:8
Will you believe Him? Will you trust Him? God loves you so much that He will go to impossible lengths to help you to become like His dear Son. Believe it. There is another kind of simplicity on the other side of complexity, and it is entirely different from the immature simplicity that is before your crucible of complexity.
I thoroughly enjoy the memories of my early days with the Lord. Those were incredible days. I was like a wild pony, prancing on a hillside. Like the little girl, comfortably resting on her daddy’s shoulder, I was a new convert with my Abba Father. I was innocent and full of faith. Then God ratcheted things up for me.
And when He did, the heartbreak came. It was my heart that was breaking, and He had to break it (2 Corinthians 12:9). Initially, I kicked against my Lord, but in time He tamed me through His incredible patience, kindness, and forbearance (Romans 2:4).
Eventually, I realized what He was trying to show me. There are peace and contentment that passes understanding, but you’ll not be able to buy it as some have attempted (Acts 8:20). You’ll have to die to get it; that is the only way to attain it (John 12:24). The “echo of the cross” has to beat in our hearts if we want to experience abundant life with Christ.
Reflecting, I see three gifts from the Father that I would never trade. The first two gifts from His hand I honestly do not care to repeat. The last one I hope to enjoy forever:
- My innocent and naive days with God. They were good, but there had to be more to God than young love.
- The crucible of suffering. It was horrible, but it was the only way to experience mature intimacy with God.
- A simplicity on the other side of complexity. This place is the unspeakable joy that comes from walking in a path of suffering like Jesus. This place of rest and wisdom is where you’ll find your most significant usefulness in God’s world.
Originally published at https://rickthomas.net on May 7, 2019.