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Is It Worth It?
A question for every Christian
Here’s a question that’s important for us Christians to answer regularly:
Is it worth fighting a battle that you’re not winning and may not win?
Let’s imagine the different arcs of life where this question may apply.
Is it worth fighting a besetting sin that has gotten the best of you time and time again? Is it worth making war and mortifying and fleeing and resisting when all these efforts have in the past led to failure and disappointment? Is it worth clinging onto the hope of greater holiness when every step forward just seems to illuminate some other part of your life that is broken? Is it worth it to still wrestle and struggle and battle if the daily experience is not assured and may very well turn out to be another falling short?
Is it worth persevering in doing good even when you are repeatedly returned evil for it? Is it worth serving someone another day when you know there’s a very good chance they are not only ungrateful, but resentful of it? Is it worth using your time and money and gifts and emotions to help some group or event if the odds are very good this group or event will have small, perhaps even negligible, impact? Is it worth it to spend your life on behalf of people and places that 99.9% of the world doesn’t even take notice of, much less value?
Is it worth talking about the gospel one more time to someone who seems determined to reject it? Is it worth sharing your testimony again to a person who thinks you’re crazy for what you believe? Is it worth trying to meet up for coffee once more with the person who has told you not to judge them, that they’re just fine, and that you need to be more open-minded? Is it worth going through the reasons to believe with someone who has heard them before and just will not accept what you say?
Is it worth talking to your spouse if they have been determined not to listen? Is it worth praying for them if you know they are not praying for you? Is it worth trying to hold their hand when they’ve been turning away, or trying to get close when they’ve been pulling back? Is it worth it to ask for help or counsel or prayer when none of those things have been decisive in the past? Is it worth staying married even when things look bleak and unlikely to change?
I hope that if you’ve been a Christian for any meaningful length of time, the above questions struck you as rhetorical. Everything in us should, I think, scream out, “YES.” Of course, the pursuit of holiness is worth it even when it feels (and is) far away. Of course, good works are worth it even they feel (and are) pragmatically pointless. Of course, evangelism and marriage are worth perseverance even when they are hard and our efforts seem to be yielding no fruit. These are familiar examples, but that doesn’t make them any easier. To feel like you’re spinning your wheels in any of these is a terrifying, isolating feeling. It can make not want to get out of bed. And yet, we know, when we’re being honest, that Scripture calls us to keep going. It’s not the seeming effectiveness of perseverance that matters. It’s the inherent value of it, the eternal value of it.
When I look at some of the political theology on offer from some evangelicals today, I come away with the overwhelming sense that many of us are just not willing to persevere in godliness, humility, or costly honesty anymore. Those things make us weak. They make us losers. And look at the culture: Look how the enemies of God and his people are winning. Look at what all our pious talk about loving our enemies and speaking seasonably has got us. For all those efforts we have been rewarded with a self-mutilating gender revolution, an elite class that anathematizes even private practice of traditional faith, and a generation of emerging adults who think all this is a good thing. This can’t be working. It can’t be worth it.
But…what if it is? What if the entire trajectory of the Christian life is bent not toward assured triumph but faithfulness in spite of hopelessness? What if the entire structure of our theology, our ethics, our spirituality, and our ecclesiology is built on a foundation that calls us to be and do certain things even when those certain things do not bring the rewards we want them to bring in this life?
I’ve heard a lot of talk in the last few years about the dangers of subjecting our political theology to the all-consuming concern of evangelism. That’s a good warning. “Will people still be willing to listen to us” is not the most important question. We have to say truth even when the result of doing so seems to frustrate other good goals. But this cuts in every direction. We also have to say other truths even when the result of doing so seems to frustrate other goals. For example, we have to say “I forgive you” even when the result of doing so is that we don’t get to humiliate someone who once humiliated us. We have to say “All have sinned” even when the result of doing so is that we give our cultural enemies a few minutes of vindication over us. We have to say “Jesus loves you” even when the result of doing so is that we stand inert while the mocking, the scorning, and the slander shower down. We don’t say these things because they help us win. We say them because they’re right and true, and because the victory we seek will come to us only if we persevere through the defeat we most want to avoid.
So: Is it worth it?
Is it worth it to not insult that person you think is a deviant? Is it worth it to admit when the group of people you believe are eternally wrong, may have a point? Is it worth it to hold your tongue, consider carefully, and give a calm answer, even when the rules of the game reward instant hot takes and punish your delay and carefulness? Is it worth it to hold out the hope of the gospel to people you are sure hate you? Is it worth it to let them continue to hate you as you continue to hold it out? Is it worth it to go to the cross?