The road to eternal life mostly runs through deserts: We are not guaranteed an easy passage
The problem with modern-day evangelism is that, to rake in the numbers of converts, evangelists often sketch a picture of the Christian life that simply is not true. They tell people that once they have accepted Jesus as their Lord and Saviour, everything will be alright. When these new Christians then hit obstacles, many wilt and fade away. The life of a believer is not plain sailing; there will be storms and things even sincere believers cannot not prepare for; and their lives are not necessarily spared. These are the deserts we travel through on the way to heaven. The Bible clearly warns us that we will suffer for the sake of the gospel.
I remember that after my salvation, the first thing that happened was resistance from friends and worse, family members. I found it strange that they would not be happy for me and instead, shunned me. Many simply turned their backs on me. Little did I know at the time that this is exactly what Jesus taught would happen:
11Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. – Matthew 5:11
I learned that we will be reviled (criticised), persecuted (unfairly or cruelly treated), and slandered (falsely speaking about someone to damage their reputation) for the sake of Jesus and what He stands for. Following Jesus means we pledge allegiance to someone other than what the world offers. In the western world this may not be experienced much, but in eastern communist countries such as North Korea, China, Laos, Vietnam and the like, following Jesus indicates that you no longer follow “the esteemed leader”. This immediately makes you the enemy to be eradicated.
2And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. – Romans 12:2
Christians are a challenge for the existing culture because they do things differently and follow different rules. Those around them see Christians as a threat because they no longer conform to the ways the culture dictates. Where the culture requires them to do things they now believe are in opposition to the Word, conflict and persecution are sure to follow:
14But and if ye suffer for righteousness' sake, happy are ye: and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled. – 1 Peter 3:14
The new life in Christ compels His followers to do what is good and right, and this does not go down well in societies that survive by being corrupt. Good is now a challenge to evil. In societies that have strict hierarchical rules, being a Christian means you are challenging them and their system. The suffering of Christians is a continuous theme.
17Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. – 2 Corinthians 5:17
When you follow Christ, you have a new identity. This new identity often directly opposes what you were before, and what the rest still stand for. In many societies, religion dictates aspects such as language, and they often hijack it as belonging exclusively to their religion. Where I used to live and work, Islam is the de facto religion. The Muslims I worked with did not dare to challenge me, probably because they knew that I would expose their religious system for the lie it is. My biggest advantage was that I did not speak Arabic, or very little. When a new employee joined who spoke Arabic, they immediately assumed he must be Muslim and forced him to pray with them. His mistake was that he was hesitant to tell them that he is a Christian. Maybe he was not really a Christian after all.
9Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name's sake. – Matthew 24:9
Christians are seen as the opposition, to be wiped out, and many Christians find themselves ostracised, ridiculed, persecuted, and killed. Treated as second-rate citizens, they are often blamed for things they did not have any part in and are punished. Nero blamed the Christians for the burning of Rome as early as AD 64, starting a trend that continues to this day. Pakistan, a staunch Muslim country, is a perfect example of a society that does its best to ridicule Christians, preventing them from holding public positions of any form and forcing them to perform menial labour which the Muslims believe they are too good to do.
10The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly. – John 10:10
Jesus said that what He opposed that which the evil one gives. Cultures, governments, and religious systems steal, kill, and destroy. Cultures tie you down to toe the line, or else. Governments never have your best interests at heart and will rip you off where and when they can. Religious systems based on rules and regulations serve only to ensnare their followers while the leaders swim in riches. Jesus on the other hand, offers abundant life, not money or treasures.
Of course, some translations appear to make John 10:10 sound as if He offers you untold wealth, and the teachers of the prosperity gospel will use this verse to their advantage. However, “abundantly” (in the King James Version) means an abundance of life in Him, not in the world. It is an abundance that overflows, as we see in Psalm 23:
5Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. – Psalm 23:5
We were never guaranteed an easy life because we follow Jesus. Just ask Peter and John (Acts 4:1-21), apprehended for healing a man (Acts 3:6). Ask Stephen, killed for his faith and the testimony he had (Acts 7:8-60). Ask the first Christians who were persecuted (Acts 8:1). Ask Paul, who became a committed follower after his conversion (Acts 9:1-8) of whom we learn that God had already ordained that he would suffer for the sake of the gospel (Acts 9:16). Ask the disciples who all met horrible deaths, except for John. Read this previously published article again to see how they met their end: The persecution of believers.
We are not guaranteed a long life and prosperity. While I am healthy and pray to God that He will bless me with a long life, I do not know that may happen in the next five minutes. We are not guaranteed success in this life. Stephen was a young man when he was killed for his faith in Jesus. Paul spent most of his life preaching the gospel of peace, only to be beheaded. We are not guaranteed that people will respond positively to the message of peace and eternal life.
What is your situation? Are you walking the road of faith, believing that God has an obligation to smooth out your road because you follow Him? You are dead wrong. The road to eternal life runs through terrible deserts, just as Israel’s exodus from Egypt took them on a forty-year slog through the Sinai desert. You will not escape it. God is not suddenly going to take you out of the desert and transport you to your destination but know this: while you are travelling through the deserts of life, God will provide you with shade in the day and a light in the night (Exodus 13:21); He will provide you with sustenance (Exodus 16:4-35). Most importantly, Jesus is your bread from heaven (Exodus 16:4; John 6:35):
35And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst. – John 6:35
While you are in this life, it may not be easy, and it most likely will not. You are travelling through deserts as part of your journey to heaven. Know that He will be with you every step of the way. The deserts are harsh, but He will sustain you through them. If He is your bread of life and your living water (John 4:10), you need nothing more. I would like to leave this for you:
6For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. 7I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: 8Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing. – 2 Timothy 4:6-8
Paul did what he had to do, completed the task, and stuck to the Word, Jesus Christ. This is what he is rewarded for no more and no less. The question is whether this is the reward you are hoping for.