There’s a book out there, Do Hard Things, by Alex and Brett Harris. I’ve never read it, though having heard it cited by a number of teenagers hopelessly on fire, I’m intrigued. It seems to have inspired Christian youth to break out of comfort zones, live sacrificially and selflessly.
But I haven’t read it. So perhaps it is redundantly that I ask –
Are we really doing hard things?
A young man from our youth group preached a sermon from Acts 10 last night. I hope he will not think of me as simply regurgitating what he so finely said (is that illegal?), for something fell together for me in my own words, and I’ve got to get it out.
It was not ten chapters into our current era – the era of salvation through Christ, of his church on earth – that the gospel went from being “just for Jews” (in the Jews’ mind) to open for all nations. You’d think this turn of events would have been obvious from “and Judea and Samaria and to all the ends of the earth” (1:8), but whatever. To get his message across, God orchestrated an encounter between Peter and a Gentile – a centurion of the hated Italian Regiment, natch – and brought the Spirit upon him in full view of Jewish believers. After that, there could be no doubt that the gospel was for all people, Jew and Gentile alike, who would hear the Word and respond.
What’s crazy is that God had to send Peter three visions to get him into position.
Would Peter have gone with Cornelius’ messengers without the visions immediately beforehand?
Somehow I doubt it. It looks safe to say that Peter would rather take the Gospel to his own countrymen than to the Gentiles.
That’s no small statement. Peter’s fellow Jews were zealots. He’d already undergone brutal persecution from the religious authorities (Ch. 4, 5, 7, 8). We read in 11:4 that these are the kind of people to call him on the carpet for eating with”uncircumcised men”. Good grief – genuine Christians already turning Pharisee? Already in Acts 11, it’s shades of Matthew 9:11, the Pharisees asking Jesus’ disciples why he ate with sinners. Peter had no doubt been one of the disciples asked. Now he stood “accused”.
That Peter would rather witness to these people than to the Gentiles, says a lot about Peter’s heart towards Gentiles – or lack of heart, really, until the Spirit got involved.
We saw something similar with Jonah, who was asked to preach repentance to despised Nineveh. As my pastor once asked, why did Jonah ask to be thrown into the sea once God’s displeasure became clear, instead of simply repenting on the boat and pledging to obey? His conclusion: Jonah would rather die than go to Nineveh.
So the “hard thing” has nothing to do with nation. It has to do with our hearts.
Consider: for some of us (though not all of us), it’s actually easier to go and help a Muslim believer in another nation. For one thing, we already have sympathy towards them. Both the Christian and worldly medias have seen to that – rightfully so. They are suffering, in need of every form of help. For another, we needn’t face much consequence for our witnessing if we’re only abroad for a couple weeks. We go, we share, we return home. That makes us bolder even in peaceful nations.
But our obese, obnoxious, frequently intoxicated neighbor, who blasts Pearl Jam at all hours of the night,lets his St. Bernard use your lawn for a toilet, and isn’t moving any time soon…
Does he get compassion?
Does God value his soul less than that of a foreigner?
Is it possible that he’s the hardest thing for some of us?
The least of these span the globe.
Some Christians won’t eat with those who swear. We swear off anything that strikes us as a worldly trapping – a tattooed guest in church, or working at an unsavory mechanics’ shop – without asking if there might be lost people there. It’s these people against whom our hearts are often hardened. Perhaps the “hard thing” is not the hard thing to do, but the hard thing to want to do.
I say this with some trepidation, for I know God will hold me to this, too. But I trust him to empower us. Let us not be like Peter, for whom being sent was like pulling teeth and canvases of dead animals. Whether a refugee in a distant country or an arrogant, selfish neighbor across the fence, I trust God to send us well.
Perhaps this all is what Do Hard Things says. If so, I guess I’m saying it again. Some things can’t be repeated oft enough.