This is Part 2 in a 12 Part series. The premise is this: "Two men in their in their late 20’s walk into a coffee shop around 7:00 a.m. In college they had been good friends, but over the past few years had gotten out of touch. Having lived in the same dormitory for three of their four years at City Christian College, they still had many fond—and a few not-so-fond memories—of their time together in college. Just by accident (or so Michael thought) they had run into each other in a hardware store and had set up a time to talk over breakfast. This is their second breakfast together.

If you want to read this series of conversations from the beginning (you don't have to start at the beginning), please see Part 1.

Waitress: Good morning!

Michael: mm hmm …

Waitress: Would you like the same thing you had last week?

Michael: mm hmm …

Jim: I’ll take ham and eggs.

Waitress: Comin’ right up!

Michael: mm hmm …

Jim: You look kinda’ tired.

Michael: I guess you could say that. It is 7:00 a.m., you know.

Jim: But you seemed pretty awake last time we met for breakfast.

Michael: I’ve been having trouble sleeping the last few days. I’ll snap out of it in a couple of minutes.

Jim: Something on your mind?

Michael: Is there ever a time when there isn’t something on my mind?

Jim: How long has this insomnia been going on?

Michael: Since Friday, doctor.

Jim: Does it have anything to do with your visit to the Northside?

Michael: Definitely. Only that’s not what’s been keeping me awake at night.

Jim: Did you enjoy the visit?

Michael: Enjoy isn’t the word for it. “Struggle through,” “wrestle with,” “fight with myself”—those might be better descriptions.

Jim: I thought you’d enjoy seeing what the Lord was doing over there.

Michael: I did. I mean, I didn’t. What I mean is—the visit was good, but it made my own inadequacies stand out even more.

Jim: What do you mean?

Michael: It’s just this … you’re doing what I always dreamed of doing. Not that I’ve ever had any particular calling to people struggling to get off the street. It’s just that you seem so content in your walk with God. You know where you’re going in your life. You have a sense of destiny and purpose.

Jim: It doesn’t always seem that way to me.

Michael: Well, that’s how it looks to me.

Jim: I have plenty of hard days.

Michael: Maybe you don’t understand what I’m saying. Of course you have lots of hard days. But…you make it look so easy. What I mean is that you look happy, even though you’re living in a situation that I don’t think I could stand.

Jim: Is the Christian life easy or hard?

Michael: That’s what I want to know.

Jim: What’s the answer?

Michael: I’m not sure. What do you think? Is it easy or hard to be a Christian?

Jim: Yes.

Michael: Yes, what?

Jim: Yes. The answer’s yes.

Michael: I should have figured …

Jim: Recently, I’ve been thinking some about this question.

Michael: Good. Then maybe you’ll say something that can help me. My problem relates to the different ways that the Christian life has been described to me. One person talks about the cost of discipleship with its accompanying suffering, personal discipline and sacrifice. That sounds hard to me.

Jim: And the next person describes his life as a Christian in terms of joy, peace, contentment and fulfillment.

Michael: Right.

Jim: Which is it?

Michael: You’re the expert. You tell me.

Jim: It’s not like I have a standard answer for everything.

Michael: I probably wouldn’t listen to a standard answer anyway. Where shall we start?

Jim: We can start by looking at the items we have just mentioned and see if those are actually spoken of in the Bible.

Michael: That sounds good.

Jim: Does God promise us suffering as Christians?

Michael: Yes. There’s a verse somewhere—though I can’t remember the reference—that says that everyone who wants to be godly in Christ Jesus will experience persecution of some kind.[1]

Jim: What about personal discipline?

Michael: What about the passage that gives the example of exercise and boxing to bring my body into submission?[2]

Jim: There are many places that the Bible speaks about suffering and self-discipline as aspects of the Christian life.

Michael: What about sacrifice?

Jim: I think even a cursory reading of the Gospels and Acts shows that sacrifice is involved in being a disciple of Christ.

Michael: Does anyone today actually live those early disciples did?

Jim: Precious few.

Michael: But all this talk about discipleship and sacrifice sounds very negative. What about the joy, peace and happiness part?

Jim: Let’s ask the same question about those items. Does the Bible speak about such qualities for the Christian?

Michael: Well … there’s the passage about the fruit of the Spirit.[3]

Jim: Right—among others like it.[4] But, is peace, joy, and contentment easy?

Michael: That’s how it seems.

Jim: Is it possible to be at peace even when your outside circumstances are terribly uncomfortable?

Michael: I don’t know. What do you think?

Jim: It’s interesting that some of our fondest memories come out of circumstances that many would call difficult. Some of our most significant memories of deep inner peace come out of times when we would have expected the opposite.

Michael: Is this perhaps why we remember them?

Jim: Perhaps. I had such an episode in my childhood. My family went to a cabin in the mountains for Christmas week. For a city boy like me, this was a big event! We got snowed-in for days on end, without electricity, without heat, and had only basics like rice to eat. I don’t think we were in any serious danger, but it was rather uncomfortable sitting around trying to wrap up in enough blankets to keep warm. The memory of those days trapped in an unheated cabin by five feet of snow has become one of the most precious memories for all the members of our family. It brought our family together and is a very special memory for all of us.

Michael: But isn’t there any way that I can have the joy and peace of the Christian life without the necessity of suffering, pain and personal discipline?

Jim: You want to have your cake and eat it too?

Michael: That’s not what I mean.

Jim: What do you mean?

Michael: What about all those people who talk about the peace and joy they experience as Christians? Their lives don’t seem to be all that difficult. Perhaps I should aim at that type of life.

Jim: If you aim at happiness, you’ll guarantee for yourself a life of continual aiming, but never gaining. If you aim at it, that will be the one sure way never to get it.

Michael: What do you mean by that?

Jim: You said you had trouble sleeping last night.

Michael: That’s right.

Jim: How long did it take you to get to sleep?

Michael: Two or three hours.

Jim: Were you frustrated?

Michael: I sure was.

Jim: Did you do anything to try to help you get to sleep?

Michael: You mean like counting sheep?

Jim: Yeah.

Michael: I did try to think about other things and not focus on the fact that I couldn’t get to sleep.

Jim: Did it work?

Michael: Not last night.

Jim: Why not?

Michael: Because I kept remembering that I was having trouble getting to sleep. The more I thought about it, the more frustrated I got that I couldn’t get to sleep—and then it seemed even harder to actually fall asleep. Jim, what does this have to do with our discussion?

Jim: Joy is the same.

Michael: What?

Jim: If you focus on trying to obtain joy for the sake of joy it will elude you. Paradoxical as it may seem, you can’t get joy or deep peace by focusing on obtaining them. The attitudes of joy and peace are side benefits of Christian living; they're not at the center. Obtaining joy through focusing on obtaining joy will be no more successful than telling the interviewer that you want the job because their company has a good health insurance plan. Focusing on the insurance won’t get you the job—focusing on getting to sleep only brings insomnia—and focusing on obtaining joy won’t bring you joy.

Michael: So, I shouldn’t want to be happy?

Jim: That’s not what I’m trying to say. The desire to receive and experience godly joy and contentment certainly honors God since both are gifts from him. It’s just necessary to recognize that pursuing happiness as an end in itself neither honors God nor will be successful.

Michael: So if I shouldn’t focus on obtaining joy, what should I focus on?

Jim: Real joy and deep peace come only though focusing on Jesus Christ and his lordship over our lives.

Michael: What do you mean by “lordship”?

Jim: I mean that he is the one who makes the decisions and has the final word in our lives. We live with the singular purpose of bringing him glory through every breath we breathe, every word we say, and every thought we think. We don’t aim for our own personal happiness.

Michael: Well … I want to glorify God.

Jim: Do you?

Michael: Of course.

Jim: That means that you not only are affirming this with your mouth, but that you are daily choosing to give yourself over to obey him. You have decided that however difficult any particular instance may be, you are surrendered to living wholly and completely for him—and for no one and nothing else.

Michael: I see where you’re going. You’re saying that if we truly want to glorify God in our lives, it’s going to cost a lot personally.

Jim: That’s right. The world we live in includes pain, suffering, and sacrifice, and the road of faith includes all of these. Our goal is not to eliminate these from our lives; it’s to glorify God—PERIOD!

Michael: And you seem to be saying that joy and peace are side-benefits of seeking to glorify God. The one who seeks to glorify God in his life will find that there is joy in his life. Is that what you’re saying?

Jim: Yep.

Michael: Why haven’t I heard this before?

Jim: You probably have.

Michael: OK, I probably have. But I don’t hear it often.

Jim: This may be because the pursuit of happiness has taken center stage as the main purpose of being a Christian in most contemporary churches. It has taken center stage in many churches I’ve been associated with—and I’ve been associated with quite a few.

Michael: Maybe we need a few prophets to tell the church how much they’ve deviated.

Jim: (pause) Don’t look at me. You’re the one who suggested it.

Michael: Definitely don’t look at me!

Jim: In some ways, I find myself, rather than feeling righteous anger over the entire problem, feeling sorry for all these people—the saddest creatures of all—seeking joy for the sake of joy, without any hope of obtaining it.

Michael: Jim, you said that the person who focuses on living only for God’s glory will eventually find that he is at peace with himself and experiencing internal joy. Do you mean that they always have this joy?

Jim: Yes and no. I vaguely remember you telling me that when you were in high school you used to run on the cross-country team. Is that right?

Michael: That’s right.

Jim: Was it easy or hard?

Michael: It was hard. Every day after school we had to run between four and ten miles. At the same time, I loved it! There was something about being out on those trails and listening only to the puffing of my breath that was exhilarating.

Jim: What about the meets? Did you like running in competition?

Michael: In one way I loved them, in another I hated them.

Jim: Why?

Michael: The pressure was intense—running to win while others were watching. Sometimes, when I was in a race, I’d “hit the wall” and feel certain that I couldn’t run another step. Of course, I kept pushing on, knowing that I’d get over it. Other times, I experienced just the opposite; it felt like I was flying. Occasionally, I experienced the runner’s rush—a sense of elation and release that is difficult to describe.

Jim: Is it easy or hard to be a cross-country runner?

Michael: Yes.

Jim: Yes, what?

Michael: Yes. The answer’s yes. And it’s both easy and very difficult to be a follower of Jesus. Isn’t that what you were trying to say?

Jim: You got it. The Christian life requires sacrifice and personal discipline. But it is also a life of joy.

Michael: The joy you’re talking about is different than just a light happiness, isn’t it?

Jim: Yep.

Michael: And you’re saying that only those who show in their life and actions that they are committed to Christ as Lord will possess this joy.

Jim: Yep.

Michael: That’s interesting.

Jim: Yep (smile).

Michael: But I thought the key to the Christian life was to “let go and let God” do it through you. How does your theme of sacrifice work into that?

Jim: That’s a different question for a different time. Maybe we should talk about that next week.

Michael: Fine. Same time, same place?

Jim: You’re on.

Click here to read Questions Over Breakfast #3: Let Go and Let God? Or Trust God and Try Hard?

[1] 2 Tim 3:12.

[2] 1 Cor 9:24-27.

[3] Gal 5:22-23.

[4] Cf. Psa 119:165; Phil 4:7; John 15:11; Rom 14:17.