On June 6, one of the elders of our church died at the age of 58. This was an unexpected and painful loss and came only 18 months after the death of another elder from our church who was 62. Both men were beloved by their families, their church, and the Covenant College community where they worked.
It was one of those situations that makes you ask, why? If God healed Epaphroditus and spared Paul grief upon grief (Phil 2:27), why couldn’t he have restored these men who were helping care for his flock? Our church prayed fervently for that kind of healing, yet God chose not to heal them.
In a fallen world, we are well acquainted with grief, loss, and suffering. But that prompts the question, what difference does Jesus make in the daily trials and hardships of life? If the way I live my life is no different from those who don’t follow Jesus, then I have a problem. Am I basically a secular person who goes to church to socialize—or do my theological beliefs have a direct impact on my daily life?
Beyond Sunday School Answers
When I ask what difference Jesus makes, the Sunday School answer is “Jesus makes ALL the difference.” And I heartily agree. But what does that mean in the mess of our daily lives? Although I believe Jesus is important, I don’t always live in a way that reflects this confession. Sometimes I wonder whether Jesus can handle my disappointments, my frustrations, my worries.
As I think about the difference Jesus makes in my life, several Scriptures stand out.
I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:5)
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! (2 Cor 5:17)
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Gal 2:20)
These verses bear witness to the spiritual reality of our union with Christ. This unseen truth is how Jesus makes a difference in my daily life. He is alive in me, and his grace encourages me through joyful times and sustains me through the darkest times.
Biblically speaking, union with Christ means that we face our circumstances with honesty because we are abiding with Christ. Just like David in the Psalms, we don’t sugarcoat the hardship and pain. Instead, we draw strength from the history of God’s faithfulness throughout Scripture and church history. God is unchanging, and his goodness to his people in the past encourages us to persevere. We place our hope in God’s ability to bring his promises to completion. Jesus will return, and we will dwell with God in the new heavens and earth where there is no more sin or suffering. We endure our present trials by clinging to Christ, remembering that this life is fleeting but eternity with God will be far more wonderful than we can even imagine.
This act of abiding in Christ is an act of faith. I’m trusting the promises of a God I can’t see, a posture that stands in contrast to our modern, this-worldly, scientific values. As people of faith who aren’t co-opted by the secular narratives that pervade our culture, we believe there are spiritual realities that profoundly impact our lives (2 Cor 4:18, 5:7).
On particularly difficult days, this looks like living in a constant state of prayer, depending on God, confessing my need for Christ, and trusting him to carry me through. Even when I can’t see things working for my good (Rom 8:28), God’s promises are still true, and he will carry the good work to completion (Phil 1:6). And on good days, I respond with thanksgiving, grateful for his blessings and recognizing that our Father is the source of all good things (James 1:17).
When I think about the difference that Jesus makes in my daily life, I focus on his faithfulness, his indwelling presence, and his promises. It’s about trusting in Christ and clinging to his promises. Christ in me gives me tenacious hope in a restored future, one where there are no more tears and where we will live with God (Rev 21:3-4).
Granted, this is not bumper sticker Christianity; the faith of the church is life and death. As I mentioned earlier, our church experienced deep loss when our elder died. What difference does Jesus make for us? Everything! His sudden death surprised everyone, forcing us to come face to face with what we believe. The death of our dear brother left a gap in the spiritual leadership of our church. What did we do? As a church body, we took time to lament our loss corporately. Yet through our tears and disappointment, we cling to the promise of the resurrection, a realistic acknowledgment of our loss coupled with abiding in the promises we have in Christ.
Many times in the Christian pilgrimage, we don’t receive answers to the “why” questions. But we know that Jesus is preparing a place for us (John 14:2-3). Furthermore, because of the resurrection, we don’t mourn like those who have no hope (1 Thess 4:13). Rather, by abiding in Christ we find comfort that one day we will see our brothers again, and we will all be whole.
About the Author:
Shelley Madueme lives in Flintstone, GA, with her husband Hans and their children Caleb and Zoë. She completed a Master of Theological Studies at Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, AL, and a Master of Theology in New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, IL. After quitting her PhD dissertation on grief in the New Testament, she experienced first-hand the grief of losing their infant daughter Sarah Grace to a rare condition. In addition to homeschooling, Shelley coordinates the Women’s Ministry at St. Elmo Presbyterian in Chattanooga, TN and blogs about life and theology at shelleymadueme.com.