Wise counsel from J. I. Packer
“Modern life strains us. We get stimulated till we are dizzy. Relationships are brittle; marriages break; families fly apart; business is a cutthroat rat race, and those not at the top feel themselves mere cogs in another’s machine. Automation and computer technology have made life faster and tenser, since we no longer have to do the time-consuming routine jobs over which our grandparents used to relax their minds.”
“We have to run more quickly than any generation before us simply to stay where we are. No wonder that when modern Western man turns to religion what he wants is total relaxation, the sense of being at once soothed, supported and effortlessly invigorated: in short, hot tub religion. He asks for it, and up folk jump to provide it. What hot tub religion illustrates most clearly is the law of demand and supply.”
“What, then, should we say of hot tub religion? Certainly a rhythm of life that includes relaxation is right; the fourth commandment shows that. Alternating hard labor with fun times in right too; all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, and Jesus so often went to banquets, the fun times of the ancient world, that he got called glutton and drunkard. Enjoying our bodies while we can, as opposed to despising them is part of the discipline of gratitude to our Creator. And uninhibited exuberances like clapping, dancing, shouting praise and crying out in prayer can be approved too, provided we do not hereby stumble others.”
“Without these hot tub factors, as we may call them, our Christianity would be less godly and less lively, for it would be less human. But if there were no more to our Christianity than hot tub factors – if, that is, we embraced a self-absorbed hedonism of relaxation and happy feelings, while dodging tough tasks, unpopular stances and exhausting relationships — we should fall short of biblical God-centeredness and of the cross-bearing life to which Jesus calls us, and advertise to the world nothing better than our own decadence. Please God, however, we shall not settle for that.” (J. I. Packer, Hot Tub Religion).
The danger of this hot tub mentality is not only that it loses sight of the place of service and of self-giving love as the path of joyful Christianity, but in the words of J.I. Packer, it also “loses sight of the place of pain in sanctification, whereby God trains his children to share his holiness.”
Packer explained, “The New Testament shows us that in the school of sanctification many modes of pain have their place — physical and mental discomfort and pressure, personal disappointment, restriction, hurt, and distress. God uses these things to activate the supernatural power that is at work in believers (2 Cor. 4:7-11); to replace self-reliance with total trust in the Lord who gives strength (2 Cor. 1:8f, 12:9f); and to carry on his holy work of changing us from what we naturally are into Jesus’ moral likeness ‘with ever-increasing glory’ (2 Cor. 3:18). Thus he prepares us for that which he has prepared for us.”
We all need green pastures and still waters from time to time. But the normal Christian life is marked by the sufferings of Jesus “because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps” (I Peter 2:21).
It often requires God-given wisdom to trace God’s good hand in the hardships of life (James 1:5). And trace it, we must! For even in our trials there is joy when we fix our eyes on “the founder and perfecter of our faith” — knowing His promise, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 12:2; 13:5). “Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good” (I Peter 4:19, ESV).