Grab a pen and paper.
Write down ten of your favorite things in the world.
Go ahead – list ten things.
What did you write?
My guess is that your list is mainly comprised of activities, people, events or possessions that bring you some sense of comfort, some sense of feeling “at home” in yourself, or very much at ease.
By nature, we gravitate towards ease and we like comfort. Now, in and of themselves, ease and comfort are not bad; moments and seasons of comfort are God’s gift to us. By his common grace, our nation is abundantly blessed: we have food in our bellies, roofs over our heads, people with whom we commune, and a bed upon which we lay our tired heads at night.
Yet, lately I’ve been confronted with the back-side of comfort’s allure: the fact that it can promote stagnation in the Christian life because of its tendency towards self-protection and self-interest.
Comfort can so easily become about control.
Consider the last time you shrunk back from talking to an acquaintance about Jesus because the conversation felt awkward. Or the time when you were asked to exercise your gifts in a public setting but felt embarrassed and ill-equipped. Or what about that time at work when being honest about a mistake you made meant some serious consequences would come your way?
Attempting to take control in order to protect ourselves from discomfort simply does not work; actually, it has the opposite effect:
Then Jesus told the disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life? Or what shall a man give in return for his life?” (Matthew 16:25-26)
Deny ourselves? Take up our crosses? Follow Jesus? Let’s be honest; all three of these are much easier said than done. When the rubber hits the road and we are presented with an opportunity to step outside our comfort zone, what is our response?
Rather than discomfort having a bad connotation, we need to reimagine its purpose in light of eternity: Discomfort is actually a tool that Christ uses to mold us into his image and to bring himself ultimate glory.
Our fleshly reaction is to self-protect and stay safely within the confines of what we are familiar with. But Christ teaches his disciples that there is another way. Giving up control and leaning into discomfort are the means by which our lives become most fruitful and most glorifying to God!
Here are three reasons to step outside our comfort zone:
Discomfort will expose our weaknesses, and we desperately need this exposure. When we are made to feel uncomfortable, suddenly we are confronted with all the ways we have yet to grow, as well as the limits of our own abilities. Think about a person starting to work out with a personal trainer at the gym; after day one, their muscles are sore and tired because they are weak in certain areas. Knowing what specific muscle groups are weak will help them to prevent injury in the future, as they seek to strengthen those areas.
Since the fall of man in the garden, we have hidden our faults and weaknesses. We have shied away from exposing them, in fear that God and others would reject us. But Christ explains to us that the only way to save our lives is, in fact, to lose them! We need to step outside our comfort zone in order to see our weaknesses clearly, as well as the way we react to our weaknesses in pride, self-interest, and self-protection.
Discomfort refines us by exposing our sin.
The exposure of our weaknesses compels us to lean on the Lord for help and strength. Once we come to terms with our weaknesses and confess our sinful nature, there is a decision to make. Will we rely on our own strength to sustain us? Will we run away? Or will we ask for God’s help and obey him, no matter what the cost?
Consider Abraham, who was instructed by God to sacrifice his only beloved son, Isaac, as an offering. Abraham was ushered into one of history’s most uncomfortable situations by the Lord, himself! How did he respond? “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering” (Genesis 22:8). Instead of fleeing the scene or attempting to hide from God, Abraham embraced the uncomfortable command and trusted the Lord for help, almost performing the deed – until God, himself, stopped his hand and commended him for his great faith (22:12).
It is only in our weakness that we can clearly see the strength of God and his ability to come through on our behalf.
Leaning on the Lord teaches us that nothing is too hard for him. Just as God provided the offering of a ram for Abraham that day, so he provided his very own beloved Son for us. The offering of Jesus Christ for our sake, who bore our sins in his body on the cross, is proof that God will never leave or forsake those who trust him. If God would send his very Son into the world as a sacrifice for sin, how much more will he sustain and help and grow us in our moments or seasons of discomfort? How much more will he use these times to fulfill his promise to conform us to his Son, bringing glory to his own name?
Before Isaac’s birth, which came unexpectedly in the very old age of his parents, God says to Abraham, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” (Genesis 18:14).
He asks us to remember the same truth: Nothing, nothing, nothing is too difficult to him – especially the molding of his children’s’ hearts, minds, and will unto his own.
This is what Christ wants when he asks us to trust him in discomfort by denying our own desires and control, taking up his will and purposes, and following him. Step outside your comfort zone because you never venture into the uncomfortable alone!