(also inspired this week by my beautiful bride and some reading and reflecting she’s been going through)
My old boss, and dear, dear friend, Ronnie used to say, “The only people that like change are wet babies.” When he said it in his Georgia drawl, it sounded even funnier. But I cannot deny how true it is. What’s funny about the wet baby analogy is that the reason a wet baby likes change is that it increases their comfort. As adults, though, our comfort usually decreases our willingness to change. Therefore it limits our ability to grow. Particularly in the Christian life.
The paralysis of comfort in church life isn’t a phenomenon limited to the present day. My reading this week from Luke 2 to Luke 5 reminded me how prolific comfort was in the first century, and how it precluded some from seeing Jesus for who He really was and from experiencing the eternal life change readily available to them. It has the same impact on us today.
In Luke 5 we see one of many, many examples through the Gospels of the comfort of the religious leaders. The comfort of their way of doing, seeing, believing, acting. That which differed from their comfort zones was immediately quashed, set aside as outside the realm of acceptance. Note Luke 5:17-21 …
One day while Jesus was teaching, some Pharisees and teachers of religious law were sitting nearby. (It seemed that these men showed up from every village in all Galilee and Judea, as well as from Jerusalem.) And the Lord’s healing power was strongly with Jesus. Some men came carrying a paralyzed man on a sleeping mat. They tried to take him inside to Jesus, but they couldn’t reach him because of the crowd. So they went up to the roof and took off some tiles. Then they lowered the sick man on his mat down into the crowd, right in front of Jesus. Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the man, “Young man, your sins are forgiven.” But the Pharisees and teachers of religious law said to themselves, “Who does he think he is? That’s blasphemy! Only God can forgive sins!”
Jesus certainly could never be considered a conformist. As a result, the Pharisees and other religious leaders of the time bristled nearly every time they encountered Him. Their comfort zone was being invaded, and their control was being threatened and diminished. They fought hard to reject it.
And so do we, by the way.
We are creatures of comfort. We like things the way we like things, especially as it relates to church life and our Christian walk. We like our particular church. We like the seats we always sit in. We like one teacher versus another. We like the service time we attend. We like a certain type of worship music. We like the message to be not too long or too short. We like people who act like, dress like, look like, and think like us. We like a certain type of service, a certain denomination, a certain dogma. We like the message, but just don’t like all that Jesus talk. We don’t like when people lift their hands during worship, and we’d prefer just to sing along and be controlled. Mess with any of those, and we nearly become unable to function. We nearly become unable to worship our Lord. Our comfort zone becomes more like a danger zone.
This is definitely what we see with the Pharisees, Sadducees, scribes and other religious leaders of Jesus’s time. Jesus countermanded their directives for “proper” observances, disregarded their demands for the “appropriate” behaviors, and established a new standard for faithful obedience to God. And the religious establishment of the time resisted at every step. Don’t we do the same?
Why is it that we assume church has to be the way we prefer it? Or why is it that we expect people at church to dress like or look like us? Of course, this is not a condition that is limited to church … it’s evidenced throughout our societies … but to an extent it seems we would least expect it in our faith communities and yet there it resides alive and well.
The “why” is because we have a need to feel comfortable. Having things familiar makes them feel comfortable. Comfort is safety. Comfort is control. But comfort, safety, control, etc., are not what Jesus preached or what God intended for life. Let’s face it, which of us could say that any part of our life is completely and utterly comfortable? Comfort really isn’t part of the deal.
In fact, not only did Jesus bring discomfort to the religious elite of His day, but He quite clearly taught that our lives as His followers (at least while on this earth) would bring nothing but discomfort. And yet, we strive and struggle every day to avoid discomfort at all costs. The fact is, however, that it’s through discomfort that we learn; it’s through discomfort that we grow; it’s through discomfort that we discover what we’re capable of as instruments of God’s grace and love. Too much comfort robs us of the opportunity to experience Jesus in a real and meaningful way, the way He wants us to.
Jesus preached messages of discomfort. Messages that contradicted the notions of comfort of the religious leaders, but also messages of the impending discomfort that being His disciples would portend. Hence, I would propose that at least from time to time, we should seek that very discomfort, that we should embrace it. We should ask God to reveal to us those things in our spiritual life that bring us comfort, and in turn, ask Him to give us the courage to seek discomfort in those areas from time to time.
Let’s go to a different church service. Or maybe a different church once just to check out what makes it different. Let’s let go of our inhibitions at church and lift our hands while we sing. Let’s serve in a ministry that we never in a million years would have wanted to if given the choice, just to see God work through that faithfulness. If you don’t enjoy reading the Old Testament as much as the New Testament, read it anyway. Read it in a translation with Old English vernacular, like the King James. Let’s go up to a perfect stranger at church and say hello. Or better, go up to a perfect stranger on the street and invite them to your church. Or best of all, go up to a disheveled, dirty-clothed homeless person and invite THEM to your church. Let’s seek a little discomfort once in a while. Let’s seek to go a different direction than the usual direction.
This doesn’t mean, and in no way am I advocating, that we abandon, whitewash or dilute proper doctrine or Biblical truth. Rather, those form the bedrock of assurance that as we release our tightfisted grip on our preferences, which form the basis of our comfort, we can do so without undergoing pain or some sort of transformation to heathenness. Let God’s inerrant word and faithful revelation through it guide our journey out of comfort. Whatever it might mean, let’s run toward uncomfortable once in a while. I think God will meet us there.