Western culture is immersed in the desire for and pursuit of comfort. If we are honest enough to look for it, we’d all have to admit that we are guilty as charged. From sleep-number beds (I have 2 in my home) to luxury cars, to padded insoles for our $120 pair of shoes, our overarching pursuit of comfort is undeniable. Call it an obsession. Call it a preoccupation. Call it an unholy lust. Whatever you choose to call it, you cannot honestly call it an illusion. It’s reality. We are products of the world in which we’ve been raised.
For the past 50 years (or so) American culture in particular has been nursed on the bottle of self-esteem. We’ve been fed (sometimes forceably) the milk of “you are important – you have rights – you deserve the best.” While we’ve seen some benefits, we’ve also seen a debilitating pre-occupation with “self” arise, to the exclusion of weighter matters. We’ve nursed too long on this lop-sided formula, and it’s not been healthy for us, or for our world. Like chocolate – it tastes great for a while, but in large quantities makes you sick… and as the main food of your diet will slowly kill you.
The saddest part is that the church, which Jesus bought with His own blood is infected with this comfort-lust too.
I hope that statement hits you – hard. I hope it makes you stop and think… and pray.
What got me thinking about this is a series of talks I’ve been listening to by John Piper. These talks are Christian biographies – stories of heroic, selfless, pivotal personalities in the history of the church. In the majority of these accounts I’ve been struck with relentless blows to my conscience. I’ve noticed the degree of sacrifice, suffering, and outright pain these individuals willingly endured for the sake of the gospel and the advancement of Christ’s kingdom on the earth. None of them was a perfect example in every way. But all of them understood one thing that Jesus taught so very clearly – the life they had been given was not their own.
I couldn’t help but place their stories up against my own, comparing the lives they lived with the one I’m in the process of living. I know their callings may have been unique. I know their situations may have been uncommon even in their day. Those are not the things that effected me most powerfully though. It is the comparison of their attitudes with mine, and their grasps of true and proper priorities as compared to mine that convicts me deeply. They knew that when Jesus said we as believers need to “hate even our own life” in order to be His disciple – He meant it.
Our comfort-lust culture turns Jesus’ statements into principles – general guidelines of what may be true in the lives of some, and thereby makes them easy to shrug off as not applicable to OUR particular sitaution. We don’t want to be “put out” so we discretely go our own way, running from anything that seems even the slightest bit uncomfortable or awkward. I’m rebuking myself as I write these things, as I too have a very lamentable lack of understanding regarding how suffering for the sake of Christ is important in the work of His kingdom. I’m more concerned with the health, safety, and security of myself and my family than I am with going where He calls me to go or doing what He calls me to do.
Now… to be completely honest, and I think fair, I must confess that in my heart of hearts I WANT to be what He desires, I WANT to do what He calls me to, and I WANT to go wherever He leads. My history has born that out with some degree of consistency, I think. But when I look deep inside, I find a disgusting fear of discomfort and a driving desire toward self-comfort that I don’t like and I don’t believe are Christ-like in the least. When did our Savior ever exhibit a concern for self? When did He ever set aside the more important things of His life to procure a momentary comfort for Himself?
He knew something that we don’t. The Christians I’ve been learning about knew it too. What was it that they knew? They knew that there are things more important than our comfort.
Here’s how Paul says it,
“Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved—and that by God. For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him, since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have.” – Philippians 1:27-30
Here’s how Peter says it…
“So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.” – 1 Peter 4:19.
Both Jesus and the Christian heroes of the past knew two things:
- Suffering is part of God’s calling to the Christian. When we stand faithfully for His truth in this world we will be opposed – sometimes violently, painfully, mercilessly. It doesn’t mean God is unfaithful, or cruel, or unjust, or unloving. It doesn’t mean He has abanoned us. Was it unjust, or cruel, or unloving, or unfaithful for God to pour out the full measure of His wrath toward sin on His perfect Son Jesus? No, just the opposite. It was the perfect expression of all those things. When we find ourselves in times of pain or suffering, or mistreatment – even when we can’t logically connect the dots between His grand purposes and our present pain – it means He is working out His good, eternal plan and He is using us in it. When we became believers in Christ, we chose to follow Him. We signed on to be a part of the redemption of all things. We should not be surprised when He uses us sacrificially and painfully to bring others to a knowledge of Him. He did so with His Son, we should expect no less.
- God can be trusted in and with our suffering. Peter’s words are especially helpful here. When the times of suffering do come (and we should expect them to come), we are to entrust ourselves to God – He is our Creator, and He is faithful. Though we may not like it and we probably won’t understand it at the time, we have to be able to get to the point that HE is seen as ultimately worthy, faithful, wise, powerful, etc. HE is in complete control even when it feels like we’ve been cast into a cauldron of suffering that even He couldn’t rescue us from. He is able, He is faithful, and He is in control even in our darkest hours.
I’m slowly coming to the point that I’m expecting hardship/suffering to come. Not in a fatalistic sense (i.e. “Things have been going so well for so long, it’s only a matter of time…”) but in a “calling” sense (i.e. “I’m called to it as part of God’s plan for me.” – Philippians 1:29). I’m expecting, as a disciple of Jesus Christ, to be brought intentionally to a place where I will have to demonstrate, by my actions and attitude, that He is supreme over everything else. Over my wonderful, godly wife. Over my terrific children. Over the blessings of a comfortable life. Even over my own life. And though I fear the “price” it may cost to BE a person like that, I WANT to be that person.
There are many others who have been called/taken there before me. People most of us look up to – as examples and heroes of the faith. Father Abraham. King David. The Prophet Daniel. The Apostles Peter and Paul. John Bunyan. William Tyndale. John Newton. Adoniram Judson. J. Hudson Taylor. Oswald Chambers. And the list goes on and on and on. It’s the Hebrews 11 “Hall of Faith” -and our names may some day be added to it.
But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened.” But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. It is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit… – 1 Peter 3:14-18