I spent some time on a Christian mission trip once with people who were really big into the idea of being uncomfortable for Jesus. Often we would be encouraged that “God really wants us to step out of our comfort zone.” For a while this made me feel guilty that I was feeling comfortable. I hadn’t done much on this trip that fell outside of my comfort zone – I hadn’t challenged anyone to come to faith, or prayed for people in the street, or stood in front of a group of people and told harrowing stories about my life before I met Jesus. All this talk about comfort zones and personal growth gave me the impression that God’s job was to challenge me, that I would be called out upon the water to the great unknown, or to step out in faith, so that I might reach new levels of growth. It made it seem like any moment in which I wasn’t feeling challenged or uncomfortable I was resisting the Holy Spirit.
I was working hard on this mission trip, and I felt like I was doing a pretty good job, it’s just that I didn’t feel incredibly challenged or uncomfortable. In fact I spent some wonderful times sitting near the ocean in the sun, eating hot chips and drinking Coke. It was lovely. So I felt a bit guilty. I thought that to do this right, maybe I should be out doing something to push myself out of my comfort zone. I never got around to doing that. I did my job and in the course of doing that some things were uncomfortable for me, but I never sought discomfort for it’s own life-giving qualities.
As I reflected on the experience afterwards I tried to figure out where the tension was for me. Was I being resistant to the Spirit? Is seeking the feeling of discomfort necessary for God to be able to work in me? Then I realised that things had been a little askew on that trip. The way people had been talking, it seemed as if discomfort was a prerequisite to living out your faith, because the Holy Spirit’s desire for you is personal growth. But I don’t think God is really all that into personal growth. At least not the way we see it. He doesn’t call us to discomfort for discomfort’s sake, or growth for growth’s sake. God’s goal for us is not just to grow as people, and he doesn’t want us to be the best version of ourselves.
“What?” You might be saying. “I’m pretty sure God does want me to grow!”
Yes, but God’s greatest priority isn’t that you are all you can be, live up to your full potential, face your fears, or overcome all odds. God is not your life coach or your personal guru. These goals are far too small! God is for his glory, Jesus calls you to faithfulness and obedience, and the Holy Spirit works to conform you to the image of the Son. This means that if all you are seeking is the best version of yourself, then you haven’t gone far enough. God is calling you to a much higher goal – he calls you into communion with him, and achieves this through his Holy Spirit. God’s work in you is to transform you into ever-increasing glory, you are to be one with Christ just as he is one with the Father. This speaks not of the lone person who has reached their peak, but of the redeemed and transformed human, part of the redeemed humanity, who comes alive when they are more and more caught up in God himself. You become truly you only when you are truly caught up in him.
We live in a culture that loves to talk about being pushed out of your comfort zone because we know that so often personal growth comes out of times of discomfort. If you’re following Jesus you will have plenty of opportunities for discomfort. You’ll be uncomfortable when your worldview clashes with the worldview of those around you. You’ll be uncomfortable when you work at loving difficult people. You’ll be uncomfortable when you get asked why you believe in Jesus. You’ll be uncomfortable when you speak up for someone who doesn’t have a voice. You’ll be uncomfortable when you choose to worship Jesus over whatever other god of this age is before you. Following Jesus is inherently, necessarily, uncomfortable. As you follow Jesus and get uncomfortable you will inevitably grow. More than discomfort, obedience leads to growth. But because discomfort is almost always present at times of spiritual growth, we can easily fall into the trap of valuing discomfort over obedience and our goals shift accordingly. Often we pursue discomfort itself, and if we’re feeling uncomfortable we assure ourselves that we must be serving Jesus, but this is putting the cart before the horse.
Discomfort itself is not a sign that you’re growing, or serving Jesus. I could go out tonight and start chatting up beautiful women and I would find that extremely uncomfortable. I would probably grow in my chatting up skills, but there is no way that discomfort would be good. It would not come from faithfulness or obedience, and I would not be growing in the ways God desires me to grow. The most obedient, God-honouring choice for me to make is probably to stay home and love my wife, which incidentally will probably be pretty comfortable for me, and that’s great.
Sometimes serving God is very comfortable. There are times when I’m preaching and it feels like everything clicks together, like God is with me, the people are with me and I’m doing what I’m meant to do. It’s an exhilarating experience, not uncomfortable in the slightest, and still an act of obedience – no less valuable for its lack of discomfort.
Neither discomfort nor comfort are the goal. God’s glory is, and we’ll get there through faithfulness and obedience. If that puts us in places of discomfort, so be it. But sometimes faithfulness and obedience will lead to enjoyable experiences, easy days, joyful times, and hot chips and sweet drinks by the ocean. If we find ourselves having these moments it’s not the time to feel guilty, but thankful. Just as we can be thankful when we find ourselves in a situation of being uncomfortable for Jesus.
God is not all about your personal growth, but follow him and you will grow. He’ll make you more like Jesus. In comfort and discomfort, he’ll get the glory, and you’ll get the growth.