"WINTER WARM-UPS 3" (UNCOMFORTABLE)
I’ve always been a bit of an early riser. That’s not to say I won’t turn over and go back to sleep when the opportunity presents itself, but I typically prefer to get moving in the young hours of the morning. I get it from my Father! For years, my eyes have opened at the same time every day; weekdays, workdays, weekends; I haven’t relied on an alarm clock since I was in college. Sure, I still set it every night, but only to serve as “backup” in the rare case that I let myself drift off again. I prefer a bit of quiet time in the morning- even just a moment to get my bearings and “start the engines.” I don’t have trouble motivating myself to move, I just enjoy a respite before words and tasks are thrown my way. Once I’m “centered” (after the caffeine takes effect), I’m “off to the races,” and the demands of the day.
I usually feel most energetic, however, after the expectations of the day have been met, so I tend to go to the gym in the afternoon; when my wife is able to join me (and motivate me to go). It’s rare for me to willingly burn calories before my first cup of coffee. On one occasion, a few years ago, my eyes opened to an early Spring morning, much like the ones we hope to see in the coming weeks. It could’ve been the shift of seasons in the air, or the sun that eagerly poked through the trees, but my energy level was high, and I decided to break my usual morning routine to go for an early run.
The world looks drastically different when you to slow down and soak it in. There were only a few cars out on the street. Many folks were already at work while the rest had yet to rise. No sign of hustle- no honking horns or screaming children running for the bus; only the subtle rhythm of my feet on the pavement. Birds chirped between the sound of my heavy breathing. The sun warmed my back as it climbed into the sky. I felt a unique sense of awareness, alive to things around me that I normally sped by on my departure for work. For reasons beyond my understanding, I felt a swell of emotion. Not necessarily joy or sorrow. It felt more like a moment of heightened spiritual cognizance. The Lord used that instance to show me that I had closed my eyes to the world somewhere along the way and a gentle whisper reminded me that I was created to “go” and shine light beyond my doorstep. I returned home, changed my clothes and left for work. I didn’t know how the day would be different, I just felt a conviction to open my eyes. Within the hour, the Lord had already opened a door. As I pulled into the gas station, an older gentlemen at the pump behind me fought to close his trunk on a piece of furniture. I went over to give him a hand; we closed the door and I began to walk away until I heard him mention the “Jesus fish” on my bumper. “So, you’re a Christian?” he asked. On so many other mornings I would’ve just stopped at, “yes, I am,” but on this day I answered, “I am. Would you like to know more?”
Friends, time can turn our hearts to stone. It can cloud our eyes from seeing the “open door” and shut our ears to the sound of opportunity. The longer we journey in faith, the more prone we are to walk into the wet concrete of comfort. Eventually, it hardens around us until all we can do is stand in our own “Christianity” without stepping out for another. No surprises here today. No complicated discussions. This is the final wrap-up of our “winter warm-ups.” It’s time to “spring” into action and clean off the cobwebs of stagnant behavior. Winter causes the heart to hibernate, so step out of your caves and into the light.
We hear it all the time; in books, songs and sermons… “step out of your comfort zone.” Most of us loathe the idea of anything outside our “norm.” What if it requires change? Or even worse… effort? Too many of us stick to quiet Christianity to avoid making waves (or attempting to walk on them). It’s natural to run, even flee from the “uncomfortable,” but that is often exactly where the Savior dwells; standing with outstretched arms, waiting for the faithful to meet Him on the water.
Each new day blooms like a flower; wide with chances to be the hands and feet of Jesus, but we hover somewhere between avoidance and being too preoccupied to notice the ministry opportunities around us. The Holy Spirit speaks clearly to every conscience, but the great deceiver whispers his own sermon- preaching all the wrong things that seem all too right… “Do what’s best for yourself. Get ahead. Put yourself first. Do what makes you feel good, or important, or valuable. Seek comfort and when you find it, hang onto it. If you earn it, you deserve it. Believe in the power of self.”
Perhaps you're shaking your head, even scoffing when you read this, thinking, “it’s such a shame that people believe these things,” but we’ve all inclined our ear to listen to the lies. The comforts we cling to are on shifting sands, but we never stop trying to build our foundations on them. We are beckoned to follow (and imitate) Christ, abiding in Him rather than the world He came to save. Take action by making His passion your own, tearing down walls for the sake of the kingdom. Devote yourselves to doing good. Can it be uncomfortable? Sure, but it doesn’t change our objective and we cannot let it deter us from God’s directive.
Ministry is easy when it’s comfortable. Serving (when it’s safe or scheduled) still feels satisfying. Meeting the needs that exist inside the walls of the church is certainly necessary, but we can't use the excuse of only being a “part” of the “body” to limit ourselves to serving one way, with one gift, at only one time! Don’t fall victim to spiritual monotony when a world out there needs what you can give. When was the last time you gazed through the eyes of the Father? When did you last pray for the wisdom to seek out difficult roads?
Consider the aspects of Christian servanthood that make you the most uncomfortable. What makes you anxiously cringe? Witnessing to others? Talking about your faith? Praying out loud? Speaking (or singing) in front of others? Sacrificing your finances? Associating with the lowly, despot or needy? Being expected to sacrifice more than we want to or (dare I say) getting our hands dirty? The habits of a “me-centric” attitude must be broken. It isn’t of God! Soft hearts and light feet make for effective disciples. We can’t turn a blind eye to the needs around us. We can’t shy away from distress or turn our backs on the difficult, awkward or inconvenient. We try, but every spirit suffers because of it. God’s commission is clear in His Word. Be His light. Bring His love. No excuses. No favoritism. Faith... belief... religion along; they won’t shine the light FOR you. Flip the switch!
Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” James 1: 22
Why does God permit us to deal in the “uncomfortable” for the sake of His kingdom? It doesn’t seem fair, does it? Why can’t we just hide in the safety of our own salvation? Because we’re called to action for a mission. The field needs workers and the harvest is ripe. God never asked us to blindly seek out the uncomfortable. What good would that do by itself? He encourages us to venture as servants into the places His power will most greatly be revealed, and in the midst of difficulty, He will visit us with strength and comfort us with peace. Stepping out is just as much a lesson for us as it is a blessing for others.
“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” Colossians 3: 23-24
So, what keeps us chained to our comforts? Why do we often excuse ourselves from that which threatens to pop our personal bubbles? The main culprit is risk. We fear the threat of rejection and reorientation. Face it, we don’t like to feel uneasy. What if we leave ourselves vulnerable to something we aren't prepared for? What if our pride, way of life, reputation or status is challenged? We don’t like to draw attention to ourselves or risk embarrassment and we absolutely detest the idea of sacrificing any personal time or convenience. Apathy stops us in our tracks. Indifference is an enemy of the gospel. Carelessness cuts us off from the life-source of the Holy Spirit. We need to get over ourselves! Honor Christ’s sacrifice and live in His service with this daily declaration… “Here I am. Send me!” Isaiah 6: 8
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory with all of his angels, he will sit on his royal throne. The people of all nations will be brought before him, and he will separate them, as shepherds separate their sheep from their goats. He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the king will say to those on his right, “My father has blessed you! Come and receive the kingdom that was prepared for you before the world was created. When I was hungry, you gave me something to eat, and when I was thirsty, you gave me something to drink. When I was a stranger, you welcomed me, and when I was naked, you gave me clothes to wear. When I was sick, you took care of me, and when I was in jail, you visited me.” Then the ones who pleased the Lord will ask, “When did we give you something to eat or drink? When did we welcome you as a stranger or give you clothes to wear or visit you while you were sick or in jail?” The king will answer, “Whenever you did it for any of my people, no matter how unimportant they seemed, you did it for me.” Then the king will say to those on his left, “Get away from me! You are under God’s curse. Go into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels! I was hungry, but you did not give me anything to eat, and I was thirsty, but you did not give me anything to drink. I was a stranger, but you did not welcome me, and I was naked, but you did not give me any clothes to wear. I was sick and in jail, but you did not take care of me.” Then the people will ask, “Lord, when did we fail to help you when you were hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in jail?” The king will say to them, “Whenever you failed to help any of my people, no matter how unimportant they seemed, you failed to do it for me.” Then Jesus said, “Those people will be punished forever. But the ones who pleased God will have eternal life.” Matthew 25: 31-46
There are some moments in God’s service that just aren’t comfortable, plain and simple. There are some chapters we don’t want to relive. So what?! Impact the lives around you. Do something eternal. Are you afraid? Unsure? Reluctant? Resistant? You’re not alone. Before the threat of an agonizing death on a cross, Jesus Christ pleaded for another way too.
“Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” Matthew 26: 39
In the face of unspeakable pain, He knew He must endure, setting aside His own well-being to serve a world that would be utterly lost without Him. We rationalize our reasons for averting the “uncomfortable,” but where would we be today if Christ had done the same? Train you heart today to say, “Yet not my will, but yours be done.”