Growing up as a child of a career soldier I had the privilege of living in Germany as well as all over the United States. While in Germany I was blessed to be able to travel and see a large portion of Europe. While I did learn some German–enough to get myself in trouble, but not enough to get myself out–there was often the uncomfortable feeling of not belonging when situations called for more German than I could produce. And this was multiplied when traveling in other countries, like Italy or France; it was as if I were from Pluto!
I was raised in the church, but I never really found Jesus until I was a junior in High School. If you didn’t experience the same culture shock as I did, I’m sure you can imagine what it was like going back to school and seeing for the first time how different, and how incompatible, my old life was compared to my new one. Suddenly conversations and activities that I would normally have taken part in were repulsive to me. I found myself feeling like a seal in a swimming pool full of sharks. I wanted to swim freely, but I had become an easy meal. Now, to be fair, not all of my friends dumped me. Some truly respected my newfound faith. Nevertheless, I felt uncomfortable.
College life was quite a mixture. On the one hand, I had people in my Res hall that offered me pretty much every kind of drug available simply because they wanted to see “the Christian” screw up. On the other hand, there were numerous Christian groups on campus that provided me with plenty of opportunities to recharge my spiritual batteries. These groups were kind of like my Chinatown in the big city called University. I could spend time with people of my own culture while still living in and engaging the world around me. They provided a means of escape when I needed one and an opportunity for ministry when others did, not that the general college population didn’t afford me opportunities to minister God’s love, for it certainly did.
As I shifted from a major university to a Christian college to further my pursuit of God I encountered more discomfort. At the university spiritual growth wasn’t assumed. My flaws didn’t stand out quite as much. The bar was set much lower. At the Christian college it was pretty much assumed that everyone was at a certain level of spirituality. Quite unintentionally I found myself talking the talk regardless of whether I was walking the walk. Now, I was growing spiritually in some areas of life, but I had become much more legalistic. I had an appearance of godliness, but I lacked the power of one truly submitted to God (2 Tim. 3:5). I was a Pharisee because being genuine about my struggles was uncomfortable.
After college, I accepted a position as a youth pastor for a Charismatic church in town. I love charismatics; I am one. But it is a not-so-well-kept secret that Pentecostal and Charismatic churches tend to lean toward the legalistic side of the faith. So not all that much changed from my college experience, except that now I was a leader. More discomfort. I learned a lot from my time at that church, but I came away from it as damaged goods. The leadership I looked to for mentorship and guidance provided me, instead, with a wounded soul.
I made my way around the sun many times before I found my current church. Things there weren’t very comfortable either for a number of years while God softened my heart and love me back home. Church has once again become a blessing to me as I walk with other believers as part of a journey of faith. An honest journey. It’s important to have people of like faith to engage with. There is no substitute for sincere Christian fellowship.
But at the same time, we have a purpose that reaches far beyond fellowship around the donut table after the sermon, far beyond cell groups, and far beyond retreats. The Church, cell groups, and retreats are great, and they are where we discover and develop our gifts. The world is where we put them to work. “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10, ESV). We have been bought with a price (1 Cor. 7:23), the purchase of God paid for with the blood of Jesus! We did nothing to earn our salvation (Eph. 2:8) and our service to Christ buys nothing. But we have been given the greatest gift of all and it is our responsibility and our great joy to be able to present a lost world with the same gift of God’s grace that we have received (Matt. 28:19-20).
But I’m just not comfortable talking to people about Jesus. They probably don’t want to hear about Him anyway. I’m not a people person. God, send somebody else!
Anyone who has ever trained for a sporting event will tell you that if they had only trained when it was comfortable they never would have succeeded. And, as John Ortberg says, “There’s a tremendous difference between trying to do something versus training to do something. To train means I arrange my life around those practices through which I receive power to do what I cannot now do by direct effort.” Training always has and always will be uncomfortable. You will never reach your full potential, and your full usefulness to God, by remaining comfortable. The willingness to step out of our comfort zones is essential to true spiritual growth. James Allen, psychologist and philosopher, says that “A person cannot travel within and stand still without.” If you think that you are growing as a Christian, but it isn’t changing the way you live, then you really aren’t growing as a Christian.
No one enjoys being uncomfortable. It’s usually something we avoid. But the truth is that when we became Christians we surrendered any rights that we had to comfort while upon this earth. Matthew 16:24 says, “Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (ESV). In fact, Jesus said in Matthew 10:38, “And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me” (ESV). Paul told Timothy, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (ESV).
I know what you’re thinking, “Is that supposed to motivate me? Really?” I’ve thought the same thing from time to time. Nothing worth doing is easy; nothing worth having comes cheap. We have an amazing eternity looking us in the eye. “And everyone who thus hopes in him [Jesus] purifies himself” (1 Jn. 3:3, ESV).
Life can be uncomfortable. If it’s done right it will be uncomfortable. Don’t be afraid to be willing to step out of your comfort zone and experience all that God has for you… and bring someone along with you!