“God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts in our pains.”
- C.S. Lewis
I have been in the process of planting a Living Stones church over the last two years. I felt called to ministry over three years ago, and, after confirmation from the elders, I left Reno with my wife and moved to Carson City. We began as a single community group of eight people and have since grown to over fifty. I mention this to say that I can’t remember an extended period of time in the last two years where I have felt comfortable, where my life was free of pain and pressure. As a church planter I have had to continually confront sin, teach people, counsel individuals, develop leaders, meet with new people, disciple my community group, share the vision, and endure spiritual attack. All of this while confronting my own demons, loving my family, and working full time as an engineer.
And this has been pretty hard for me because my life on the whole used to be comfortable. Until planting a church, comfort was an idol in my heart. Through this calling, God has exposed this idol as I have confronted emotional destitution, relational hardship, and spiritual attack. But God in His goodness pried this idol out of my hands and instead gave me something far better.
To have comfort as an idol is to fall asleep spiritually. And Satan, our enemy, prefers that God’s elect stay spiritually sleeping so sometimes he will even (this sounds crazy) seek to protect us from pain in our lives to keep us this way. He wants spiritual atrophy for you in the form a pain-free life, for he knows that if you don’t feel the effect of sin (in the form of pain) you will never have the desire to seek the cure for it. Comfort, then, becomes a sweet song that will eventually sooth even the most hardened Christian to sleep. And once asleep, there is little hope of you waking yourself up.
I have heard it said that many self-identifying Christians in America are functionally Buddhists. You see, one of the main goals of Buddhism is to find freedom from pain and suffering. Many times we as Christians seek comfort at all costs and are willing to sacrifice anything to have it, thus becoming followers of Buddha (not Jesus). And this idea that comfort should be pursued at all costs is problematic because God clearly states that we will suffer. In fact, he set it up as a means through which he works in our lives (see Romans 5). And it should be no mystery that God works most powerfully through pain and suffering; one look at the cross should tell us this.
So here’s the thing. No, we should not become sadistic and seek deliberate pain in our lives. What I’m saying is that when you seek comfort (relief from pain and trouble) from the things around you instead of God, you in turn spurn the comfort God has brought through his Son hanging on a cross. You see, Jesus knew there was a deeper issue than simply your physical/emotional/mental pain; he knew these were just symptoms of a greater problem (sin). And by definition sin is the moral and emotional breaking of God’s law, which began in Adam and continues through you. Every time you seek identity apart from God, you sin. And without forgiveness of these sins you will experience eternal pain. The Bible calls this hell. It’s interesting (and tragic) that many trade eternal comfort in Christ for temporary comfort found here on earth. We refuse to see the reason we are in so much pain is because we as a species are the ones who have caused it. And when we turn to ourselves for the solution to this problem we inevitably cause more pain.
So, whether you are seeking comfort from the things around you as someone who is not in Christ, or if you are in Christ and have refused to let go of your idol of comfort, wake up! My prayer is that God wakes you to the reality around you. People are going to hell in your city, your soul is shriveling up, and nothing is more important for you than to grieve this idol called comfort you have harbored for far too long. I did, by God’s grace, and have found that God in his love didn’t want to take away the emotional pain and hard days from my life; he wanted to comfort me in the midst of them.
In the end, true comfort only comes from knowing God is with you and bearing your temporal pain for you, just like he bore your eternal pain on a cross two thousand years ago.