I sometimes watch a show called Running Wild With Bear Grylls. You know Bear. He is the survival expert who shows us how to survive in the wild in all kinds of climates and situations. His show has evolved into him taking celebrities into the wild and having an adventure with them. He shows them how to climb and jump and eat stuff nobody ever eats and drink stuff nobody drinks (thirsty? Here’s some yak urine). One of his favorite tactics and a staple of the show is displaying a topo map with their entrance point and their exit point. The map also shows the route they will take over the course of a couple days. The route usually climbs and descends steep mountains and cliffs and raging streams. What Bear doesn’t mention is that there is usually an easier route between the beginning and end points that almost anyone could accomplish on their own - A to B in a half day. But where’s the fun in that?
Besides, what Bear is really after is an experience to test the mettle. When we are forced to do things we’ve never done and endure things we’ve never endured, we learn and we grow. Nothing reveals our true selves like a little adversity. In fact, Bear wants to make them uncomfortable. It is only by getting his guests out of their comfort zones that he can teach them anything.
He’s right. And how unlike the rest of our lives that is! Think about it. We spend a lot of our time trying to make ourselves more comfortable than our already quite comfortable selves in our quite cosy lives. We name our favorite chair “the Lazy-Boy.” But here’s the problem. Nobody conquers from the coach. Nothing is changed from the comfort of a Lazy-Boy. This is true for nonbeliever and believer alike. But for a believer to ignore this simple truth is a sin – to do God’s will you have to willingly make yourself uncomfortable.
Where do I get this? Look no further than what Paul tells his young protégé, Timothy:
“You then, my child, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. . .Share in suffering like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving in the army gets entangled in everyday affairs; the soldier’s aim is to please the enlisting officer.” 2 Timothy 2.1-4
Two words pop here – suffering and soldier.
We must suffer for the Gospel. At the heart of our religion is a man suffering and being crucified on a cross. If we are unwilling to suffer then we should get a different religion. I’ll come back to this.
Second word – soldier. This word can get varied reactions today depending on who you talk to, but in Paul’s day it was a word that was familiar and comfortable for the Greeks and Romans. Everyone knew a soldier’s duty. A soldier is disciplined. A soldier obeys commands. A soldier sacrifices. The great philosopher Seneca said, “To live is to be a soldier.”
“The life of every man,” said Epictetus, “is a kind of campaign, and a campaign which is long and varied.”
Paul took this picture and applied it to Christians. He talks about obedience, following the rules, sacrificing time and body without reservation. Paul intentionally evokes images of military campaign, battles, and storming the gates of the enemy. A former supervisor of mine told me about a conversation he had with Paul Borden. Borden is a Baptist pastor and church growth consultant. His work laid the foundation for the Matthew 28 program in our conference. Well, Borden had written a new book called Assaulting the Gates. The book was about moving God’s people into mission. He asked my supervisor how he thought Methodists would respond.
“There’s one problem,” my supervisor responded. “We Methodists don’t assault anything. We slowly approach things. We talk about things a lot. But assault? Um. No.”
That is our problem. We talk a good game. We refer our problems to committee. But again, committee isn’t much better than the couch. Things don’t happen in committee.
Dr. Samuel Johnson was one of the great talkers of all time. John Wesley was one of the great men of action. The two men knew each other. Johnson liked Wesley but had this complaint: “Wesley’s conversation is good, but he is never at leisure. He is always obliged to go at a certain hour. This is very disagreeable to a man who loves to fold his legs and have his talk out, as I do.” The fact remains that Wesley, the man of action, wrote his name across England in a way in which Johnson, the man of talk, never did.
We would do well to start imitating Johnson less and Wesley more. We need to have a bias for action. And that bias is jumpstarted when we intentionally do things that will move us out of our comfort zones. I will give you an example. When I was in college I was asked to go with a small group of students to a local elderly home and spend and hour or two with the residents. This was not easy for me to do. I loved my own grandparents but I had never felt comfortable around other seniors. On top of that, Sunday afternoons was football time, sleepy time, study time. I would have to sacrifice some of that. But I did. I did that pretty much every week for a year. Now, this may not sound like much to you but I am convinced it was one of the hardest things I have ever done. Because I didn’t want to. It was uncomfortable. But a little suffering turned into blessing.
Let’s be honest. Most of us have not really suffered much physically. And we certainly haven’t physically “suffered for the Gospel,” like some believers around the world, even now, are suffering. Jesus doesn’t need us to die for Him. He wants us to live for Him. So “our suffering for the Gospel” will begin with simple acts of obedience that will initially be uncomfortable for us.
Here is another example: Learning to pray out loud. How many of you have trouble doing this? Here’s why you should learn: learning to speak to God out loud benefits your prayers prayed in silence. You begin to experience a humble confidence before God that you know Him and are known by Him. Kids instinctively know this and many have no problems praying out loud. As we grow older we become more self-conscious about our prayers, which is exactly the opposite of what our prayers are supposed to do. Your spoken prayers will also bring immeasurable benefit to others as well.
I love this word from St. Paul: “Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are competent ourselves to claim anything is coming from us; our competence is from God.”
Please make yourself uncomfortable. Couch potatoes lay there waiting for some burst of inspiration all their lives when there are a thousand things waiting on them if they would just get up. Disturb yourself with a Holy Disturbance. Risk something for the Gospel. Going on the mission trip to Mexico would certainly qualify. Walking across the street to call on your neighbor and offer to pray with them would also qualify. When we start thinking of all the things we can’t do, we should listen to Paul:
“Remember Jesus Christ!” Remember Christ, man!
Remember He died for you! He rose from the dead. We can’t even get out of bed to give Him the worship that is due. Our obedience starts with simple things. If we are obedient in “the little” and “the few” God will lead us into much bigger things. Maybe we will be able to say with the Apostle:
“For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him.” Philippians 3.8
For God’s sake, make yourself uncomfortable!