When God Calls You To Discomfort

God has a longstanding habit of calling those he loves into difficult situations. He called Abraham to leave his home and wander around in foreign lands among strangers who, as far as he knew, might kill him on sight. He called meek ole’ Moses and his cowardly big brother to stand before the most powerful ruler in the known world and demand the release of the Hebrew people. He called Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to defy the Babylonian King’s idolatrous command and subsequently be thrown into a fiery furnace—just as Daniel was tossed into a den of lions after God called him to keep praying despite King Darius’ decree.

The Scriptures are chock-full of stories about God’s many suffering servants. But they all point beyond themselves to the beautiful, bloody story of the long foretold Suffering Servant (Isaiah 52). God’s own Son stepped away from his eternal glory to 1) live a perfectly righteous life in human form so that he could gift that righteousness to wicked sinners, and 2) take the sins of those wicked men upon himself and allow God’s wrath to crush him instead of them. Christ suffered more intensely than any person ever has or ever will—and he did all of this according to the will of his Father (Isaiah 53:10). God called Jesus to the ultimate discomfort so that we, the undeserving recipients of his mercy, could escape eternal discomfort.

So this means we’re off the hook, right? The Lord led lots of Old Covenant folks into uncomfortable situations. But those of us who have received the pardoning benefits of the New Covenant in Christ’s blood don’t have to worry about him calling us to discomfort, do we? Jesus paid the price. His chastisement brought us peace. The ferocious, fatherly love of God has been irrevocably unleashed on us in the gospel. So it logically follows that life should be smooth sailing from here on out, doesn’t it?

Some suppose this to be the case. However, God doesn’t call Christ followers to cloud floating as much as he calls us to cross carrying (Luke 9:23). Christ himself commands us to embrace the difficulty and discomfort that accompany a flesh-denying, Kingdom-proclaiming life. It’s true that God will one day apply the fullness of Christ’s redemption across the board. The toil, struggle, and pain that characterize our present experience will be crushed to death by the glory of Jesus as he is revealed from Heaven. But until that day comes, Christians embrace God’s good decree that we should “suffer with [Jesus] in order that we might be glorified with him” (Romans 8: 17).

Or do we?

Let’s be honest—most of us freak out at the very thought of discomfort. We don’t like pain. We don’t like struggle. We don’t like difficulty. So we avoid these things at all costs—even at the cost of disobedience! Why do things like sexual sin, materialism, and missional apathy plague the American Church? Because we adore our fleshly comforts. We want to satisfy our bodies with every carnal pleasure we crave, so we defy God’s command for purity. We want to gather into our laps all the shiny trinkets and toys we can get our hands on, so we ignore God’s insistence that we live contently and generously. We cringe at the thought of awkwardness or tension, so we don’t speak the gospel to our friends whose earthly lives and eternal souls are being destroyed by sin.

Denying ourselves, picking up our crosses, and following Jesus would just be too uncomfortable—so in many cases, we just don’t do it.

Many American Christians (including me) need a perspective change. We look at God’s call to costly obedience all wrong. We gaze sadly upon the difficulty, pain, or discomfort it may inflict while turning a blind eye to the blessing it will surely bring. I’m not talking about getting earthly rewards in exchange for following the rules—I’m talking about experiencing more of God as we submit to his leading! Every time God calls us to do something difficult or scary, he promises us something incredible: that he will be there with us. Whether it’s something as simple as opening the Bible every morning or something as dramatic as moving our family across the world to live in a village void of the many luxuries we currently enjoy, God promises to manifest himself to us as we obey (John 14:21).

God is a good Father. He doesn’t usher us toward situations that cause us discomfort simply because he wants to make our lives hard. He ushers us toward uncomfortable obedience so that we can experience his power, comfort, and joy—and be conformed to the likeness of Jesus as we do! God’s goal is to transform us into heavenly-minded people who cling to him in childlike dependence and bow to him in worshipful submission, like Jesus did. He wants to pull us away from the slavery of self-preservation and bring us into the freedom of abandoning fleshly comfort for his glory and the good of others, like Jesus did. When our good God calls us to difficult circumstances, he is prying us away from cheap happiness and inviting us into deep and vibrant joy—the same joy that motivated Jesus to embrace the Cross (Hebrews 12:2)!

The life of faith and obedience is not a comfortable life. But it is a rich and vibrant life that is saturated with the power, presence, and provision of God. What is he calling you to do today? Is he calling you to embrace the social discomfort of fleeing isolation and joining a local church? Is he calling you to deny yourself and stop watching porn? Is he calling you to pick up your Bible and seek him daily? Is he calling you to open your wallet or even your home to a brother or sister in need? Is he calling you to move across the world for the sake of the gospel—or even across the train tracks to the “rough” side of town? No matter which way he is tugging you, try to direct your eyes away from the cost and set your focus on the prize: more God, more Christlikeness, more joy. Whatever it is, it’s worth the cost.

  • Often the discomfort can be non-material. It can sometimes be that sense that you are not where you are eventually meant to be, that you still haven’t reached the place God is preparing for you. You might have material blessings to keep you on your pilgrimage, but you are not spiritually settled.

  • We are called to do many different things, and no two people are called upon to do the same things for our Father’s kingdom. Like soldiers in war, most times we are not given an explaination as to why, just that we are to these things. Only afterwards (if God so blesses) is any explaination given. Please pray for my friend in South Carolina, as he is facing the most difficult challenge of his life.

  • Lyle Nelson

    I plead guilty as charged. In the flesh, if we are totally honest, I think we all would. Thank-you for an eye-opening perspective on the benefits of suffering. They were not readily apparent to me, probably because I somewhat unconsciously chose to look past them. They are obviously counter-cultural, as so many things about the Kingdom of God are.

  • William Okc

    Great stuff as usual Matt. Reminds me of part of one of my favorite sermons. “…There is nothing more beautiful than to be surprised by the Gospel, by the encounter with Christ. There is nothing more beautiful than to know Him and to speak to others of our friendship with Him. The task of the shepherd, the task of the fisher of men, can often seem wearisome. But it is beautiful and wonderful, because it is truly a service to joy, to God’s joy which longs to break into the world.”

  • glynnis bugati

    Still peddling the same old tired bullshit from The Jewish Book of Fairy Tales.

  • Jim Roberts

    After ten years of living “in Christ”, I’ve concluded that God simply doesn’t have my back. And therefore I am “outside” his love. Scripturally and theologically my situation fits within the Calvin view of predestination. My experiences during childhood are well beyond “discomfort” and the resulting PTSD stillnaffects me today. Despite my surrender, prayer and efforts to heal.

    God seems to enjoy “rubbing my face” in my relational failures. My Christian friends tell me either 1) I haven’t surrendered “enough”, or 2 ) it’s all God’s plan and in the end it will all make sense (i.e. just “suck it up”). I don’t doubt God’s love for others, but it is clearly selective. And nothing I can “do” can change God’s mind.

    • I have to disagree. It may seem like God is “rubbing my face” in your relationships. It may seem that God is somehow sticking it to you, but is He really? I had a really bad childhood: my mother was neglectful and addicted to drugs. My father (who I only saw once year) married a zealously religious woman who greatly damaged me. My best friend killed himself and I spent 31 years mourning him. I had a massive stroke which ALMOST killed me.

      It was the stroke and the memory loss involved however that put things in perspective. God was with me the entire time, even when I was at my worst. I was too bitter and angry about being gay and my best friend dying when I was 14 to see any different.


      • Jim Roberts

        I have met many men like you Bradley that have a positive view of God despite horrible experiences. I’m glad for you, but I seriously just don’t get it. The more stories I hear the more I’m convinced that some (me) are left out.

        After ten years of “trying” to believe and doing all the “right” Christian things my marriage is the worst its ever been. Though I have been by her side throughout two serious bouts of cancer, she constantly reminds me how much of a failure I am. All I see is God reminding me that I don’t deserve real relationships just like when I was a kid (lets just say I thoroughly earned my PTSD).

        I am bitter and resentful now, God is apathetic at best – sadistic at worst., Some of my Christian friends encourage me to divorce her. Ummmm, how un-Christian is that?? If God’s plan is to use “discomfort” for me to draw close to Him, that alone seems barbaric. But of course I have no right as an insignificant human being to questions God’s mysterious ways, eh?

        • The pressure we are under, as men with SSA is intense. It can be quite maddening. One part of society, which is without God condemns us for not being straight and constantly makes fun of us for being gay. Another part of society, also without God, blatantly encourages us to live the gay lifestyle, but doesn’t tell us of the perils involved.
          Then there is the Christian community, many of whom have no understanding those who are gay. They just say love Jesus and all will be okay, or worse yet, condemn us for not being straight. Some even say (Westboro) that God hates us and we have no hope.
          So what are we to do? For many years (about twenty) I viewed God as loving me from a distance, kind of like a bastard child. Yes He acknowledge me, but only when no one was looking. I saw myself as His pet fa**ot. I married my wife, without consulting Him, bowing to societal pressure in an effort to be straight. It didn’t make me straight, and I wound up having an affair with my exboyfriend. Because I didn’t consult with God about being married, I have paid for it with marital strife (it still goes on today).
          If I had had a relationship with God in the first place, I would have known that God never once asked me to be straight. This is a good thing, because I can’t. Being married may have not been in God’s will (and I don’t even pretend to know the mind of God), but he gave me what I wanted because He loves me. I should have been honest with my wife from the beginning. Maybe we wouldn’t had so many problems. I never told her, and won’t because in the end who would it serve: me and my sense of guilt or her and her self esteem?
          I don’t feel adiquite as a man. She has to initiate what ever physical contact we have. And as I have been celibate towards my desires for men for twelve years, I feel alone. God did bless our marriage with children (a miracle in itself as I have no natural desire for women) (yes, I know they are mine).
          God never asked any of us who are SSA to be straight. This desire to be straight is a societal construct from Christians and non believers. It led me to do many things that never thought I would do (roofing, home remodeling) when I would be more content with artistry. I have had to fulfill many of the traditional female roles such as cooking and childcare, because I am better at them than my wife.
          I am not an advocate of gay marriage either, because in the end it winds up being about sex. Matt is single, and probably will remain so for the forseeable future. I should have remained so too, but God gave me what I wanted and I got all that comes with it. There are no perfect happy couples. But what would divorce accomplish? (Believe me I have been told by friends (gay and straight) to divorce my wife for happiness). But who would I make happy? Certainly not God, whom I made a promise to; not my wife who I promised to be with in good times and bad (more bad than good); and definately not my children, who need a father and a mother.
          The only person I might make happy is myself, and it would be entirely selfish. Being married and keeping the promise to be with her only also helps me to not commit sin with a guy. I can’t honestly say I wouldn’t be with one if I wasn’t married.

          • Jim Roberts

            Thank you for sharing all that Bradley. I commend you for sticking with your marriage and especially of being their for your children. I won’t write out all my history, its a long story. But I have been actively bisexual since I was 11 (including serious abuse by an older boy) and thought I was exclusively gay at age 19 prompting me to “come out”. After four years in the “life” I knew I was miserable and thought perhaps women could like me and possibly marry me. So at age 23 I decided to “be straight” and haven’t been physically sexual with a male sense. I started (painfully) dating women and met a woman at age 31 who fell in love with me. We married, though I did not tell her my past. We have two great children now both away at college. Shortly after 9/11 my wife was diagnosed with cancer (the first time) and I was an emotional mess with my wife’s health and the fear for my family’s safety after the attacks. I joined her church and became a Christian after living most of my life as an atheist/agnostic.

            I fell into a serious cyber sex addiction and started recovery efforts for it ten years ago. My wife has no idea about my struggles (my choice) and her health has declined to the point of desiring no sex. And not even wanting affection – which of course makes it’s very difficult for me to be sober. If God is “calling me” to be celibate at age 55 I have already lost. My wife is close to alienating our children and I get caught in the middle often…

            Obviously all this (and more) has me very discouraged and feeling “left out” by God. Most of my Christian friends at church have good loving relationships with their wives. They don’t know my SSA issues. I get more and more tempted to hook up with guys again. But it has been over 30 years.

            I married thinking I needed a wife and family to “do over” the total mess of my childhood. Was that selfish? I have been dedicated, provided financially, been physically faithful. My wife is one to criticize everything/everyone. When I have been vulnerable with her, she reacts hostilely. I feel like I have totally failed with our relationship and perhaps God is punishing me for trying to have a family – like He never meant that for me. And now I pay the price.

            That’s the short story. Like you I refuse to divorce my wife. The kids are grown now, but it is possible the cancer could come back. I’m not going to leave her alone. On the other hand, there is no intimacy and I withdraw as often as I can (I travel often in my profession). And there is the cybersex addiction – which I no longer fight.

          • Your story sounds so similar to mine, it is scary. Also with the relationship with my wife there is little to no intimacy. I have an addictive personality (thank mom and dad). But unlike drugs that my mother took or the alcohol of my father I turned to porn, having been introduced to it by my uncles who were uncomfortable talking to me about sex. It messed me up bad, grossing me out to see women having sex; so I turned even closer to desiring men.
            My wife had lupus, so there is very little physical contact between us, and when there is, I have to fake it. To achieve some satisfaction (since I became celibate (another story)) I turned to porn and became addicted, seriously.
            I didn’t start seriously dealing with it until February of last year. I am mostly successful, only relapsing three times (the last time was very terrible for me, because I was proud that I thought I had beaten it; one fight with my ended that).
            I would recommend you start combating that, as it only serves to remind you of what you have denied yourself. You might eventually break down and go back into the gay life, just to achive some satisfaction. There is another alternative, one that most Christians won’t discuss, and I won’t talk about it here. If you are interested in this alternative, feel free to contact me at tvmasterc@gmail.com
            There is hope. God knows exactly what you are going through. It may seem like He is punishing you, but in actuality He is trying to draw you closer to him, to break you down so that you will come to Him. He came for me with a massive stroke that I shouldn’t have survived. He took everything away from me, so that I would know Him and only Him. He then began building me back up, so that I could serve Him.
            It is no accident that we are having this discussion. He didn’t ask you or me to be straight. He just wants us to love Him and keep His commandments; moreover He wants a relationship with you. I admire your willingness to stay with your wife. It is a promise we both made, not under the best of circumstances, trying to be something we aren’t. God gave us incredible freedom, not just from sin, but freedom from societal expectations. I don’t have to be anything: gay, straight, transgendered, anything at all to be loved by God, and no religion or LGBT propaganda piece can take that away!