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.