Comfort Zones God Makes Uncomfortable

Burgess Meredith as bookworm Henry Bemis with “time enough at last” for reading in the classic 1959 post-apocalyptic Twilight Zone episode.

I can truly appreciate all the jokes and memes circulating these days about introverts; given the option, I’d gladly sit on a desert island with a small mountain of books. But while I may be content with that, God doesn’t appear to be. And there’s a good chance He’s not content to leave you in your comfort zone either, so let’s work through that today.

In reading the Bible and church history, it is always interesting the people used by God. Consider a few examples:

  • Moses may have been raised in Pharaoh’s court, but he doesn’t seem to have ever been comfortable leading the Israelites. He asked “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring the sons of Israel out of Egypt?” [Ex 3:11], and tried to get out of his call because of his apparent speech impediment [Ex 4:10-16]. And yet he did oppose Pharaoh, one of the most powerful men in the world at the time, and led an entire people group out of captivity.
  • Gideon was afraid, threshing wheat in a winepress to hide it from the Midianites when God called him to lead the Israelites into battle against their oppressors [Jg 6:11]. The Lord called him valiant, but he responded by asking, “O Lord, how shall I deliver Israel? Behold, my family is the least in Manasseh, and I am the youngest in my father’s house.” [Jg 6:15] Even after God granted him signs to confirm His message, Gideon was still nervous about completing his first assignment in broad daylight [Jg 6:27].
  • Peter was a fisherman who was often sticking his foot in his mouth [Mt 16:22-23, 17:4-5], and yet was used by God to preach to the crowd at Pentecost where 3000 people were convicted by his message [Ac 2:14,37-41]. Later, in testifying before the Sanhedrin (the Jewish ruling council), the council members “observed the confidence of Peter and John and understood that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were amazed, and began to recognize them as having been with Jesus” [Ac 4:13].
  • Paul may have been in his comfort zone discussing theology like in his letter to the Romans, but he was also a “Hebrew of the Hebrews”, zealous for the Mosaic Law, and a persecutor of Christians initially [Php 3:4-7]. Yet he was sent to the Gentiles of all people – the non-Jews – to witness to the power of Christ to bring people from all nations to God through Jesus Christ [Ro 11:13-14, 15:15-16, Eph 3:8]. And though he always longed to see his fellow Jews accept Jesus as Lord [Ro 9:2-5], he would spend most of his remaining life ministering primarily to non-Jews.
  • John Calvin just wanted to lead a quiet life of study in little Strasbourg, but he couldn’t escape the call to minister in Geneva, a much larger, worldly metropolis. He was a systematic theologian extraordinaire, but he was compelled to also pastor the flock at St. Peter’s church in Geneva, Switzerland. And in looking at the call of Christ to His followers to take up their cross and follow Him, Calvin considered Geneva his cross to bear and obediently went. As much as he would’ve like to, he couldn’t live in his books when there were brothers and sisters in Christ facing all the messy problems of daily life, who needed guidance and equipping. [1]

Why does God seem to take us far outside of our comfort zones a lot? I see two primary reasons.

  1. To establish Who gets the credit. Right before God thinned out Gideon’s army from 32,000 men to a scant 300, God told him, “The people who are with you are too many for Me to give Midian into their hands, for Israel would become boastful, saying, ‘My own power has delivered me.’”[Jg 7:2] I’d be far more comfortable with 32,000 soldiers than 300, but I’d also be trusting in my own abilities rather than God. Paul reinforces this principle when he writes of how God uses our weakness to demonstrate His power and grace [1Co 1:26-30, 2Co 12:9-10]. Often we hear that the things we are good at, those things we gravitate towards and that tend to come easy to us, are an indication of our calling. And that’s understandable; God equips us for the tasks He gives us. But that doesn’t mean that the tasks He gives us will be achievable in our own strength. Indeed, if they always are, we may be confusing our goals for His. He is glorified most when the task is far beyond our natural talents, for when we are weak, He is strong.
  2. To develop our character. This is part of sanctification. It’s easy for many to sit in church on Sunday and just see it as an item to be checked off the list. The message goes in one ear and out the other, and once it’s checked off the list, there’s no additional exposure to God’s Word the rest of the week. But apathy like that should be uncomfortable for a Christian. On the other hand, it’s easy for nerds like me to soak up knowledge like a sponge and yet never do anything with it. I could sit happily taking notes and absorbing information at a conference for hours on end, but applying that knowledge is nerve-wracking. Yet what do you do with a soapy sponge? You wring it out. It shouldn’t surprise me then if God expects me to actually take action, and step away from the books, and share the truth in love with others (even if it means talking to real live people…). Others have a zeal for action and just want to jump in and save the world, but buckling down to study and develop a good, deep, stable foundation is what makes them uncomfortable. Yet God calls us to “accurately handle the word of truth” [2Ti 2:15]. God’s goal is not our comfort or short-term success, but rather our holiness and our conformance to the image of His Son in all areas of our lives [1Pe 1:15-16, Ro 8:29].

I started out this week with some examples of people who needed to step outside of their comfort zones to change their world and advance God’s kingdom, before looking at the massive benefits that go along with that – glorifying God and maturing as Christians. This week, ask God to show you some areas you’ve grown comfortable in that probably shouldn’t be so comfortable, and the courage to follow Him wherever He leads.

[1] “Heroes of the Faith: John Calvin”, by R.C. Sproul, 2006.

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