Tuesday, November 28, 2017

An Uninvited Discipline - Comfort

On the heels of the discipline of Suffering, it seems only logical to move to its opposite:  Comfort.  Whether we consider the overt and tangible places of security and stability, such as good health, relationship harmony and reconciliation, financial security or any position secured, or if we consider deep and abiding strengths, such as strong faith, victory over oppression, any overcoming of strongholds or evil, a discipline comes to keep God at the center of it rather than our own ego.  To fail to keep God at the center is to distort the comfort or miss the fullness of its blessing.

What is comfort’s purpose in our lives?  Why are some allowed a lighter load, a greater skill or a greater advantage?  When a position is gained or strength is received, some cannot rest in comfort or are baffled on what to do with it, even to the point that they cannot be comfortable with the comfort. Some people idolize certain kinds of comfort (such as financial gain) and think it the ultimate goal in life instead of a tool to be used for God.  It is faith development to operate from a position of strength and use it for good and not for evil, to use it for God and not for self.

Some people fear success and strength because inherently they know each come with responsibility.  We often settle for less in our faith development for this very reason, seen in the most insidious of ways.  We reduce the possibilities because we only engage in sin avoidance and do not look for the greater good in the possibility of maturity and purity.  While it is true that we have our weaknesses and failures, we fail to have vision for the possibilities and the process for trusting and depending on God to move from weakness to strength, from failure to success.  And while I don’t want to be a tyrant over the process and demand more from myself than God does (when perfectionism holds no grace), we often don’t give credit to the possibilities in us.

Here are the self-defeating things I hear people say: 

            “We will always be sinners.”  (You mean the Cross wasn’t effective or that I cannot mature into Christ-likeness ever?)

            “We can never be like Christ.” (This negates Bible verses which say some powerful things like, “You have the mind of Christ.”)

            “One step forward and two steps back.” (As if failure must accompany success).

            “All we can do is pray.” (As if prayer is the least and last of power that we hold instead of the first and best of our actions.”

Part of the discipline of comfort is to develop gratitude to God for the opportunity to be in a strong or favorable position.  In a fast-paced, busy world, people often do not stop long enough to reflect on the victory or opportunity to appreciate what God has done in them and through them.   “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” (Psalm 34:8) Small bites.  Slow chewing.  Don’t wolf down the blessings and opportunities so that you don’t experience them fully nor get the chance to look for God in them. 

As a teacher, I have seen students grasp concepts and incorporate them into right living in ways that are fulfilling, victorious and even miraculous.  To sit and relish the opportunity to do so and value the change they work to manifest is a delight.  And to give credit where credit is due to God for the deep work done by His Holy Spirit is to see the Kingdom alive and at work, and is, by definition, the basis of worship.  That kind of focused gratitude is a discipline because I might blow right through the experience or tend to turn that reflective awe on myself and put myself at the center of that success instead of God.

It is also discipline to catch God’s vision for us to have success in certain areas and want to be ready, to be strong when the task comes along.  To position myself to be strong and ready to be well-spent for the opportunities God gives is a discipline.  Many a life is vacant and wandering because it is not purposed and purposeful. When I prepare, develop a vision, seek mentors and teachers, accept critique, and be teachable, I am moving God’s gifts in  me to a place of maturity and usefulness.  Here’s my metaphor:  Learning to skateboard (or snow ski or water ski or surf) requires core strength training.  Falling down repeatedly does not  make one strong enough to stay upright.  It is a discipline to develop an inner strength needed for success.  It is a discipline to rest in and draw from a position of comfort.

Then, when we are strengthened and in right position, it is a discipline to look for the right application of that strength.  A way to test such application comes from Jesus himself: “I look to where the Father is working and I work, too.” (John 5:17) It is a discipline to keep God’s activity as the vehicle for the use of my strengths specifically in a way that causes others to be brought closer to God and into His Kingdom and not to respond to my own emotions or contrivances.  To keep God at the center of the purpose for my strengths and resultant comfort and assuredness is to bring a success that glorifies Him and not me.

Part of comfort’s discipline is to let it be a deliberate platform for the next deeper (and maybe severe) challenge.  God uses people of strength, generosity and wisdom for His advancing Kingdom, which will often have resistance, backlash, even battle.  This includes the battles for the hearts and minds of others.  The position of comfort is supposed to be a comfort for others. (2 Corinthians 1:3, 4)  You can give nothing of which you do not have yourself.  Be a strength-builder and comfort-giver in others; find people into whom you can speak strength into vocational skills, people skills, spiritual wisdom, comfort and nourishment.

Do you want to see a better world?  Do you want your family to grow in faith and practice?  Do you want more unity in community?  What you want in others must begin in you and for strength to grow and grow into success, God must be at the center for it to be a comfort.  He impacts the definition of comfort and can do that as much in our places of weakness as in our places of giftedness, in our places of failure as well as success.

It is a discipline to keep God at the center of the change I need to develop greater readiness, wisdom, full purity and greater maturity which may move me towards a humble perfection, the comfort that finally allows me to be at peace.

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