Comfort Is Overrated

It is for people whom we care nothing about that we demand happiness on any terms: with our friends, our lovers, our children, we are exacting and would rather see them suffer much than be happy in contemptible and estranging modes. C.S. Lewis, Problem of Pain

Yes. I would. I would rather see my sons, my husband, and my dearest friends suffer much than sit comfortable and estranged, blind to the glory of God. It’s why I limit mindless screen time and push mindful book time. It’s why I don’t just chat with my girlfriends, but sometimes I challenge them with truth. It’s why Jim and I push each other to do hard, good things and not let estranging things ride.

Because comfort- as in comfortable, as in pain-free, prosperous and at ease- is highly overrated. For some to the point of idolatry. When time and money and even health are sacrificed for Comfort, it just might be a god. When we work for comfort, for travel and beach and security and retirement we might check our ratings.

Comfort isn’t just an end-game, though. It’s oh-so-very daily. Headache? Down two Advil the second it strikes. Backache? Call the chiropractor. Grief and sorrow? There are drinks and pills for those, too. Feet up before the fireplace, cocoa and remote at arm’s reach? Now all is well.

Because the world knows pain-free and comfortable is clearly the best the way to be. 

Or Is It?

No. Comfortable is not the best way to be. At least for any well-being. Any well being. Anyone who really is alive in Christ and growing. This is not to say we enjoy pain for the sake of pain. But it is to say that we embrace it for the sake of gain.

The Lord disciplines those he loves. That’s Hebrews 12. God’s not talking punishment here. Sometimes he does. But this is discipline. What we do when we have our kids practice piano and make their beds and do their homework well. What we do when we get ourselves to bed by ten and eat more veggies and listen before we speak.

It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline. Truth is, if we’re not disciplined, we are illegitimate children. We’re not really God’s kids. And isn’t that a much more fearful thought than some discomfort when we face discipline and dying to self?

Hebrews 12:10-11 goes on to say that great gain outcome of the unpleasant, discomfort of discipline.

[B]ut he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

That’s the gain. Discipline lets us share his holiness. Without holiness, no one can see God.

No Comfort Zones

We were meant to delight ourselves in the Lord and everything God created is good and nothing is meant to be rejected if we accept it with thanksgiving. Amen and Hallelujah! We do exist for the praise of his glorious grace. Our goal is to make that known. To make the glory and grace of Christ known.

And sometimes his grace makes us comfortable. But not always. And sometimes God might look great when we’re in our comfort zones. But more often he looks great when these frames of ours are pressed and squeezed and we praise him still. Not when we’re Laz-E-Boy, hot cocoa comfortable.

Because comfort zones sound like grooves. And there’s a fine line between grooves and ruts. It is the case that when we are comfortable, God is not called on. We don’t pray as much when life is going swimmingly. And we tend to drift.

But God likes to be called on. Out of the comfort zone is where God’s power happens- God’s grace is strong in uncomfortable, trouble zones. 

Call to me in the day of trouble. I will deliver you and you will glorify me

God likes that. Saviors look great. Redeemers look divine. Deliverers look glorious. When we’re comfortable we need none of the above. No Savior. No Redeemer. No Deliverer. We’re set.


Some might say I’m hard-nosed. That’s okay. Insofar as it means realistic and determined and sober-minded, I’ll take it. It’s no insult. In fact, maybe more of us ought to be hard-nosed that way. Soft-hearted, for sure, but thick-skinned and hard-nosed too.

Because the very next words in Hebrews 12 say, in effect, buck up. Get up and keep going and help others up too. Then, keep on running the race marked out for you.

Therefore lift up your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather healed (Hebrews 12:12-13).

And thank God he gives us difficult things to do. Oswald Chambers says salvation is a heroic, holy thing,

It tests us for all we are worth. Jesus is bringing many “sons” unto glory, and God will shield us from the the requirements of a son. God’s grace turns out men and women with a strong family likeness to Jesus Christ, not milksops. It takes a tremendous amount of discipline to live the life of a disciple of Jesus in actual things.  

So bear up. Cope. Lift up your drooping hands. Bear the discomfort of discipline, because it’s intended for good. Because as Christians, we have a single goal.

Single Goal

But God wants us to call to him, to pray. He likes the glory that comes when he comes through, when we weary wait and he renews our strength. The glory that comes when, We are afflicted, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also by manifested in our bodies (2 Corinthians 4:8-10).

That’s the single goal. The only aim is that the Son of God be manifested, be glorified, in us.

It doesn’t matter how it hurts as long as it gives God the chance to manifest Himself in your mortal flesh, wrote Oswald Chambers. May God not find the whine in us any more, but may he find us full of spiritual pluck and athleticism, ready to face anything he brings. We have to exercise ourselves so that the Son of God may be manifested in our mortal flesh. The only aim in life is that the Son of God be manifested in our mortal flesh. 

God is jealous for his own glory and when we die to self the treasure in our earthen vessels flows most powerfully through. That’s why we who live must die. 

Dying Isn’t Comfortable

It’s why we must carry around in our body the death of Jesus, must deny ourselves, must put to death the deeds of the body. That the glory of Christ may be seen is why. And dying to self is never comfortable. It takes tremendous spiritual pluck, as Oswald would say. And that’s okay. Because when we are hardest pressed is when the power and glory- the sweet aroma- of Christ overflows.

I’ve heard it said that it’s the dying, not death, that hurts. That moment of transport isn’t what we dread as much as the process leading up to it. The daily dying- the holding our tongue, the giving of thanks, the forgiving a wound- that hurts us worse.

And stitches do leave scars and shipwrecks happen without lifeboats. And infertility doesn’t always end in a quiver full and pregnancy doesn’t always end in live birth. Sometimes chronic fatigue stays chronic and unemployment ends in underemployment. Prodigals don’t always come home and hard hearts we love sometimes stay hard to God.

None of those is comfortable. But they all drive us to pray, then oftentimes, to wait. Author Cynthia Ruchti says, How flat the story where every conflict is immediately met with coincidental provision. Shipwrecked. Oh, look! A boat! And we wonder why God sometimes waits. so others will keep reading your story. 

And I would just add, so others will keep loving the Author. The writer of Hebrews calls him the Author of our salvation, the very Son of God for whom suffering was fitting.

Inns Not Homes

Which is not to say God does grant periods of recreation and rest. Times of comfortable-ness and relaxation are gifts, pleasant stops along the way. But not home. For the Christian servant, comfortable is not the norm. If the things of earth- the gifts- could give us the comfort we crave, we’d not seek out the Giver.

So God wisely, lovingly withholds it.

The settled happiness and security which we all desire, God withholds from us by the very nature of the world: but joy, pleasure, and merriment, He has scattered broadcast. We are never safe, but we have plenty of fun, and some ecstasy. It is not hard to see why.  

The security we crave would teach us to rest our hearts in this world and oppose an obstacle to our return to God: a few moments of happy love, a landscape, a symphony, a merry meeting with our friends, a bathe or a football match, have no such tendency. Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns, but will not encourage us to mistake them for home (C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain). 

So it’s a good thing when our little house of cards comes tumbling down and sends us back on our way. When their teachers call and we invite and strike out it’s a good thing to fall down in the mud sometimes as we go. Not that we aim to fall and not that it falling feels good. It’s not comfortable. But falling at least means we’re standing, if not running (Ephesians 6:13, Hebrews 12:2).

There aren’t many falls from recliners. 

Embrace Discomfort

Author Michael Hyatt reached the same conclusion. In a recent blog post, he explains “Why Discomfort Is Good For You.” Here are his top three reasons:

  1. Comfort is overrated. It doesn’t lead to happiness. It makes us lazy- and forgetful. It often leads to self-absorption, boredom, and discontent.
  2. Discomfort is a catalyst for growth. It makes us yearn for something more. It forces us to change, stretch, and adapt.
  3. Discomfort is a sign we’re making progress. You’ve heard the expression, “no pain, no gain.” It’s true! When you push yourself to grow, you will experience discomfort, but it will be worth it.

We make it our goal to please God. And the measure of God’s pleasure is not our ease. When we are sitting pretty, cozy and reclining don’t be deceived: That’s no proof that God is pleased. Instead, cozy comfort seems to be at least overrated and at most antithetical to the pattern for Christian ministry.

And if you are a Christian, you are a minister. If you are God’s child you are given God’s grace. You are a minister-an administer- of God’s grace (1 Peter 4:10).

Because, remember, if you are not disciplined you are not true sons. Fathers discipline children for their good. The Father disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. For the best good, that we might see God.

Hurt So Good

I exercise most days because there are some real good reasons for Christians to workout. Physical training can be transposed to weightier soul matters. I can’t prove it, but somehow gutting it out on a 5 mile run or pedaling up hill after hill seems to strengthen my soul to press on too.

You might say the workouts desensitize me to discomfort. I get used to pain. As much as I want to say there’s joy in the journey, the joy is enjoyed afterward. I don’t dread the shred. No, I savor the discomfort instead. The ache feels good. It’s when we’re squeezed and hard pressed that the sweet aroma of Christ seeps out.

  • It’s when our missionary friends in South Sudan who lost their compound guard and friend on a Christmas attack. And when they were driven by bombs from South Sudan they write, We have seen the hand of God leading us on this trail of tears. 
  • And it’s a twenty-something friend whose cancer was her passport to sharing God’s glory. It’s what she wrote when she said she’d be gone for six months of chemo and caught a hundred co-workers off guard with, God’s still good. He is still caring for me. 
  • It’s a family member risking truth in love for the sake of peace between two others. His peacemaking was costly and there’s more tension now between him and those two, but he smiles and says, At least I tried. Peace is why He died. 

Comfort zones become grooves become ruts. And we become happily estranged from God’s power when we’re comfortably stuck in a rut. Truly, comfort zones can be a great hindrance to manifesting the glory of Christ. Truly, comfort isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. 

Dear God of All Comfort, Our Glorious Lord,  

Thank you for caring enough to discipline us. Please remind us in those moments when we feel hard pressed and squeezed that you discipline us for our good, so we can share in your holiness and really see you. Thank you for the discipline of discomfort that brings us to the place where your power and Christ’s life shine through. Thank you for putting your treasure in our jars of clay. Amen. 

Always carrying in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.
2 Corinthians 4:10

Still Struggling? (And why that might just be a very good thing.)

Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is… You find out the strength of the wind by trying to walk against it, not by lying down. –C.S. Lewis

Something MUST be wrong, she said. I still struggle with the same sins that I did ten years ago. I struggle to forgive the same old things and sometimes I still get so mad at the kids. And just when I think I’ve got my discontentment nipped, a new envy blossom buds. 

No matter how hard I try and how much I pray and try to rely on the Spirit, I just can’t seem to master these things. Something must be wrong. This stuff should be overcome by now. 
Has a friend ever confided that sort of frustration to you? Or maybe you are that discouraged friend? And you- or your friend- have wondered, If Christ made me new and lives in my heart wouldn’t these battles be over? Shouldn’t the struggle be done? 

I should be over this.  

Not so fast, Sherlock. Who says your struggles should be done? 

Chesterton knew: A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it. Paul, knew too, that it’s only when the Spirit brings life that the struggle comes: The desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh; for these are opposed to each other to prevent you from doing what you would” (Galatians 5:16).

The point? Real Christians experience real struggle. Even when we’re converted, new creations, there is such a thing as indwelling sin. John Newton, who wrote Amazing Grace, also knew the reality of clingy, indwelling sin.

It is inseparable from us, as the shadow from our bodies when the sun shines upon us. The holiness of a sinner does not consist in a deliverance from it, but in being sensible of it, striving against it, and being humbled under it, and taking occasion from thence to admire our Savior, and rejoice in him as our complete righteousness and sanctification.

So don’t let a flawed description of the Christian life bring you down. A Christian isn’t someone who doesn’t experience bad desires. No- a Christian is a person who struggles with those bad desires by the Holy Spirit’s power.

Or, as only John Piper could put it,  

Conflict in your soul is not all bad. Even though we long for the day when our flesh will be utterly defunct and only pure and loving desires will fill our hearts, yet there is something worse than the war within between flesh and Spirit; namely, no war within because the flesh controls the citadel and all the outposts. Praise God for the war within! Serenity in sin is death. The Spirit has landed to do battle with the flesh. So take heart if your soul feels like a battlefield at times. The sign of whether you are indwelt by the Spirit is not that you have no bad desires, but that you are at war with them!

The Spirit has landed. But the road to victory is not easy.

The Long Hard Road

For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. Romans 7:15

The author of Hebrews wrote that we who have believed enter that rest, and verses later urges, Let us therefore strive to enter that rest. The same Paul who wrote that blessed verse we love to quote, If any one is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old is gone. Behold! All things are new. (2 Corinthians 5:17) also wrote, I discipline (or pommel) my body and keep it under control (1 Corinthians 9:27).

That’s boxing-ring, fight talk, not victory-lap chat.

Even when Jesus called the weary and heavy-ladened to come to him for rest, he calls them to take up his yoke and burden. These are easy and light, because they are borne with Christ, I think. But still, Christ calls them yoke and burden (Matthew 11:28-30).

Another verse we sheep love to quote, I have come that they may have life and have it abundantly, is followed by the Good Shepherd’s reference to laying down his life. And that was laced with bloody-tears and struggle (Luke 22:42-44).

In “The Cross of Least Resistance,” (Touchstone, March/April 2017) Robin Phillips asks,

If Christ himself struggles to be obedient to his Father’s will (Matt. 26:36-44), why should we as his followers expect anything less? On the contrary, if we want to be Christ’s disciples and experience abundant life, there is only one way: we must embrace the struggle, take up our cross, and follow him.

In other words, if we’ve been in the “struggle-is-bad” crowd, we’ve got to get out.  We’ve got to see that perseverance in the good fight with the steadfastness of Christ is cause to rejoice. Rather than seeing struggle as bad, we’ve got to see struggle against sin as evidence of spiritual life.

Maybe, we even praise God for the war within!

Let Go And Let God?

Let go and let God is not a Bible verse. I’ve fought the good fight, I’ve finished the race, and Take up the whole armor of God that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and We take every thought captive to obey Christ, and If by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body you will live- those are.

Oh, sure- to be fair, we are definitely called to come to Christ, and lie down in green pastures and rest. And to throw off everything that hinders and the sin that entangles. But why? So that we may run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Christ. But perseverance and running sound a lot more like struggle than let go and let God and give up the fight.

But, okay. In a way we are called to let go. To let go of our selfish desires, to put off and put away all manner of sin (Ephesians 4:22-32, Colossians 3:8-14). We are to cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Hebrews says, there is a Sabbath-rest for the people of God (4:10). But the following verse says, Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest.   

And if by let God, we mean, Keep in step with the Spirit and put on the Lord Jesus Christ, which incidentally is followed by,  and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires (Romans 13:12-14)- well then, Amen!- let God. Let God control you. Or like Paul wrote, the love of Christ controls us (2 Corinthians 5:14).

All the warfare and athletic metaphors in the New Testament and Paul’s own example of fighting the good fight and finishing the race point to this one thing: the Christian life, the normal Christian life necessarily involves struggle. Until the mortal is swallowed up by life, there will at least some level of Spirit-flesh fight.

No, whatever letting go means, biblically it does not mean struggle-free. To the Philippians, Paul wrote, Work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is Christ who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose (2:12-13). He put it this way in 1 Corinthians 15:10, But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. 

Work is involved. Struggling and wrestling are not abnormal. Far from it. They are the precise means God uses to grow strong saints. And to magnify his sufficient, glorious grace.

Why Struggle Is Good

1. Growth.

The language of the New Testament describes the Christian life as a life of growth and increasing spiritual strength. We’re born again as infants. But Scripture says we grow. We’re called children and young men or older women, even fathers in faith. Grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus, Peter wrote.

It’s in our struggle we grow and build our stamina. That’s why I used an Asian style math with the boys. I wanted to see them persist, to struggle a bit, in their work. They did the kind of problems that take 10 minutes of trial and error. Of fight. These same behaviors that American regard as failing, the Japanese think of as learning.

Persevering through setbacks sets us up for future success and spiritual strength.

2. Grace.

Paul pleaded three times for his thorn in the flesh, his harassing messenger of Satan to be removed. You know what God said: My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.

Paul got it. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Corinthians 12: 9-10).

Do we get it? Or do we think being in Christ on this earth means that we get to shed all our weakness and let go of our struggle? That comfortable here is our right? That grace comes better when there’s no indwelling sin left to fight?

Do we know that groaning and grit lead to spiritual growth? That struggle and stress and strain are God-ordained means to rely on his grace? 

The Burden That’s Lifted When You Don’t Let Go

Can we be clear that spiritual struggle is not out of place for the Christian? That, quite possibly, if by Spirit, we’re struggling against sin we’re right where God wants us to be, on the high road to holiness where God’s grace strengthens us weak, struggling saints?

Realizing then, that spiritual struggle and facing ongoing temptation are God’s normal means to growing us up into Jesus and getting us more dependent on Christ– actually lifts the burden.
We don’t see struggle as sign that something is wrong with us anymore, but as confirmation that something is quite right. When we see the struggle as part of the growth and grace process we’re able to reframe our daily temptations and inner battles as opportunities to grow spiritually. We stop struggling against struggle.We see that rather than being a sign of failure and futility, our struggles might very well be evidence that the Holy Spirit is at work in us. After all, if God’s grace was not at work, strengthening us, we would surely have given up.

So you’re struggling. That just might just be a good thing. Because it’s not only the force of wind we feel when we stand against. We feel the power of God’s sufficient grace, too.

Looking To Christ’s Sufficient Grace

In Newton On The Christian LifeTony Reinke presents a beautiful and compelling portrait of a man who reveled in God’s sovereign, sufficient and boundless grace. To all of us who would despond in our ongoing sin struggles Newton (via Reinke) writes:

To not feel the sting of sin is a form of sickness, a deadness, a leprosy of the soul. But to feel the sting of sin is a mark of health, a sign of life, and a necessary experience if we are to appreciate the sin-conquering work of Christ (p. 123).

Our struggle, then, against sin is good insomuch as it makes us,

[W]onder how such a weak sinner’s faith has been sustained. Indwelling sin should cause us to marvel when we awake each morning with a remaining spark of hope and faith in Jesus. The faith-sustaining grace proves the power, wisdom, faithfulness, and love of God toward us. How can it not? Faith survives in the most unlikely of places: within us! (p. 115)

Like a spark burning in the water. That’s how Newton sized up Christ’s power in maintaining us-his own work- in the midst of such opposition, such struggle. Opposition which includes our pesky, clinging indwelling sin.

While Newton is most famous for the phrase amazing grace, he much preferred the phrase sufficient grace (p. 42). In fact, he actually wrote another song about grace titled, aptly, “My Grace Is Sufficient For Thee.” 

Reinke describes this song as a “micro-look into how grace gets applied to warfare in the Christian life.” I can’t think of a better way to close.

Oppressed with unbelief and sin,

Fightings without, and fears within;

While earth and hell, with force combined,

Assault and terrify my mind:

What strength have I against such foes,

Such hosts and legions to oppose?

Alas! I tremble, faint, and fall;

Lord, save me, or I give up all.

Thus sorely pressed, I sought the Lord,

To give me some sweet cheering word;

Again I sought, and yet again;

I waited long, but not in vain.

Oh! ’twas a cheering word indeed!

Exactly suited to my need;

“Sufficient for thee is my grace,

Thy weakness my great power displays.”

Now I despond and mourn no more,

I welcome all I feared before;

Though weak, I’m strong; though troubled, blessed;

For Christ’s own power shall on me rest.

My grace would soon exhausted be,

But his is boundless as the sea;

Then let me boast, with holy Paul,

That I am nothing, Christ is all.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

1 Corinthians 12:9

I found each of these resources to be rich sources for biblical encouragement on spiritual struggle:

1. Robin Phillip’s March/April 2017 Touchstone article, The Cross of Least Resistance

2. Tony Reinke’s biography of John Newton, Newton on the Christian Life: To Live is Christ ch. 5,12

3. Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones’ sermon, addressing “Let Go and Let God,” Who Does The Fighting?

4. Pastor John Piper’s sermon, How To Kill Sin- Part 2