Discomfort as an Invitation to Spiritual Growth

healthy_livingContinued from here.

As part of my ponderings over this very uncomfortable topic (pun intended again), God led me to a different perspective: discomfort is actually God’s invitation to spiritual growth. Whenever I experience discomfort, whether it’s simply annoying to severely painful, God is inviting me to grow in my dependency upon Him. He’s inviting me to move away from where I have been comfortable and into a new place of deeper intimacy with him. Perhaps this is how Paul was able to say:

That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (1 Cor. 12:10).

We only delight in weakness when we recognize that it drives us to deeper dependency upon God, who can be fully trusted. We must give up the illusion of being in control over anything and rest knowing that God will empower us to be strong in our weakness.

In his book, The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lews said,

The creature’s illusion of self-sufficiency must, for the creature’s sake, be shattered.”

Lewis goes on to say:

We cannot therefore know that we are acting at all, or primarily, for God’s sake, unless the material of the action is contrary to our inclinations, or (in other words) painful, and what we cannot know that we are choosing, we cannot choose. The full acting out of the self’s surrender to God therefore demands pain: this action, to be perfect, must be done from the pure will to obey, in the absence, or in the teeth, of inclination.”

To put this in simpler terms, restoration to a relationship with God requires us to let Him define what’s “good” rather than our own inclinations. To accomplish this, God must repeatedly place us in situations in which our inclinations differ from God’s will. It’s only when we choose His way over our own – when we forgive those who hurt us, for example – that we are restored to the place of restoration with God. My will must surrender to God’s will, even when it hurts. In this way, the discomfort I experience in my day-to-day life becomes an invitation to breaking my self-will, surrendering to God, and developing deeper dependence upon Him. As I do this, intimate relationship is restored between the Creator and the created.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace eating a salad over the words, “Healthy Living.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

The Role of Discomfort

Continued from here.

If God says that discomfort is “good” and should be my expectation, with comfort being an exception provided in the short-term to refresh me, then there must be more to discomfort than I’m seeing. (Not sure I would have received this message well on the tour bus after my fourth hour of nausea!) What positive role might discomfort serve in our lives?

I’m very comfortable in my bed at night. After a busy day of work, I relish curling up under my quilt and burrowing myself in my pillows. Left to my own devices, I would never leave the comfort of my bed in the morning. Why do I leave it? Because of the discomfort of my full bladder. The discomfort in my bladder when I awaken in the morning motivates me to leave the comfort of my bed. In other words, comfort lulls me to stay where I am whereas discomfort motivates me to move.

When I sin, I generally enjoy the immediate, selfish “benefits.” What motivates me to repent? The discomfort of conviction. If God let me remain comfortable in my sin, I would continue to do it because, quite frankly, it takes no effort to do whatever I feel like doing in the moment. However, it requires considerable effort (at least at first) to make countercultural and counterintuitive choices, such as blessing someone who wrongs me, obeying laws I don’t agree with (such as the speed limit), or humbling myself when everything within me wants to assert my rights.

In his book, The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lews said,

The human spirit will not even begin to try to surrender self-will as long as all seems to be well with it…pain insists on being attended to … it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

In other words, discomfort is the cattle prod God uses to drive me toward spiritual growth. If God removes the cattle prod, I’m inclined to stay comfortably where I am … and as I am. Since God’s will for me is spiritual growth (transformation into Christlikeness), He must keep me uncomfortable to keep me motivated to change. Thus, discomfort is actually GOOD for me. (Again, I don’t like this message any more than you do!)

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cover of The Problem of Pain. Courtesy Amazon.

 

If God is Good, How Could He Want Me to be Uncomfortable?

fruitContinued from here.

If this topic is making you uncomfortable (pun intended), I’m right there with you. I’m not a natural martyr. I don’t like this concept any more than you do, but God pounded me with it in Ireland, immediately following up this revelation in my quiet time with a full day of motion sickness on the tour bus as we drove the Ring of Kerry for 8 bumpy, windy hours (with lots of photo stops). I did not pass the test. I’m still learning the lesson, which is one reason I am blogging about it.

Why would God want us to stay in a perpetual state of discomfort with only short seasons of comfort provided to refresh us? Isn’t God good? This is how the enemy attacks me. When God’s ways don’t align with what I want, I’m prone to question God’s goodness. I assume that whatever I want (in this case, comfort) is “good,” and since I’m not getting what I want, it must be “bad.” And since God is allowing the “bad,” perhaps He isn’t good after all … which is exactly what the enemy wants me to believe. If I doubt God’s goodness, then I’m more prone to disobey Him.

I have learned through experience that God’s ways are always best, no matter how I feel. Like Eve in the Garden of Eden, I am not capable of distinguishing “bad” from “good” because my perspective only considers how I am personally affected. God told Adam that the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was bad, but Eve didn’t take His word for it. The enemy lured her into questioning whether God was holding out on her, and she made up her own mind about whether the fruit was good. She saw a tasty piece of fruit that looked good to her and ate it. God had already warned her that the fruit was bad: He saw a broader perspective that Eve could not see. Eve’s comfort in eating one piece of fruit came with the cost of separation from God and Jesus’ sacrifice to restore us.

I am no different from Eve. I call “good” what looks pleasing to me (comfort) and “bad” what doesn’t (discomfort). How do I learn to adopt Paul’s perspective of actually delighting in discomfort?

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace smiling and leaning against a large peach. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Why Do I Expect to be Comfortable?

cucumbersContinued from here.

Back to my quiet time in Ireland…After God asked why I have the expectation of being comfortable and I replied with, “Huh??,” God led me to examine the role of the Sabbath. God commands us to work for six days and rest for one. He asked what the purpose of the Sabbath is. My response was that it’s to rest, rejuvenate, and reconnect with Him so I have the energy to dive back into six more days of work. He asked why I don’t have the expectation of resting for six days and only working for one. My response was that he designed me to bear fruit, and that requires work. He led me to see that the Sabbath is a day set aside to enjoy the fruits of my labor, but it’s the exception, not the rule. He designed me for work, not rest. The purpose of rest is to prepare me for more work so that I may bear much fruit.

He then asked why I believe that comfort should be the rule rather than the exception. I again responded with, “Huh??” Comfort is so ingrained in me as part of the American culture that I had a very hard time following where God was seeking to lead me. (God knows that I can be rather hard-headed!) OF COURSE I want to be comfortable! Who in their right mind would choose discomfort?

God then placed on my heart that in addition to bearing much fruit, His will for me is to transform into the image of Christ. Transformation means change or growth. There’s a reason for the term growing pains — growth is painful. Not what I wanted to hear.

I once heard it said that there’s not much growth in a comfort zone or comfort in a growth zone. When I choose to stay comfortable, am I actually impeding my growth? As I seek out ways to be comfortable in how I spend my time, who I choose to associate with, and where to invest my energy in my day-to-day life, am I actually choosing NOT to grow into the image of Christ?

Perhaps comfort, like the Sabbath, is intended to be a brief respite that enables me to rest, rejuvenate, and reconnect with God before diving back into the next growth spurt. Might my pursuit of comfort actually be stunting my spiritual growth?

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace lying on a pillow with cucumber slices over her eyes. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Am I too Comfortable?

relaxWhen I was in Ireland, God placed an interesting question on my heart during my quiet time:

Why do you have the expectation of being comfortable?”

My response was pretty much, “Huh??” Of course, I want to be comfortable! I want to do X, Y, and Z in obedience to God and live happily ever after within His protection and comfort. What’s wrong with that? Apparently a lot, which is what I have been pondering as I wrestle with the question of whether I am too comfortable and why comfort is a problem.

Before I dive into the specifics, let me share something interesting I heard through a member of my local church. My church helped relocate some Montagnard families to North Carolina. (The link I provided is not to my local church, but it’s the same story.) In short, the Montagnard people were persecuted for practicing their Christian faith in Vietnam, so many relocated to the U.S. to freely worship God. After one Montagnard family had been in the United States for several years, someone asked whether it was easier to be a Christian in the U.S., fully expecting the answer to be yes. The answer surprised her, which is why she shared the story with me.

According to this Montagnard woman who had been persecuted in Vietnam and separated from some of her family members as they were brought over to the U.S. in stages, living out her faith in the U.S. is actually harder than in Vietnam. Why? Because the U.S. is so comfortable. In Vietnam, she had to hold onto God with both hands and depend upon Him for protection. Here in the U.S., where she can freely practice her faith, she has to resist the lull of complacency that was never an issue for her while she was being persecuted in Vietnam.

This perspective shocked me, but it’s biblical. King David stayed close to God all the years he was in hiding but committed his grievous sin with Bathsheba after living in the comfort of the palace for a number of years. Paul was given a thorn in his flesh to keep him from getting too comfortable, and after God refused to take the thorn away, he learned to stop seeking comfort and, instead, delight in hardships, which are, by definition, uncomfortable.

Am I too comfortable?

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace relaxing on a large pillow. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Overcoming Self-Deception

true_storyContinued from here.

So, how can we know if we are being deceived if, by definition, someone who is being deceived in unaware of the fact? We must accept the reality that we are all vulnerable to being deceived and be willing to do what God says to do in any situation.

For example, does the pain of something done to you decades ago still plague you? If it does, then you have not forgiven the wrongdoer. Yes, what was done to you was unfair, but do you really want to move past the pain and heal? If you don’t, be honest with yourself and accept that you are CHOOSING to continue wallowing in pain that God is more than capable than healing. If you really do want to heal, then DO WHAT GOD TELLS YOU TO DO and forgive the wrongdoer.

Are you struggling with depression or anxiety? The Bible says to go to God with your concerns with thanksgiving. That means you don’t need to spend all of your time fixating on what’s wrong with your life. Instead, thank God for the many blessings He has already given you. If cannot think of any, start with your bathroom. Are you thankful for indoor plumbing? Hot showers? Indoor toilets? Are you thankful that you don’t have to slog through the rain and mud to walk to an outhouse at 3:00 a.m. to relieve yourself? Americans are addicted to comfort and have lost sight of how richly we are blessed compared to most of the world. I’m thankful that I don’t have to walk for hours to access water that I must carry back to my house. I’m thankful that I have the ability to walk.

Whatever is plaguing you, pray for God to give you wisdom and discernment about what He wants you doing to participate in your breakthrough. And search the Bible looking for passages that address your issue. Finally, pray for God to break you free from areas of deception. Be willing to make whatever changes He leads you to do, and you will experience the breakthrough that has been eluding you.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace sitting before a fireplace and saying, “True Story.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Self-Deception Blocks Our Healing

Continued from here.

I have known many Christians (and I used to be one of them) who do not see themselves clearly and are thus unwilling to do what God tells them to do to achieve the breakthrough they have been praying for. As an example, I know many Christians who are unhappy in their marriages as I once was. I frequently share my testimony of how God healed my marriage – through taking the 40-day journey through Alex Kendrick and Stephen Kendrick’s book, The Love Dare — and then I offer to buy the person a copy of the book. Only a handful take me up on the offer, and to-date, I am not aware of any of them actually completing the 40-day journey.

These people are hurting and asking others to pray for their marriage, and yet they are unwilling to invest 40 days “doing the Love Dare” to their spouses. Why? Because they are deceived, as I was, into believing that the spouse is the one who needs to change. Whenever I hear someone say this (whether directly or through their actions), I know that they are, in fact, contributing to the problem because unconditional love is not proud or self-seeking and keeps no records of wrongs. We want God to supernaturally change our spouses when God is waiting on us to be willing to humble ourselves enough to do the changing, through which God will heal our marriages.

This is only one example of many ways I see Christians deceiving themselves. One considers himself a humble man but continually talks about himself and his problems, keeping himself at the forefront of his mind. Another believes herself to be self-sacrificing for her family, who rarely sees their workaholic loved one because of her workaholism as she idolizes money. He believes needing a beer to unwind every single night is moderation rather than a stronghold while she labels her propensity to gossip as “asking for prayers.” In each of these situations, the Christian is oblivious to the truth that is so obvious to those around him or her.

The saddest part is that after months, years, or even decades of praying for healing that never comes, some Christians walk away from their faith, accusing God of being unfaithful. They never awaken to the reality that God was waiting all of this time for them to do things His way. Before we will be willing to change, we must first acknowledge that we do, in fact, need to change.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cover of The Love Dare. Courtesy Amazon.]

Self-Deception Makes Us Vulnerable

Continued from here.

On Priscilla Shirer’s web series, The Chat, I watched an interesting testimony, which you can watch here, of a couple who survived infidelity:

What struck me was that this happened to a strong Christian couple who deeply loved each other and God. When husband Bob Meisner saw some red flags and expressed his concerns to his wife, Audrey, she assured him (and truly believed her own words) that she would NEVER commit adultery. Audrey said wise words to the audience: When we believe that we would NEVER do something, we remove God from that area of our lives.

Because Audrey believed she was not vulnerable, she excluded God from this area of her life and did not realize how subtly she was being led astray. She did not become aware of the degree of self-deception until after she gave in to an emotional and physical affair that resulted in a pregnancy. Much heartache could have been avoided had she simply been honest with herself.

I make that observation not in judgment of her but in judgment of myself. How many times have I told myself that I would NEVER do X, Y, or Z, only to do that very thing? How many times have I lied to myself about my motives, becoming angry whenever someone who loves me offered constructive criticism — not to judge me but to save me?

I have come to the sobering realization that I am capable of doing just about ANYTHING sinful. Jesus said that we are guilty at the point in which we engage in a sin in our hearts, even before we act on those things. By being honest with myself and recognizing my propensity for evil, I invite God in to protect me. In other words, I submit that part of myself to God’s authority, recognizing that the only way for me not to fall is to lean on God and follow His ways, which protects me from falling.

And because I realize my propensity to do evil and my complete reliance upon God to avoid that path, I become less likely to do it … not because I would NEVER do it but because I’m acutely aware that, without God, I likely WILL! I recognize that I am fully dependent upon God to walk in His ways and throw myself at His mercy, begging Him to show me the way out of temptation to do evil.

To be continued…

 

Why Do We Deceive Ourselves?

why_am_I_the_way_that_I_amContinued from here.

All of us are vulnerable to self-deception. We see other people’s actions and make judgments based upon them, but we hold ourselves to a different standard, basing our judgments on our motives, past hurts, etc. For example, I judge Joe Smith for speaking rudely to me, but I give myself a pass for doing the same thing to someone else because I’m recovering from the flu. After all, I’m in physical pain, so it’s understandable that I have less self-control today. And yet I don’t consider that perhaps Joe Smith was also in physical pain and needed grace extended toward his rudeness rather than verbal sparring.

It’s painful and embarrassing to own up to our shortcomings. We read about the fruit of the Spirit and want people to perceive us this way, but that’s not who we are. Let’s face it – nobody (other than Jesus) is naturally this way. We have to work at it, and it’s HARD. For example, I always cringe when I hear that someone is praying for patience because I did that myself … and spent the next several months doing a LOT of waiting! After all, how can someone possibly develop patience without having to wait? One needs the conditions for which patience is required in order to develop that fruit. So, a prayer for patience is really inviting God to allow you to wait — to suffer — until you develop patience in response.

A problem with self-deception is that we don’t know that we are being deceived. We actually think we are OK, but we’re not. Those closest to you are likely well-aware of the shortcomings that you lie to yourself about. Just as a tree is known by its fruit, your spiritual fruit (or lack thereof) communicates the truth of what is inside your heart to everyone around you. Instead of reacting in anger when your spouse, parent, or child makes an observation about your behavior, try considering whether he or she might be seeing something that you have been deceiving yourself about.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace looking at herself in a mirror and asking, “Why am I the way that I am?” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Taking an Honest Assessment of Yourself

Tauren Wells has a song that I love called Known, which you can listen to here:

I heard an interview with Tauren Wells, who said that to be fully loved but not known is superficial, and to be fully known but not loved is terrifying. It’s the fullness of both aspects – God fully knowing us AND fully loving us – that makes an intimate relationship with Him fulfilling.

Sadly, many of us (and probably most of us) live in self-deception, fearing being fully known not only by God but even by ourselves. We lie to ourselves, telling ourselves that we have pure motives when we make choices for selfish reasons. And then we become easily offended when someone (even God!) shines light onto that dark part of ourselves that we don’t want to see. I did this for decades, which kept me in bondage. It was through seeing myself as I really was – a big, fat mess of contradictions and selfishness – that God’s grace was able to penetrate my rotting soul and plant His seeds of grace in that fertile soil.

We are never going to change what we don’t first recognize as not working. If we don’t own up to our real motives, we will continue on in self-deception, doing the same things over and over while expecting different results, which is madness. God’s ways work, so if your suffering has persisted for years (or for decades as mine did), it’s time to take a step back and look – really look – at what you are doing and who you are. While facing truth is hard, it’s the launching pad God uses to set us free.

I know many people who choose to continue to live in self-deception and conclude that God’s ways don’t work. I was once one of them. What got me from there to here was inviting God to hold up a mirror and show me my ugliness. While it’s painful to face hard truths about yourself, it’s an integral part of receiving God’s grace and breaking free from the bondage that enslaves you.

To be continued…