If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair.”-C.S. Lewis
In our mother’s womb we are shielded from the world’s ugliness and pain. Then we are suddenly thrust out into the world and from there on out we say goodbye to comfort. We say goodbye to being insulated from war, crime, and poverty. We say goodbye to being shielded from divorce, rejection, loneliness, and lay offs. We bid farewell to safety and ease and say hello to standing in long lines at the DMV and shoveling snow every winter.
We enter a life of discomfort and this is part of what makes comfort so appealing. In a world besieged by Murphy’s law or what Christians call “the fall,” comfort is an ever elusive commodity. It is always temporary and every good night’s sleep is awakened and disturbed by the sound of an alarm. Every appliance designed for our convenience eventually needs repair or some other equipment to keep it running smoothly. Like most things in this world, comfort never lasts forever, so we always seek after it.
This explains why comfort is a “god” in our culture. By “god” I mean something that dominates and controls our lives; influencing almost every decision and the measurement of our satisfaction. Another synonym for comfort is convenience. The American Heritage Dictionary defines convenience as “something that is suitable to one’s comfort, purposes, or needs” and again as “something that increases comfort or saves work.” Because of this obsession with comfort our streets are littered with convenience stores. Our stores are filled with convenience foods which we cook in microwaves, one of the many devices created to make our lives more convenient. In these small things we see a culture that runs away from delayed gratification because it is not comfortable. To delay comfort in the present in order to gain true and lasting value in the future is foreign to so many modern ears. Waiting for something or having to actually make it yourself has lost its luster for the majority of our culture. Get it cheap, fast, and with the least amount of effort is the mantra of the day! This has led to the illusion that we should never experience discomfort, pain, and suffering and if there is a god, he needs to turn in a resignation letter the minute that we do.
This is not only a problem in the wider Western culture but it is also a very widespread problem in those who claim to follow Christ. To put it directly: Comfort is a god in the evangelical church. We like to assemble and gather in nice plush church buildings with state of the art multimedia presentations. We want to be a part of an organization that boasts of something for everyone. We have actually flipped around Jesus’ words in Mark 10:45. We do not want to serve we want to be served.
And so we search for the just right church with the pastor who says everything we want him to say along with the band that plays exactly the songs we want to hear. This is combined with the other members of the congregation who dress like we dress, make the same amount of money, shop where we shop, and pretty much remind us of how great it is to be…well, you know…us. That’s comfortable. We definitely do not want to grow or stretch. We do not want to be around other people who don’t look like us or who smell like alcohol, cigarettes, or garbage. That would be…well, you know…uncomfortable.
What does the Bible say about comfort?
The Bible doesn’t have a lot of positive things to say about comfort. Part of that is because ancient people were not as influenced by consumerism as much as we are and took a life of discomfort for granted. The masses of people at the time lived a shorter life and that life was filled with a lot of work and none of the amenities that we consider normal. There were no grocery stores with over 387 choices of cereal, no phones, no cars, no customer service, and no Internet. In fact, royalty were the only type of people who could afford an indoor bathroom with running water. Comfort was something that was longed for in the afterlife or a result of divine intervention and favor (see Deuteronomy 28). It was not a thing that was taken for granted.
Comfort was reserved for those who were wealthy and influential and some of the harshest critiques of comfort were aimed at the rich and powerful. Amos, the eighth century prophet, scolded the wealthy of Israel and pronounced a warning to those who lived a life of comfort at the expense of the poor:
“Woe to those who are at ease in Zion, and to those who feel secure on the mountain of Samaria, the notable men of the first of the nations, to whom the house of Israel comes!” (Amos 6:1 ESV)
These were scathing words to those who began to take the idea of comfort to the next level. The idea of comfort had gripped them so much that they exploited the poor in order to live a lifestyle where they could afford summer and winter homes with the latest upgrades of the time, “designer” clothes, and expensive entertainment (Amos 3:15, 6:4). Reading about their comfortable lifestyle supported by the oppression of the poor can cause us to point the finger and judge those who have more than we have. It actually should prompt us to evaluate our own lifestyles to discern whether our small comforts are gained from the backbreaking work and exploitation of those who are needy.
Jesus never advocated a life of comfort. During a brief exchange in the gospel of Luke, Jesus told would-be followers that, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Luke 9:58 ESV).
He was letting these potential followers know that the journey with him would cost them something. That something was comfort. This is not to say that followers of Christ never experience comfort, but that comfort along with anything else when compared to following Christ is dispensable.
And to nail the coffin shut on the myth of a comfortable Christian life, Jesus also said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23 ESV).
The day to day existence for a Christian is filled with uncomfortable choices. Some are on a larger scale than others but an authentic Christian life is marked by discomfort. This is undoubtedly so if we imitate the life of one who shunned the comfort of being God to experience and taste the gamut of human pain and suffering. Jesus not only lived the uncomfortable life of being born a poor Palestinian Jew in the 1st century. He also was a traveling itinerant preacher who had to deal with being on the road for the last three years of his life and being dependent on others for his livelihood. In the end he was tortured and crucified on a Roman cross for the sins of the whole world and for the joy that was set before him. What was that joy? To be raised from the dead and sit at the right hand of his Father and to be in relationship with those who would choose to follow him as their Saviour and Lord. The most amazing human life possible was also a very uncomfortable life. Could it be that we have it all wrong?
How to Destroy the Idol of Comfort
1. Volunteer at a charity or non-profit organization.
By serving others you will have to look out for someone else’s needs instead of your own; the antithesis of comfort.
2. Become exposed to the lifestyles of the poor in your own country and abroad.
Watch some documentaries on how folks live in many parts of Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Better yet, go there and experience it in person. You will definitely see that it is possible to live a rich full life without our modern comforts and conveniences and you will also realize how good you have it.
3. Take risks.
One of the best ways to make discomfort the new normal is to take risks. Befriend someone of a different ethnicity or social class from your own. Try learning a new sport or hobby. Make something from scratch. You will see that the greatest joys in life actually have an element of discomfort.
4. Live beneath your means.
One of the quickest ways to go into debt is to take the path of comfort by buying things you don’t need. How about going in the opposite direction by seeing how many things you can live without. You will see how unnecessary many of our modern comforts are.
5. Listen to a difficult person.
This one can be the hardest of all but actually listening to the rantings and ramblings of someone who is either a) cranky or b) obnoxious really does make you more accustomed to other hard uncomfortable things in life. It can build patience and self control and can help to set you free from the need for everything having to serve you and bring you comfort.
6. Finally, live in the power and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
In the gospel of John, Jesus called the Holy Spirit the Comforter. In the original Greek the word means “someone who stands alongside.” When we are experiencing uncomfortableness, and even downright horrible circumstances, we can be encouraged that we have a Comforter going through it with us.