An old term of derision about Western society is that we are mostly “comfortable middle class”. Generally, the mass of Australians are well clothed, well fed and have good shelter. This is certainly the case with most of the believers I know. I cannot however forget the times, such as when I was on a student scholarship with 4 small children and half of our income going on rent, when we were not so comfortable. These times were however periods of wonderfully answered prayer. Let me say bluntly this article is not about sociology as such, but how social comfort impacts our spiritual lives.
As usual, I was awake this morning before 5a.m. and with the temperature around 4 degrees I had to make a decision whether to stay in the cosy place (bed) or to arise and go out on the streets to pray as per my daily routine. In such circumstances the words of Keith Green are unforgettable, “Jesus rose from the dead, but you can’t get out of bed”. Of course I got up and went out to meet the Lord in the cold air, because his glorious presence is worth more than any comforts. I fear however that our consciousness of comforts is robbing our hearts of a deep need for God. Here is one of the scriptures I find most troubling.
Fatness Kills Faith
“But Israel soon became fat and unruly; the people grew heavy, plump, and stuffed! Then they abandoned the God who had made them; they made light of the Rock of their salvation.” (Deuteronomy chapter 32 verse 15). The story line in Deuteronomy, which underlies Judges as well, is that divine provision leads into prosperity which is followed by idolatry then divine judgement. Repentance may judgement, and then spiritual renewal visits.
The old covenant wisdom writers picture the unrighteous as obese, “Their eyes swell out through fatness” (Psalm chapter 73 verse 7 See too Job chapter 1 verse 11), not because they thought overweight was in itself shameful, but because in a simple rural economy it was associated with self-indulgence. I have long found it strange that the postal code for the average believer with a certain income matches that of unbelievers. Christian lawyers, doctors, accountants etc. seem to live in the same part of the city as others of like employment. This is most unlike the life of Jesus. Our problem is that we desire comfort just like those not yet born again.
A Crisis of Conscience
Whilst almost all of us are inwardly troubled by the growth of homelessness, very few of us will open our spare bedrooms because this would disturb our comfortable lifestyle! Similarly, any pastor can tell you that internet pornography is a huge problem among young Christians. And it’s driven by a desire to relieve uncomfortable sexual desire. How is it that whilst Christian porn viewers have an uneasy conscience about masturbation, they give in again and again? Whether its comfort sex, comfort food, comfort entertainment or a comfortable lifestyle there’s no escape from these snares apart from a more powerful connection with Jesus.
The Uncomfortable God
As a “Holy Father” (John chapter 17 verse 11), God has never been comfortable with us being comfortable without him. His way of bringing us back into the true comfort of his presence is wilderness, exile and despair (Isaiah chapter 40 verse 1; 2 Corinthians chapter 1 verses 3-11). Since the Lord always takes his own remedy, the wisdom of the absolute discomfort of the cross is the way to the absolute comforting of the Son by the Father in resurrection. It follows that if we are unwilling to embrace discomfort, we can never know resurrection presence.
I was deeply embarrassed concerning my own prayer life when a group of immigrant Africans said, “We learnt to pray in the refugee camps, because when we prayed we didn’t feel so hungry.” May the all-wise Lord give us over to extremities beyond lockdowns thus granting us such a strong spiritual hunger for righteousness (Matthew chapter verse 6) that comfort will lose its grip on our lives and our consciences. Only then will we be freed “to serve the living God” (Hebrews chapter 9 verse 14), without limit.
The Rev. Dr John Yates is an Anglican minister in Perth and has 5 children and 7 grandchildren. He spends time in praying, mentoring and writing.John Yates’s previous articles may be viewed athttp://www.pressserviceinternational.org/john-yates.html