“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8)
Comfort may be my #1 idol. I crave it. I plan for it. I make decisions based on how to maximize it. When I’m driving home from almost anywhere, I’m thinking through the steps I’m going to take as soon as I walk through that door: get into my comfy, warm robe and slippers; stake out my spot on the couch by the fire; prepare a snack and a hot cup of tea; dive into my current book or flick on Amazon Prime.
What I’m describing isn’t bad in and of itself. An introvert like me needs down time, preferably alone, but seeing this as the pinnacle of my life – the point toward which I’m continually striving; using it as a determiner to say no to the possibilities sure to interfere with it – is problematic.
God is not particularly concerned with my comfort.
In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.John 16:33
It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.Psalm 119:71
I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.Romans 8:18
“Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” Romans 5:3-5
God does say that we are to comfort others with the comfort we have been given (2 Corinthians 1:4), but this type of comfort is not the absence of pain; it’s the opposite. It is moving into another person’s suffering, very likely at the expense of our personal comfort. It is bearing-one-another’s-burdens comfort. It is, in fact, holy discomfort.
In Micah 6:8, God tells us to do justice. It would be easier, John Piper says, if he told us to love justice.
“Loving the idea of justice is cheap. But doing justice almost always requires loving a vulnerable or oppressed person in a way that is personally costly to us. True love is not cheap, so God tests our hearts by making justice concrete, something we must do.” (John Piper, “Lord, Search My Heart”)
Often, when God is teaching me something, he layers the message in a variety of ways. Last week, I was having coffee with the leader of a Good Neighbor Team. He told me he was having trouble finding people to form a new team. There was lots of initial interest, but once he described the “job,” the time commitment, all that was involved, people started backtracking on that interest. “There is absolutely nothing convenient about being part of a Good Neighbor Team,” he said. Becoming part of a Good Neighbor Team is to choose discomfort.
At the same time, I was reading through the book of Job as part of my chronological Bible journey. I was struggling to understand what seemed like Job’s needless suffering as part of a cosmic display of power. (It’s hard to imagine any situation less comfortable than Job’s – sitting on a pile of ashes, scraping open sores with broken pottery while mourning the loss of family, wealth, and reputation.) So I reached out to my pastor who flipped the narrative. He explained how Job brought him comfort during one of the most painful times in his life. He was suffering unfairly – in no way due to his own sin – much like Job. He did not get an answer to the question why, but what he did get was the assurance of God’s presence with him. He knew that he was not alone. That was the message, and for him, it made all the difference. The God of the universe saw him, knew what he was going through and loved him.
Finally, the speaker at our recent Lunch & Learn event, software engineer, CEO and philanthropist, Mark Michaelis, suggested that there was nothing “normal” about our lives in Spokane. When you consider that 80% of humanity lives on less than $10 a day, that every day 25,000 people die of hunger, that at least 29 countries are currently at war, that in the U.S. alone, more than 16,500 individuals are victims of human trafficking, our everyday lives in Spokane are not the norm. We are living privileged lives.
“Compassion is the sometimes fatal capacity for feeling what it is like to live inside somebody else’s skin. It’s the knowledge that there can never really be any peace and joy for me until there is peace and joy finally for you too. ”Frederick Buechner
God hates injustice. He wants us to take action. Do justice.
“…the command to ‘love kindness’ pierces to the heart of things. This is far more demanding than merely doing kind things, which can easily be reduced to ‘occasional kind acts.’ Loving kindness demands a deep structure heart orientation that shapes all our actions.” (John Piper, “Lord, Search My Heart”)
Love kindness. Love mercy. Do I? This is a tough question because it goes to my heart condition. I can be “kind” in my outward behavior – smiling, opening doors, complimenting, holding my judgment in public – and still rake people over the coals behind their backs. I can give the panhandler on the street a dollar in kindness without aching for his welfare deep within me. I can even meet a refugee at the airport but still harbor fear and resentment within me.
Piper again: “We can’t love kindness and love selfishness at the same time. So, God tests our hearts by making kindness not merely things we do, but something we love.”
Part of walking humbly is recognizing how often we fail to do justice or love kindness. It’s admitting how much we love comfort and might choose it over either doing justice or loving kindness. It’s letting God examine our hearts and reveal those failures. It’s repenting, accepting God’s forgiveness and trusting him to change us.
When we are exceedingly comfortable, we don’t want to change. We don’t want to move. We don’t want to act. And so, as Mark Michaelis said, it is our duty to embrace “holy discomfort.” Ask God to search your heart and lead you in his righteous path — not one centered on comfort but one focused on loving him and loving others.
Do Justice. Love Kindness. Walk Humbly. Volunteering with World Relief could be the next step.