Embracing Discomfort to Reclaim Godliness
Written by Dale Ebel
Most people today rarely step outside of their comfort zones. Who doesn’t like their comfortable life at home, safe within the bounds of secure surroundings and people who are familiar to us? As Americans, we are living progressively sheltered, sterile, temperature-controlled, overfed, under-challenged, safety-netted lives. And it is limiting the degree to which we experience the wild and unpredictable life of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Look to my teaching article on my blog: daleebel.org, titled, A Strange Jesus, Dated August 20, 2020.)
Did you know that most of Christ’s life and ministry were lived in obscurity and on the run? My, Oh My, how we have romanticized and compartmentalized the life of Jesus our Lord. We select the passages that fit the comfort zone of our lives, often neglecting the most powerful, suffering, and ostracizing aspects of His life.
When we live with a particular level of comfort, we become increasingly comfortable which then becomes our routine way of living. Comfort and conveniences can be fine, but they rarely move the ball down the field where it matters most:
Being transformed into the character of Christ demonstrated through our obedience to Him.
I would love for you to guess the source from the quote below: (I will supply the source at the end of this article 🙂
“Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly, all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.”
While pastoring years ago I can remember teaching from Jeremiah 48. On this particular Sunday a man was convicted of his sin, repented, and became a follower of Jesus Christ. He realized that he needed to adjust the relational discomfort he had with God before he could experience comfort with Christ, himself, and others. Here was the passage I taught:
11 “Moab has been at ease since his youth; He has also been undisturbed, [like wine] on its dregs [lees], and he has not been emptied from vessel to vessel, Nor has he gone into exile. Therefore, he retains his flavor, And his aroma has not changed. 12 “Therefore behold, the days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will send to him those who tip [vessels,] and they will tip him over, and they will empty his vessels and shatter his jars. 13 “And Moab will be ashamed of Chemosh [a false god], as the house of Israel was ashamed of Bethel, their confidence.”
– Jeremiah 48:11-13 NASB
The winemaking imagery is vivid and appropriate, for Moab was a producer of wine. In the production of wine, the juice was left in a wineskin, or jar, until the sediment or dregs settled onto the bottom. Then it was poured into another skin or jar until more dregs were separated. The process continued until the dregs were all removed, and a pure sweet wine was obtained. In order for the wine to be the taste the wine maker desired, the wine would be poured from vessel to vessel.
Moab was not taken from suffering to suffering so that her bitter dregs would be removed through the purging of pain. Thus, the nation was settled into the thickness and bitterness of its own sin. The nation had become complacent and, as a result, God was coming to smash them. These lethargic people will not rouse themselves enough to save themselves. Since God had not yet judged their sin, perhaps they assumed that He never would, not realizing that judgment could come at any point. They denied His ongoing activity in either blessing or punishment. This mindset tragically negates a core element of biblical theology: God is constantly active in history.
My Personal Tipping
Are you in a season of life where you feel you are being poured from vessel to vessel? In the last years, I can emphatically say “yes” for myself! Yahweh God seems to keep me uncomfortable so that I do not get settled into complacency. Why? Because He does not want me to become stagnant in spirit but, rather, to transmit the aroma of the Lord Jesus Christ while I have time here on earth.
I have been poured from vessel to vessel, I have had several health issues, two of our grandsons have been diagnosed with life-altering health conditions, I left a ministry of 30 + years, and now my ministry is carried out in obscurity. I feel like my life is being poured out from vessel to vessel by the Sovereign Lord to learn to “overcome” (1 John 4:4) while the Lord Jesus Christ has me here, (Acts 13:26).
One way to enjoy wine, and to know if it is acceptable, is with our smell. Maybe it’s just me, but I have noticed that many of the commercials on TV are emphasizing smell. Whether it’s an Old Spice, an ad for an air freshener, Bounce the fabric softener, or some exotic fragrance for women, advertisers get our attention through our sense of smell.
Did you know that God also smells? “And the LORD smelled a sweet savor or aroma.” – Geneses 8:21 KJV
The Bible is replete with Scriptures that speak to the reality that there is an aroma that “pleases the Lord” (Exodus 29:18; Leviticus 1:9; or Ephesians 5:2).
We could talk a lot about aromas from the Scriptures, but allow me to comment briefly on a a powerful passage found in 2 Corinthians 2:14-17. I offer my comments on the verses below.
14 “But thank God! He has made us his captives and continues to lead us along in Christ’s triumphal procession. Now he uses us to spread the knowledge of Christ everywhere, like a sweet perfume [aroma]. 15 Our lives are a Christ-like fragrance rising up to God. But this fragrance is perceived differently by those who are being saved and by those who are perishing. 16 To those who are perishing, we are a dreadful smell of death and doom. But to those who are being saved, we are a life-giving perfume. And who is adequate for such a task as this? 17 You see, we are not like the many hucksters who preach for personal profit. We preach the word of God with sincerity and with Christ’s authority, knowing that God is watching us” – 2 Corinthians 2:14-17 NLT
• 2:14 In Christ’s triumphal procession. Paul drew from the imagery of the official and an exalted ceremony called the Triumph, in which a victorious general was honored with a festive, ceremonial parade through the streets of Rome. First, Paul gave thanks for being led by a sovereign God at all times, and second, for the promised victory in Jesus Christ.
2:14 Now he uses us to spread the knowledge of Christ everywhere like a sweet perfume [aroma]. The imagery of a sweet aroma, (fragrance, perfume) comes from the strong sweet smell of incense from censers in the Triumph parade, which, along with the fragrance of crushed flowers strewn under horse’ hooves, produced a powerful aroma that filled the city. By analogy, every believer is meant to be an influence for the Good News of Christ throughout the world.
2:15 Christ-like fragrance rising up to God. Continuing his analogy, Paul pictured God as the emperor at the end of the Triumph who also smells the pervasive fragrance and is pleased with the victorious efforts it represents. Wherever God’s servant is faithful and is an influence for the Good News, God is pleased. Look to 5:9 in this same book.
2:16 To those who are perishing…smell of death. … those who are being saved, we are a life-giving perfume.
There is a two-fold effect when the Good News is presented. For some it is life-giving, and to others it brings death. Friends, this is the powerful result of proclaiming Truth and living a life that pleases our Lord. If we demonstrate the character of Christ in our actions and beliefs, some will disagree and even oppose our efforts. We are especially seeing this in the hot button issues of our day. Issues such as, false evolutionary thoughts being promoted in our schools, the great divide over the distorted transgender issue, the right to life for the unborn, and the forced acceptance of homosexuality and lesbianism. Linda and I today (July 5, 2022) talked to our neighbor, who’s son was told in his biology class that whales used to walk on land because they have what looks like a leg bone in their bodies. How would you counter with a biblical explanation of such non-sense? The teacher actually taught this with a straight face. If a young freshman in High School would stand up for the Truth, what kind of “smell” would they give off?
A most succinct Biblical response to the teacher could be explained by the regularity of the genetic code which states that a species will only produce after its kind. We never see in science an animal transforming into a human or a plant transforming into an animal. The DNA complex information program can and does produces horizontally, that is different types of whales, but never vertically, that is a whale developing into a man.
Back to the concept of complacency.
Jeremiah 48 clearly teaches that the Lord God is opposed to stagnation. Consider also these words from Zephaniah:
12 “And it shall come to pass at that time [That] I will search Jerusalem with lamps, and punish the men who are settled in complacency, [settled on their lees KJV, or stagnant in spirit NASV], who say in their heart, ‘The LORD will not do good, Nor will He do evil’” – Zephaniah 1:12 NKJV
This passage, like the passage in Jeremiah 48, emphasizes that the LORD God does not like His people to stay the same regarding who He is and what He desires to do. “Stagnant in spirit” is a term referring to a thickened crust which forms on wine when left undisturbed for a long period of time. The prophet is describing the people’s indifference and slothfulness toward God. Their indifference led them to regard God as morally indifferent.
There is a significant new body of evidence from the sports science and health that shows us people are at their best when things are physically harder, mentally tougher, and spiritually more challenging. Scientists are finding that certain discomforts protect us from problems like obesity, heart disease, cancers, diabetes, depression, addictions, suicide, anxiety, and even more fundamental issues like feeling a loss of meaning and purpose.
I’m currently reading a challenging book called, The Comfort Crisis, by Michael Easter and it is quite illuminating. Easter writes,
“We don’t have to deal with discomforts like working for our food, moving hard and heavy each day, feeling deep hunger, and being exposed to the elements. But we do have to deal with the side effects of our comfort: long-term physical and mental health problems.” (p. 18)
I am in process in this area of comfort and discomfort by attempting to live the wisdom I write about and, obviously, I need significant improvement on the obedience scale. Comfort creep has been a challenge…especially since Covid!
It is our human nature to seek comfort. We instinctively default to safety, shelter, warmth, extra food, and minimal effort. This drive is not evil, it is beneficial because it pushes us to survive. Discomfort is both physical and emotional. Its hunger, cold, pain, exhaustion, stress and any other negative sensations or emotions.
Americans spend about 93% of their present time indoors in climate control, and entire cities as they exist now, wouldn’t exist had we not developed air-conditioning. Consider Phoenix or Las Vegas.
It is very interesting to me to realize that the Apostle Paul experienced a kaleidoscope of discomforting experiences with his efforts to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ. I personally cringe with discomfort, and positive conviction, when I read the following verses from 2 Corinthians 11.
23 “Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, been exposed to death again and again. 24 Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. 27 I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. 28 besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches” – 2 Corinthians 11:23-28 NIV
I ask myself the question—When have I experienced such discomfort for the cause of Christ? Hello, NEVER ☹!
Several Actions To Take:
#1 Write a personal note of recognition to someone that you know who is giving off the “aroma” of Christ. Be specific and identify their character traits that bring honor to Christ, conviction to become godlier, or how you perceive their actions to be furthering the Kingdom of God.
#2 What area or areas have you become too comfortable? List two actions to move you out of comfort creep.
#3 The quote above is from the Declaration of Independence the second paragraph. Attempt to communicate this truth with someone about the importance of overcoming comfort, and how this mindset shaped our freedom.
#4 Above, I made a statement as to when people are at their best: when things are —
physically harder, mentally tougher, and spiritually more challenging.
- Name two actions you will take to make your life physically harder.
- What three ways will you become mentally tougher?
- Obey four spiritual commands from God’s word that will challenge you.
#5 Has the Lord poured you from vessel to vessel? In what ways? It is ok if you have not been. Praise God for the season you are in!
Becoming Uncomfortable for The Cause of Christ,