Point State Park is a quiet oasis among the bustle of downtown Pittsburgh. But it wasn’t always that way.
Before the American Revolution, this was strategic land, used by French and British forces as a fort. Several skirmishes took place here in the battle for control of America’s westward expansion.
The contrast couldn’t be more drastic. In one era, soldiers stood on alert for signs of enemy approach. In another, families doze on the grass and office workers take lunchtime power walks. Fighting gave way to recreation. Wartime barracks designed for utility gave way to benches, trails and soft grass designed for leisure.
But what if you swapped the soldiers’ watchful mentality with the park users’ restful one? Surely they’d be unprepared for attack and the fort would be easily overcome. A soldier who seeks to live in comfortable ease isn’t a very effective one.
Yet many Christians are comfort-seeking soldiers ignorant of the conflict surrounding us. We value leisure, pleasure and fun above most anything, and see the world as a playground instead of a war zone.
And it’s killing us.
Our Culture of Comfort
I’m familiar with this history lesson because I served there with Cru’s campus ministry for nine years. I’m familiar with how a comfort-seeking mentality leads to pain and disappointment because I’ve lived that story much longer.
A few years ago, a combination of my own failings as a leader, and the difficulties of life and ministry prompted this intrusive thought:
Is God done with Cru in Pittsburgh?
Relational disconnects and conflicts were creating tension. We were seeing little growth. Other ministries seemed to be flourishing while ours floundered.
I’ve encountered emotions like disappointment when a ministry initiative falls flat, depression when miscommunication with my wife leads to conflict and hurt, anger when circumstances out of my control force a change in plans.
Have you felt these as well?
The real problem is not that we face difficulty, but that we continually expect life to be easy.
“Disappointment is the gap that exists between expectation and reality,” author John Maxwell said.
We all desire comfort and ease. But expecting it, or feeling like we deserve it, is conditioned by our culture.
Modern culture is perhaps the most comfort-driven in history. Evidence for this is everywhere. #FirstWorldProblems is one of Twitter’s most popular hashtags. “Adulting” is now a word, and not a positive one. The advertisements we’re bombarded with promise a particular product or service will make life easier. Pain and hardship are always considered bad. Fun and comfort are always good.
What are we setting ourselves up for when the reality of hardship comes when these are our expectations and values?
My example from Pittsburgh is just one that shows how cultural values have seeped into Christianity. Underneath the surface lay my hidden belief that if I was walking with God and seeking to do His work. Success was inevitable. Of course He’d bless our ministry efforts. Of course we’ll see people trust Jesus. Of course we’ll have great relationships.
The depth of my despair was in direct relation to my false expectation.
A Biblical Reality Check
Our yearning for comfort isn’t bad, it’s misplaced.
Jesus said in John 16:33, “In this world you will have trouble” (New International Version). Ephesians 6:10-20 describes the need for Christians to arm themselves with God’s spiritual resources in order to stand against the devil and his schemes. Instruction to endure hardship and rejoice in suffering is scattered throughout the New Testament.
The Bible presents us with a world at war – though much of it is invisible – and the expectation that life will be difficult. We’re in enemy territory. Jesus’ followers are to stay alert, lay down their lives and rights, and share in His sufferings.
This mentality is counter-cultural and difficult to swallow. I wish it weren’t true. But we don’t have to be resigned to a life of gloom and sorrow.
The Present and Future Comforts of Eternity
In contrast to my disappointment, when my expectations of comfort are unmet, the apostle Paul repeatedly said things like, “For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ” 2 Corinthians 1:5
And, “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” 2 Corinthians 4:17, NIV
Our deepest comforts are ahead. Paul encouraged followers of Jesus to set their eyes, minds and hearts on eternity, not on the here and now. He lived this instruction out. He endured hardships beyond anything most of us have ever experienced.
Yet he, like Jesus, also experienced great joy in the present. The statements surrounding Jesus’ words in John 16 describe the peace He gives and the reality He has overcome the world. We can live with joy that isn’t attached to circumstances, but to the fact that we’re loved and adopted by Him. That He is preparing us for our heavenly home.
I’m still far from living this way consistently. But I’m learning to identify the values and expectations produced by culture rather than Scripture.
As I do, I’m slowly opening my eyes to the fact that I’m in the midst of a raging war. The carefree days in the park are ahead, and they’re more glorious than I can imagine.
How do you embrace the cultural value of comfort? How has it affected you emotionally? In your view of God? Your engagement in service and ministry?
What discomfort can you invite into your life? Some suggestions:
- Invite a classmate or a co-worker to church and start a conversation about his spiritual beliefs.
- Thank God when you face difficulty or disappointment. Ask what greater purpose He might be using it for in your life.
- Fast from a meal or from your smartphone, and spend the extra time in prayer, asking God to help you live with a more eternal perspective.
- Read 2 Corinthians to see how Paul viewed comfort and endured suffering.
Let us know in the comments below!