Pushing the boat out
As Christians, I think we can often be quite good at staying within the boundaries of our ‘comfort zones’
I’m a great fan of reading books about so called ‘heroes of the Christian faith’. I’m currently reading one about a guy called Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was a German pastor during World War II, willing to serve God and stand up against Adolf Hitler, even though it ended up costing him imprisonment and eventually his life. Before that, I read the story of Brother Andrew - a man transformed by God from a lost binge-drinker into someone willing to risk his life smuggling Bibles into communist countries, so that persecuted Christians across Europe could have access to the word of God. These people took incredible risks and inspire us greatly through doing so. I’m going to look at the pressure we face to conform to stability and comfort in life and how this compares to God’s perspective of what He calls us to be in the world.
When reading these books (mentioned above) and the Bible itself, I notice many occasions where the people involved face difficult decisions to make, about whether to go in a safe, comfortable, easy direction, or whether to follow what they believe God is asking them to do. Bonhoeffer, for example, was safely in America as the war was beginning in Europe; however he took the decision to catch the last ferry back across the Atlantic, so that he could stand with his fellow Christians in Germany against Hitler’s regime and make a difference. As Christians, I think we can often be quite good at staying within the boundaries of our ‘comfort zones’. But then how can we really be readily available for God to use us and push us at all times? Faith is about taking risks.
We live in a world surrounded by people that want to take the nice comfortable options
I’m quite good at ignoring God’s little nudges to do things as I go about my day, especially when I feel that He is asking me to do difficult stuff, and sometimes I’m even quite good at not taking much time to listen in the first place! For each of us, we will probably be able to identify something which would make us feel pretty queasy inside if we felt God was asking us to do it. For some of us it might be a lack of courage to live out our faith through evangelism, or perhaps we fear God calling us to difficult places. But often it’s the fact that we become too comfortable in our Western culture and with our luxuries. This type of satisfaction can detach us from the joy that we find in the Lord and our motivation to live fully for Jesus. We live in a world surrounded by people that want to take the nice comfortable options on a day-to-day basis and in life. If we are not careful, we risk falling into the trap of adopting this lifestyle ourselves.
You might by now be feeling pressured to take risks in order to live a Godly lifestyle. This however is not the point of this blog, merely to try and get a better perspective of where we get our motivation to live radically and to be aware of the vast difference in living as a Christian compared to a non-believer.
Society tells us that in order to achieve things, we must simply try harder
So how do we go about actually stepping out of our comfort zones when we feel God asking us to? Here we must be careful not to slip into a worldly way of looking at things. Society tells us that in order to achieve things, we must simply try harder – perhaps we should just try and tell more people the gospel and just try to read our Bibles more. On the contrary, let’s think about perhaps one of the most obvious Bible passages relating to this idea of stepping out of your comfort zone - the story in Matthew 14, of Jesus inviting Peter to step out of the boat and walk on water. Here we see no element of Peter simply ‘trying harder’ to step out of the boat, having been previously afraid. Instead we read that Peter responds simply to Jesus’ statement of “Take courage. It is I. Don’t be afraid” (v27), and his following invitation to “Come” to Him (v29).
We have a lot that we can learn from this little story. It is through Peter’s recognition of who Jesus is, that he is able to step out of the boat. Jesus doesn’t say anything about promising to catch him if he sinks, or that He will stop the wind and the waves for Peter to step out, he simply says “It is I”, which in the original language, Greek, is the same word used by God to identify himself in the Old Testament, meaning “I am”. For each of us, we face daily decisions as to whether to stick firmly inside the boat, or take that step. I think that the way we begin to step out in faith starts with us recognising what it means for Jesus to say to us “I am”. He says it explicitly seven times in John’s Gospel: “I am the bread of life”, “I am the light of the world”, “I am the gate for the sheep”, “I am the good shepherd”, “I am the resurrection and the life”, “I am the way, the truth and the life”, and “I am the true vine”. As we learn what it means for Jesus to make these claims, as we discover more about Him through the Bible and through seeking Him in prayer, and as we allow ourselves to be “rooted and built up in Him” (Colossians 2v7), we find that we can trust Him completely. We also find that we want to be more like Him, and that our desires become the same as God’s desires. He then enables us to accept his invitation to “Come”, without us needing to feel afraid. It is not therefore simply about gritting our teeth in order to take that step out of the boat, but instead by allowing Him, bit by bit, to have more of ourselves so that He can change us to be more like Him.
the moment Peter begins to sink is exactly the moment when he takes his eyes off Jesus
Notice also that the moment Peter begins to sink is exactly the moment when he takes his eyes off Jesus and focuses instead on the wind and the waves. Similarly, we can so often worry about the distractions that this world throws at us when seeking to follow Christ, and hence why I think it’s so crucial for us to start each day by spending time focusing on him, so that the rest of the day isn’t spent comfortably in the boat. There is a great image in both Malachi 3 and Psalm 66 of God refining His people in the same way as a silversmith purifies silver. Silver is refined by the silversmith very precisely positioning the silver over a fire, so that the impurities are burned away, with the silver being watched very carefully the entire time to make sure that it is not left in the fire for even a second too long. The best bit of the metaphor, is that the only way in which the silversmith knows that the refining process is finished, is when they see their own image in the reflection from the silver. For us, sometimes we can feel like we take a step out for God and then our pride gets hit, or our status, or our relationships. However in those times, remember this image of God refining us until He sees Himself in the reflection, shaping us and molding us through the fire, never taking His eye off us.
As we go on the journey of seeking more and more of God, allowing Him to refine and purify us as people, we find that our comfort zones expand, and that He uses us for the building of His Kingdom. I read a great quote that has stuck with me recently, and it goes like this: “Christians have bumper stickers and catchphrases, disciples have scars and stories.” Jesus asks us in Matthew 28 to go and make disciples of all nations. Therefore let us be disciples ourselves, willing to put our worldly desires on the line, in order to further God’s Kingdom, as Bonhoeffer and Brother Andrew did, so that we might be more effective at making disciples and being a part of God’s Kingdom building. Amen.