Idol Factory: Comfort

God is far more concerned with your holiness than your happiness. It’s not, of course, that God doesn’t care about our happiness. He most certainly does. But he doesn’t avoid asking us to do hard things simply because it will make us uncomfortable. That surprises many of us in America because we are so used to thinking of things like safety and comfort as the end all of our pursuits. We have, sadly, bought into the allusion and lie of the American Dream which sells those things to us at the cost of only our faithfulness to God and His Word. But Jesus wants to rip those idols out of our lives in order that we might truly be happy. For true happiness is not found in comfort and safety, but in Jesus himself.

It’s not that we as Christians assume Jesus doesn’t ask hard things. After all we know of missionaries suffering in the African bush as they seek to serve the cause of Christ. But those are for the extreme believers, or the “super spiritual.” The average Christians, we assume, isn’t expected to take such drastic measures in the pursuit of obedience to Christ. In many ways we have domesticated Jesus and explained away his hard commands. David Platt mockingly describes what many of us think Jesus is like. He says:

A nice, middle-class, American Jesus. A Jesus who doesn’t mind materialism and who would never call us to give away everything we have. A Jesus who would not expect us to forsake our closest relationships so that he receives all our affection. A Jesus who is fine with nominal devotion that does not infringe on our comforts, because, after all, he loves us just the way we are. A Jesus who wants us to be balanced, who wants us to avoid dangerous extremes, and who, for that matter, whats us to avoid danger altogether. A Jesus who brings us comfort and prosperity as we live out our Christian spin on the American Dream. (13, Radical)

In many ways the church has sanctified the American Dream, baptized it and called it holy. We’ve made Jesus in our own image, and adopted him as the champion of American prosperity and wealth. In short we have made comfort an idol. This is, in my opinion, at the root of the Health, Wealth, & Prosperity theology. It has turned to an idol and sought to justify it by eisegesis. But Jesus does call us to hard things. Our comfort is not his end-goal.

Throughout the Gospels Jesus challenges us to put him first in all things. Matthew 8 gives us a series of tough sayings from Jesus. In verses 19-20 tell of a disciple who was ready to follow Jesus, but his response is surprising. Jesus says, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” Jesus tells the one who assures him he will follow “wherever” Jesus goes, that this means a life without a resting place. It means laboring with nowhere to lay your head. That’s tough. In verses 21 and 22 Jesus meets another man who is ready to follow him as soon as he goes home to bury his father. Jesus response is, in this case, even more shocking. He says: Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead. That’s not what we would expect from Jesus, but he makes it clear that you either surrender the priority relationship of family to him or you don’t follow him. Comfort and safety are not his top priority.

In fact finally, in one of the most disturbing and difficult passages on discipleship, Jesus commands that we be prepared to give up our lives for his cause. He says:

38 And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.  39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. (Matthew 10:38-39)

This does not sound like a call to prosperity and wealth, does it? It’s a challenge to commit whole heartedly to a savior who was crucified. It’s not that we need to go looking for trouble. Unlike some of the Christians in the early church, we shouldn’t run headlong into martyrdom. But we are not to place our own comfort and safety on the level of ultimate goal. If we ignore the commands of Christ to put him first, commit to his cause, then we may have turned to idols.

Often our pursuits of comfort and safety are more subtle. It’s not that we are running away from Jesus to pursue our own safety, but we generally put ourselves in routines that encourage and promote our safety and comfort, and any deviation is considered an unwelcome guest. We work all day, do our job well, come home to a nice dinner and end our days in front of the television. Any request to volunteer at church, disciple someone else, serve at the homeless shelter, share the gospel with our co-worker, and a million other “risks” are considered an inconvenience. For the most part we try not to think about such things, and we try to surround ourselves with people who look like us and think like us. Some of us read books and posts like this, or listen to sermons on this subject and get outright hostile. Others of us can just brush it off as a message not relevant for us. But beware of idolatry friends.

If your first love is comfort and safety, if your goal in life is to acquire more comfort and safety, then you may not be following the Jesus of the Bible. It’s time for some personal evaluation and self-reflection. Christ is far more interested in your holiness than your happiness. The question to consider now is, are you.

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