The Ache of Growth
There is no growth without pain. From the achy legs of a childhood growth spurt, to the stiffness after a taxing workout, to the heartache of an emotional hardship. Growth almost always involves some level of pain. When it comes to our growth in spiritual maturity, it is no different.
Working the muscles of spiritual discipline and learning to live in the example of Jesus comes with discomfort. God even promises us that we will need to "take up our cross" and bear the weight of suffering.
Pain is inevitable, but we can experience pain as a result of our detachment from our Heavenly Father or we can experience pain as a process of becoming more like Jesus.
Releasing the Idol of Comfort
The idol I struggle with the most is comfort. It's not bad that I want to be safe, warm, fed, and loved. Those are very real needs we have as human beings. Yet, I can place those needs above my need for God. I can prioritize those needs above God's will.
The strongest representation of this idol in my life is my desire to avoid pain at all costs. Truthfully, I avoid even mild discomfort or inconvenience if I can.
I don't want to get out of my warm bed in the morning.
I don't want to braid my daughter's hair before I've finished my coffee.
Those may seem inconsequential but becoming comfortable with being comfortable bleeds into the areas of our lives that can have eternal consequences.
What if I'd rather zone out and watch Netflix instead of read my bible?
What if I'd rather avoid that person in church who I know could use encouragement?
What if I'd rather go on a shopping spree than tithe this month?
When we become fixated on ourselves and our own comfort, we selfishly choose the desires of our flesh instead of fulfilling the purpose God has for us. We can become greedy in our attempts to hoard our time, talents, and resources instead of giving them freely to God and contributing to the Kingdom.
God desires good things for us. He has gifted us with many earthly pleasures. But the problem arises when we worship the gifts instead of the giver. We focus our attention on what makes us happy instead of our holy God.
Worshipping the idol of comfort may feel good temporarily, but the distance this causes between us and God can cause an ache that does not result in our growth. And that stunted growth can negatively impact the plans God has for our lives.
Taking Up Our Cross
If you've been in the church for a while, then hearing you need to "take up your cross" can sound like just another Christian platitude. But what if we take another look at it today as a powerful promise?
'And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”' - Mark 8:34-38 (emphasis mine)
In this passage, Jesus asks the crowd--asks us--to do something difficult. He asks us to choose pain and discomfort and suffering. He asks us to let go of all our own desires. But don't miss what comes after...
Jesus shows us that what He is offering is actually an invitation. He offers an invitation to give up our earthly, fragile, temporal lives for a life that has eternal rewards. But the only way to accept that invitation is to give up the idols we grip tightly. Idols like comfort, security, and self-sufficiency.
The good news is, as John Piper said: "In terms of absolute security, all the efforts that we make to keep ourselves safe are ultimately an illusion."
So when we take up our cross, it may not be comfortable, but we gain true security because our lives are in His hands. As you take steps in your faith, following Jesus' lead, you will experience that aching feeling of stretching and pulling. But be joyful in knowing that your suffering "produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope." (Romans 5:4)
Growth is good.