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Comfort implies a few concepts: physical ease, the absence of pain, and freedom from constraint. Your comfort zone is the situation in which you are the least bothered by being in it. It’s the place where you retreat, rest, and are restored. The Bible affirms those places: family, community, ritual, Sabbath, music, retreat. Jesus had His companions, He feasted, and He sometimes left the crowds. All good at the right time and in the right way. If you give yourself an honest look, in all likelihood you’ll discover a multidimensional set of preferences matching your own social, economic, linguistic, political, generational, familial, stylistic, and dietary comforts. All well and good in their parts, but, when obeyed as a rule, they may seriously violate the call to discipleship.
What could be more opposite the example and commandment of Christ than a life of total comfort? Jesus never hesitated to point out the discomfort involved in following Him. “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Matt. 8:20). “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all” (Mark 9:35).
That loss of comfort is part of a master plan. The call to other-minded, selfless service is patterned after Christ:
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Phil. 2:5–8)
Christ abandoned the realm of supreme comfort to subject Himself to the greatest debasement in all of human history—in order to serve the undeserving.
The Cost to Comfort
So, how would the kingdom of God appear in your church if you were reordered by Christ’s priorities? Let me give you five outside-the-comfort-zone acts of service that are ready and waiting for you.
(1) Serving by mercy in desperate times. The community of the elect gives different priorities: “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity” (Prov. 17:17). The New Testament uses familial language (“brother”) in anticipation of the sacrifice common among family members. Even at the cross, Jesus commanded His disciple, “ ‘Behold, your mother!’ And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home” (John 19:27). In a crisis, we swing into action even if it upsets our own situation. So, plan for crises, and respond like family.
(2) Serving where needed. What if service in the church is not an exercise of talents, but studied, submissive, inglorious “gap filling” (e.g., greeting, nursery, shut-in visitation, technological helps)? If you’re not finding yourself busy in the church, ask what your time is going to that is more important.
(3) Serving out of pain. A surprising finding in human behavior reveals that people who have experienced particular trials tend to be less sympathetic toward others in the midst of similar trials. We tend to want others to “buck up,” because we did. But in 2 Corinthians 1:3–7, Paul models the supernatural behavior of giving comfort out of his own affliction “with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (v. 4). Make the conscious decision to engage with suffering individuals with the mercy and grace you’ve received from Christ.
(4) Serving by participation in worship. For some people, worship comes easy, but others are plagued by distraction, self-consciousness, and unfamiliarity. Corporate worship is not an individual experience. It is a congregational command:
Let the peace of Christ rule in your [plural] hearts, to which indeed you [plural] were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you [plural] richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your [plural] hearts to God. (Col. 3:15–16)
It’s a service toward God and for the benefit of others around you.
It’s not especially complicated. Hundreds of thousands around the world weekly fill stadiums and coliseums for games and concerts. They are appropriately dressed for the occasion, display appropriate enthusiasm, and join in ritual chants and songs. The corporate nature of those events makes the experience better. How much more, then, does the church deserve your full participation?
(5) Serving by hospitality. The many commands to love the stranger aren’t surprising (Lev. 19:33–34; Matt. 25:35; Rom. 12:13; 1 Peter 4:9). It’s one of the least comfortable things you can do and also among the most rewarding. “Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” (Heb. 13:1–2). Hospitality often involves opening the door to what and to who naturally makes you uncomfortable. Outside of preaching the gospel, few things do as much to advance the kingdom. You were shown kindness as a stranger, invited to a table where you didn’t deserve a place, and you gained a family. There are few better responses to grace than the exercise of biblical hospitality.