I've been thinking a lot about the idea of comfort recently. There are two definitions of the noun form of the word. The first is (according to Google's dictionary) "a state of physical ease and freedom from pain or constraint" and the second is "the easing or alleviation of a person's feelings of grief or distress." To really discuss what has been rolling around in my head, we need to go visit the book of Luke again.
In my girls' Bible study, we recently looked at the stories of the rich, young ruler and of Zacchaeus. You'll remember the stories. The rich, young ruler (Luke 18: 18-30) comes to Jesus and wants to do know what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus replies that he should keep the commandments. The young man says that he has done this, to which Jesus tells him to sell all he has and give it to the poor. The young man becomes very sad at these instructions and Jesus then tells him that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter Heaven.
Not more than 12 verses later, we meet Zacchaeus, who is also a very rich man, though no one would accuse him of keeping the commandments since his youth. His gains were ill-gotten as a tax collector for the Roman Empire. Zacchaeus wants to see Jesus and, being a short man, resorts to climbing a tree in order to do so. (You can also imagine that the crowds were not all that keen to do anything nice for Zacchaeus and weren't helping him out at all.) Jesus comes towards Zacchaeus, stops under his tree, and announces that he [Zacchaeus] should come down because He [Jesus] was coming to his house for dinner. Zacchaeus, being so changed by his encounter with Jesus, does in effect, what Jesus had told the rich, young, ruler to do. He vows to give half his goods to the poor and to restore what he has defrauded fourfold. I imagine that doing that will pretty much take care of the other half of his money. Jesus then proclaims that "salvation has come to this house." The camel was indeed able to fit through the eye of the needle.
What is the difference between these two men? Both were rich. Both met Jesus. Yet one turned away from Jesus with great sadness and the other embraced Jesus with great joy. I believe it all comes down to who was comfortable.
The rich, young ruler was comfortable. He was accepted in his community. He followed the rules. He could buy anything he wanted. He had control of his future for the most part. He had a lot and while he had a vague feeling that he was missing something (hence, his question to Jesus) it was not a pressing enough need for him to take any action. Zacchaeus, on the other hand, was not comfortable. Sure he could buy just about anything he wanted, but he knew he was missing something. He was not accepted in his community... tax collectors were pretty universally hated. He had guilt... he knew he had cheated people out of their money as well as being a type of traitor to his people. Zacchaeus was uncomfortable enough to listen to Jesus, but the rich, young ruler was not.
The result? Zacchaeus received what the rich, young ruler could only vaguely imagine. Joy. When we feel we do not have need of Jesus, we miss out on the joy He has to offer. It is joy that is not tied to material goods or physical ease. It is the joy of feeling complete, of having purpose, of knowing you are loved beyond all imagining. It is joy that eases any discomfort in our present life. Zacchaeus moved from seeking joy in the first definition of the word comfort to finding it in the second definition. If we have no need, there is no need for God to give us His comfort.
So this Christmas and in the coming new year, beware of being too comfortable. It is a hard task master which gives us the illusion that we can find no happiness and joy without it. It makes us passive, unwilling to take action that may inconvenience us. It ultimately steals our joy. Instead, ask to be made a little uncomfortable... or be willing to risk a little discomfort for a greater good. You may be surprised that the joy you find waiting for you.
I realize that I never shared the link to my newest article. It's No Biking in the House Without a Helmet: A Book Review. Please read, click, share.