When you think of “comfortable” Christianity, what comes to mind? Tempur-pedic pews? Bubble bath baptisms?
The challenge in our day is not to reject comfort, but to redefine it. When we think of comfort, we think of entitlement, safety, independence, financial security, etc. But Christian comfort is different. It is comfort rooted in Christ alone. It speaks of true security and assurance, and because it is a perfect guarantee in Christ it provides a radical freedom to be others-centered, sacrificial, risk-taking, committed, etc.
The first question of the Heidelberg Catechism puts it this way:
Q: What is my only comfort in life and death?
A: That I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ; who, with his precious blood, has fully satisfied for all my sins, and delivered me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me that without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head; yea, that all things must be subservient to my salvation, and therefore, by his Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, and makes me sincerely willing and ready, henceforth, to live unto him.
While in seminary, I was introduced to a collection of prayers from the Puritans of the late 16th and 17th century.
The first prayer in the book, “The Valley of Vision,” has been one I’ve returned to many times to be reminded that the Christian life is not as glamorous and exciting as we often long for it to be. It’s paradoxical. Losses are gains. I think of the Beatitudes. I find that as I relate to the Jesus I read about in the Bible I too am drawn toward the hurting and the broken.
Sometimes when I’m asked to pray before meals I feel foolish.
Who am I to represent the thoughts of a group of people before God? It’s hard enough expressing my own needs, desires, praise, and thanks.
There are times when, as I begin to pray, I start to think about other things to praise God about. I’d like to mention these things, but then I have to remember that people are just expecting me to bless the meal.
In his essay “The Inner Ring” C. S. Lewis describes the folly of finding our self-worth in social hierarchies. He writes, “Of all the passions the passion for the Inner Ring is most skillful in making a man who is not yet a very bad man do very bad things . . . The quest of the Inner Ring will break your hearts unless you break it.”
Here’s how I think this works. We’ve been created with a need to feel like we belong, but ever so often we make the mistake of idolizing a certain group of people in order to get that sense of belonging.
“Maybe if I can get in with them, then I’ll know I’m okay.”
I found this little gem from a wonderful book called A Praying Life by Paul E. Miller.
Let’s imagine that you see a prayer therapist to get your prayer life straightened out. The therapist says, “Let’s begin by looking at your relationship with your heavenly Father . . . What does it mean that you are a son or daughter of God?”
You reply that it means you have complete access to your heavenly Father through Jesus. You have true intimacy, based not on how good you are but on the goodness of Jesus. Not only that, Jesus is your brother. You are a fellow heir with him.
The therapist smiles and says, “That is right. You’ve done a wonderful job of describing the doctrine of Sonship. Now tell me what it is like for you to be with your Father. What is it like to talk with him?”
You cautiously tell the therapist how difficult it is to be in your Father’s presence, even for a couple of minutes. Your mind wanders. You aren’t sure what to say. You wonder, Does prayer make any difference? Is God even there? Then you feel guilty for your doubts and just give up.
Your therapist tells you what you already suspect. “Your relationship with your heavenly Father is dysfunctional. You talk as if you have an intimate relationship, but you don’t. Theoretically, it is close. Practically, it is distant, you need help.”