If my own experience is a valid indicator, it seems that most of us come to a point in our spiritual journey where we are confronted with the reality that things are not as they should be. On a surface level, we may be struggling with a persistent sin or shortcoming; on an emotional level, we may find ourselves wrapped up in a cloak of despondency, bitterness, or guilt. Whatever the surface manifestation, however, if we really take a look at what is going on and if we have the backbone to be brutally honest with ourselves, we find there is a deeper struggle occurring. More often than not, that struggle is between that still, soft voice calling us to move forward in our journey of faith and that other voice of complacency, which tells us that stepping out into the territory of the unknown can be a dangerous affair – at best unpredictable, at worst, downright terrifying. The late Brent Curtis and his co-author John Eldredge describe that voice we often hear in the dead of night:
The voice often comes in the middle of the night or the early morning hours, when our hearts are most unedited and vulnerable. At first, we mistake the source of this voice and assume it is just our imagination. We fluff up our pillow, roll over, and go back to sleep. Days, weeks, even months go by and the voice speaks to us again: “Aren’t you thirsty? Listen to your heart. There is something missing.
Indeed, my friend, that still, small voice calls us to the grand adventure. It calls us to get up off our seats, step out of our comfort zones, and walk forward in the light of Christ. It calls us to become His partner, to share his mission, to challenge the status quo, just as He did. Yet his calling is a high calling. It is a high honor, but does come with a price tag. The price tag for most of us is, first of all, getting past any sense of complacency and satisfaction with things as they are.
The call of Christ is without a doubt counter-culture and has no association with maintaining the status quo for the sake of personal comfort. The divine call is a grand calling, but to follow it is to guarantee a degree of daily discomfort. I have always loved these words by Houston Smith, so much so that I will give them to you in there entirety. I think Smith speaks clearly about what the call of Christ entails:
…we have heard Jesus’ teachings so often that their edges have been worn smooth, dulling their glaring subversiveness. If we could recover their original impact, we too would be startled. Their beauty would not paper over the fact that they are “hard sayings,” presenting a scheme of values so counter to the usual as to shake us like the seismic collision of tectonic plates…We are told that we are not to resist evil but to turn the other cheek. The world assumes that evil must be resisted by every means available. We are told to love our enemies and bless those who curse us. The world assumes that friends are to be loved and enemies hated. We are told that the sun rises on the just and the unjust alike. The world considers this to be indiscriminating; it would like to see dark clouds withholding sunshine from evil people. We are told that outcasts and harlots enter the kingdom of God before many who are perfunctorily righteous. Unfair, we protest; respectable people should head the procession. We are told that the gate to salvation is narrow. The world would prefer it to be wide. We are told to be as carefree as birds and flowers. The world counsels prudence. We are told that it is more difficult for the rich to enter the kingdom than for a camel to pass through a needle’s eye. The world honors wealth. We are told that the happy people are those who are meek, who weep, who are merciful and pure in heart. The world assumes that it is the rich, the powerful, and the wellborn who should be happy. In all, a wind of freedom blows through these teachings that frightens the world and makes us want to deflect their effect by postponement – not yet, not yet! H.G. Wells was evidently right: either there was something mad about this man, or our hearts are still too small for his message.
It is imperative that we don’t become complacent. I am convinced that one of the primary obstacles we Christians face is our own tendency to be too complacent. We come to treasure our comfort zones and, as a result, keep our hearts too small for the message of Jesus.
Many of us start out well, accomplish numerous positive things in our lives, and then settle into a pattern of general comfort and complacency. We live not to grow, but to maintain the status quo. This is a tragic mistake.
God did not create you to rest on your laurels. Instead, he hardwired you to keep on moving – keep in growing. So beware of settling in for too long. “But wait a minute,” you might be saying. “We all need to rest. All work and no play makes for a dull boy.” Yes, that’s true. We do, indeed, need to take time off from time to time in order to rest, recuperate, and recharge our spiritual batteries. However, these periods of recuperation were never meant to be a career. No, we have to keep on moving.
The Pakistani poet and psychologist Ahkter Ahsen, in his epic poem “Manhunt in the Desert,” describes the journey through the desert of a man in search of truth. After wandering for days in the scorching landscape, he is at the end of his tether. Without respite, he is going to die. Fortunately, he eventually stumbles into a small oasis, just in the nick of time.
The oasis is a God-send. Not only does it have fruit and coconuts, but there is also a well. The man becomes rested, watered, and fed and he grows quite fond of the oasis, in spite of several issues he encounters there. After a time, the man developed the habit of each day going to sit on the edge of the oasis, right where it met the desert. As he sat there, he began to feel a vague sense of anxiety. He wasn’t sure where this feeling of anxiety was coming from and he fought to keep it at bay.
Pretty soon a voice within him insisted it was time for the man to continue on his journey. The man argued with the voice, reasoning that he would be a fool to head back into the heat, sand, and tremendous aridity. The voice, on the other hand, kept reminding the man that his goal could not be found in the oasis; instead, it existed beyond the desert.
This state of affairs went on for quite some time, but the man remained steadfast in his resistance to the voice within. One day he goes to sit in his accustomed place at the edge of the desert. He notices that way out on the horizon, a sand storm is blowing. He watches the cloud of dust dance across the desert, first in one direction, then in another.
Soon, the man becomes somewhat alarmed as the storm now seemed to be heading right toward him. The man, still enjoying his seat, did not move because he was certain the storm of blowing sand would change direction, just as it had so many times before.
He was mistaken.
Before he could react, the storm was upon him. The wind whirled around about him and blew a single grain of sand up his nose. He found the grain of sand highly irritating to the lining in his nose, and frantically trying to dig it out, he uncoiled himself from the lotus position and began dancing about in great discomfort. With the storm continuing around him, the man repeatedly tried to dislodge the grain of sand.
Eventually the storm abated and when his field of vision finally cleared, the man discovered two startling facts. First, the grain of sand was at last gone. That was the good news. The bad news was the fact that he was now back out in the desert with the oasis nowhere in sight.
It seems God used the storm to push the man back out to where he needed to be. There was no way the man was going to reach his divine destiny parked on the edge of the oasis in the lotus position. The man had to get up, stretch himself, and get moving again.
How many times are we in similar situations? We create our comfort zones and rigidly live within their confines. Any attempt to dislodge us from the walls of this comfort zone meets with great resistance. I know in my own life, the pattern depicted in this epic poem plays out in pretty much the same way. I first begin to feel a bit anxious. After this, a voice within me tells me that if I am to reach my goals I have to get back into the desert, even if it is unpleasant.
Sometimes, I heed the voice and get moving. At other times, I require a sandstorm to get me to move.
(to be continued)
(c) L.D. Turner 2008/All Rights Reserved