Comfort can be derived from many sources. It might be measured by the number of zeros in a person’s savings account, or in the size of their house. A title that has been earned or a promotion that has been received can bring someone a feeling of security. Perhaps we feel the beauty of the person with whom we share an intimate relationship is what makes us whole.
Sometimes these desires grow to an unhealthy excess. In this state, we always want more, perhaps more money or higher promotions. The beauty of one person isn’t enough; we only feel complete by sharing a bed with as many people as possible. In other problematic cases, it takes a certain amount of alcohol or a drug to bring about comfort.
Comfort isn’t promised
One thing I’ve learned the hard way over the past six years is the Christian faith doesn’t exactly guarantee comfort. Yes, I am able to find security and peace of mind both in and through Jesus. However, at the times when I have felt the most comfortable, my relationship with Jesus isn’t quite what it’s supposed to be. If you’re one of the many Catholics who want to tell me your faith is so strong that you have never felt uncomfortable about your beliefs, I’d have to say that you’re not living the life Jesus intended you to live.
Before you rush off to the comment section or start frantically typing an email to question how long I’ve been a Christian, spend some time reviewing John 21. Jesus has already been crucified and risen from the dead. The apostles have been able to experience their risen Lord on more than one occasion. Still, I can’t help but believe they still felt a level of uncertainty. Life for them is not like it was before Jesus was arrested in the garden.
Up to that night, those following Jesus had to feel pretty secure in what they were being taught to believe. The Rabbi they had spent around three years with was performing miracles on a regular basis. When He spoke, the winds at sea would obey. Jesus had turned a few fish and some bread into enough to feed thousands of people. Whenever they needed Him, Jesus was right there to come to their rescue.
Searching for a new comfort
All of that was different now. Their Lord was no longer with them constantly, and they didn’t know what would happen to them next. They hid from the Jewish authorities in the upper room, anxious and uncertain. Sure, they had been able to see Jesus a few times here and there, but it wasn’t the same. They were expecting the Messiah to change the world they lived in as they knew it, to bring Israel to independence from Rome and a great earthly prosperity (see Acts 1:6). While Jesus did change the world and bring freedom and glory, His mission didn’t mean what everyone hoped it would.
In John 21:3, Peter does exactly what I think the majority of us would do today. Things haven’t turned out exactly like he’d imagined. He makes the decision to return to what he knew best before he began following Jesus. Peter tells the others, “I am going fishing.” He returns to what once provided him with the only comfort he knew.
While simply going fishing isn’t a sin, it’s a detour in the purpose God had for Peter and the disciples. It’s Peter saying to himself and others, “The plan didn’t turn out like we thought it would. I have to do something on my own to make the situation better for myself. I need to fix the mistake God made. I’m going to manufacture a level of comfort I’m unable to experience in His plan.”
Comfort vs. sanctification
I’ve gone on several of these “fishing trips” of my own since surrendering my life to Jesus in 2012. The majority of them have been accompanied by a case of beer and a new friend for a couple of weeks. Satan hasn’t had to put much effort into keeping me off track when I am unable to find the comfort I desire from my Bible or prayer life. Things normally spiral out of control quickly. I’m unable to find the feeling I expect God to fill me with. As a result, I do the best I can to create it on my own. In the end, I find myself further away from Jesus than I’ve ever been before. This is once how the story would end every time.
These experiences have shown me that we can’t make comfort the center of our lives. I’ve learned the hard way the lies and dishonesty that come with this kind of comfort. I think that’s one of the reasons we aren’t promised comfort every day of the rest of our lives once we become Christians: because, in this life, we cannot truly encounter God nor grow in grace without suffering. I doubt Jesus experienced much comfort while being nailed to and hanging from a piece of wood. St. Paul more than likely didn’t experience comfort while being locked away for his faith. Even the disciples went on to experience torture and deaths that were anything but comfortable.
Over time, I have finally been able to see lack of comfort in my own life for what it truly is: a means of experiencing Jesus in ways I never have before. It exposes a piece of my heart that has never experienced pain before to the elements around me, and so purifies and strengthens that piece. These seasons of life now enrich my prayer life instead of weakening it. You get to a point where you go through enough discomfort in life that you’re able to see it coming a mile down the road. Only when we are able to identify a lack of comfort as the passing trial it is are we finally able to experience the peace Jesus provides us with through every storm.