New Year, Same Fear? The Fear of Being Uncomfortable
Who doesn’t like things to be easy? I’m not sure if I’ve ever met anyone who wakes up and thinks, “I hope whatever I do today is really hard and challenging.” Sure, some people like a good challenge occasionally, but most of us crave comfort. Now, I know some people resolve to take a step outside their comfort zone in the new year, and while intentions may be good, we still find ourselves back in our comfortable spaces or maintaining the familiar.
There isn’t anything wrong with being comfortable. Being comfortable can be a good thing. On those cold winter nights, being warm and comfortable in your home is a good thing—a blessing. But comfortability becomes a problem when it makes us independent from God. A good example would be a certain guy in scripture who ended up in the belly of a giant fish. He can show us why our fear of being uncomfortable might actually be holding us back from experiencing God’s sovereignty and grace in our lives.
If you’re unfamiliar with the story of Jonah, let me get you up to speed. When we first meet Jonah, he’s given a word from the Lord to go to the city of Nineveh and call them out for their wicked ways. But we quickly find out Jonah wanted nothing to do with that. Now, scripture doesn’t specifically tell us that Jonah didn’t go to Nineveh because the thought of it made him uncomfortable. However, in my life, when I immediately refuse something, it’s usually for one of two reasons: I can’t afford it or it’s outside of my comfort zone. I’m assuming it’s the latter for Jonah. Here’s why: Jonah hated the people of Nineveh. So, why would he want to go to a land full of people he hated instead of staying nice and comfortable in his hometown? The obvious answer is that God told him to. But like Jonah, how often is God nudging us to step outside our comfort zone and our response is to do the opposite? My guess is more often than we’d like to admit.
So, what happens next? Jonah finds himself in the belly of a giant fish for three days. I find it humorous that Jonah ran away because of a situation that would have made him uncomfortable, only to wind up in one of the most uncomfortable situations one could be in. But from that situation, Jonah cries out to God with one of the most relatable and truthful prayers in scripture [Jonah 2]. And in his discomfort, Jonah remembers God’s goodness. Sometimes, God takes away our comforts to remind us of who He is and what He’s done for us.
Immediately following Jonah’s prayer, God speaks to the fish and it “vomits Jonah onto dry land.” Jonah then heads to Nineveh. After sharing a word from God with the city, which can be summed up as “your town is going to be destroyed because you haven’t repented,” they repent, God has mercy and compassion for them, and their city is saved. Now, we pick up the story in Jonah 4:5-9:
“Jonah went out of the city and sat to the east of the city and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, till he should see what would become of the city. Now the Lord God appointed a plant and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be a shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort. So Jonah was exceedingly glad because of the plant. But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the plant, so that it withered. When the sun rose, God appointed a scorching east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint. And he asked that he might die and said, ‘It is better for me to die than to live.’”
Let’s be honest here. Jonah is being dramatic. We’ve all been there. I know there are countless times where I dramatically said I’d rather die than fill in the blank. But you must remember that Jonah hated the people of Nineveh. Even though he still went and did what God asked him to do, he essentially went to the top of a hill to watch their city implode—to prove God wrong. So, what does God do? He gives Jonah comfort, a gift to remind him of who is ultimately in control. He provides him shade, and scripture tells us that Jonah was exceedingly glad. He was comfortable again. But the minute God removes his so-called “comfort blanket,” Jonah becomes dramatic and would rather die than be the least bit uncomfortable. Why? Because, yet again, his focus shifted away from understanding God’s provision in his life.
Let’s see God’s response picking up in verse nine:
“But God said to Jonah, “Do you do well to be angry for the plant?” And he said, “Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die.” And the Lord said, “You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons?”
Jonah didn’t even realize that the plant keeping him comfortable was a gift from the same God who delivered him from the belly of a giant fish. How often do we do the same?
I share this story to remind you that comfort is a momentary thing. Writer and blogger Meredith Hodge says, “Comfort can even be unhelpful.” Why? Because it can be used as a crutch to prevent us from seeing God’s goodness on display in our lives and in the world around us.
It’s a new year; don’t let the fear of being uncomfortable hold you back from the incredible opportunities God has for you. Go on that short-term mission trip. Talk to that person about Jesus. And don’t let your comfort prevent you from relying on God.