I think it's easy for us to get comfortable in life.
Comfort zones can be danger zones, though. When we get comfortable, we tend to become self-centered. We take things and people for granted. We stop giving. We start taking. We become proud. And God's not a fan of our stagnation, and He tends to only let us stay comfortable for so long before He begins to create some friction in our lives. Gently, at first, and then with increasingly more force as we stubbornly hold on to what we believe we need and have a right to - whether that's a certain emotional state of being, a particular relationship, an orderly set of circumstances, or even a way of thought and belief that is comfortable to us.
Our response to these disruptions reveals our heart. The right response is surrender to what God doing, trusting Him, and being obedient even in the hard things. When we surrender, we grow. We change. We become strengthened emotionally, relationally, and spiritually.
But often we respond negatively, with anger, resentment, and a stubborn refusal to change. That's when things tend to get bad, because God often has to use pain to motivate us to change, as most of refuse to budge until the pain of staying the way we are is greater than the pain of change.
Jonah is an example of someone who had a very clear comfort zone in life, and when God began to challenge him, he responded in anger. His desperation to maintain control over his life and choices made him emotionally unstable and ultimately estranged from God.
I'm excited to share this study on Jonah with you. it's one of my favorite lessons to teach. And yes, I know, I'm breaking the cardinal rule of blogging by publishing an article that's over 1,300 words - but I felt like it would be worth it.
I recommend you pull your Bible out and follow along. For the sake of time and space, I'll only be including key verses as we go through. Start with reading the book (it's just 4 chapters) to familiarize yourself with the story.
I love mysteries!
And I hate mysteries.
And if I had to guess, I’d venture to say you’re in the same boat with me.
Allow me to explain.
My favorite genre of fiction happens to be suspense/mystery. I love them. Mysteries are a perfect escape from reality for me. I like not knowing what's going to happen next, and I love trying to figure out what happens next anyway, and of course, trying to guess "whodunit." Maybe reading isn’t your thing – but perhaps crime dramas are a go-to for you. I think media trends to show that we, the people, love mysteries.
In real life, however, I have a much harder time getting excited about not knowing what's around the bend. It's far too easy for me to find myself anxious, and often fearful, about anything from what's going to happen when I call this person, to what's going to happen over the course of the year – or beyond. When I don't have a grasp on what to expect or what's going to happen, it doesn't matter how big or small the situation is, I just plain don't like it.
Until my own recent struggle, I don’t think I realized just how far-reaching fear can become, not only personally, but how my internal fears can begin to affect my relationships in significant ways. I think we’re all guilty of acting in fear in our relationships – I just think we don’t generally notice until it becomes out of control and is seen more in the results of deep depression, desperate behavior, and a pattern of broken relationships.
It’s often not too difficult to look back and see where we did things the wrong way, acted in fear, and where things got off track. Unfortunately, it’s much harder to fix the problems when we’ve reached that point. It is not, however, impossible. It simply requires much humility and a determination to let God become our focus rather than people, and let love control our actions, not fear.
One of those sins that Christians tend to address as "minor," "little," and "unimportant," fear is often deemed unnecessary to address. We don't see it as a big deal, so we just ignore it, hoping it’ll go away. Unfortunately, though, as time goes on, fear not only doesn’t disappear – it actually grows. Before too long, the “little” sin is now the BIG sin that has begun to push us around and is grasping for control over every part of our lives.
I think part of the struggle we have to take fear seriously starts with the fact that fear in and of itself may not be a problem. Fear is a God-given emotion. The danger is found in what we’re fearing and how we respond to that fear.
What you think about is more important you may realize.
On the surface, we all know this. But it’s what’s lurking below the surface that’s the most dangerous. It’s those thoughts we don’t even realize we’re thinking. The things we don’t know we’re telling ourselves. The initial fears and doubts that run through our minds so fast that we’ve emotionally and physically reacted before we even realized what was happening.
The more I consider the power of fear in my life and in the lives of those I’ve worked with over the years, the more convinced I am that fear is the single most underestimated tool in the Enemy’s arsenal. I believe that’s why, in Revelation 21:8, the first quality noted of those thrown into the Lake of Fire are the fearful (http://biblehub.com/greek/1169.htm).
But there’s one another tool that has been huge in my life — it’s so simple, but so challenging. It’s something I recommend for homework with many of my counselees and students. However, because it’s so simple, and also so challenging, not many follow through long enough to see the benefit. And to be totally honest with you, there are many times when I myself didn’t see the benefit. Times when I stopped for a while. In fact, there was a period of over a year where I failed to do this. And I noticed the effect most profoundly when I found my notebook from 2014 just a few months ago.
I don’t remember a lot of the details, but I do remember that 2014 had a lot of ups and downs, as tends to happen in life. But as I flipped through this notebook, all I saw were the highlights; and all I remembered was the closeness I had with the Lord during that time; the answers to prayer I was receiving; the joy and the peace I felt. It was my gratitude notebook.
In verses 18-21, we see this contrast very sharply: “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads
to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
Oh, to find escape! Escape doesn’t have to be drunkenness; it could be blowing all your money shopping, or destructive eating habits, or any other excessive behavior we indulge in hoping
to numb ourselves. I understand the temptation to run, to hide. To give in to life.
But we who know and love Christ don’t have to hide anymore. He has given us everything
we need through our relationship with him to overcome whatever life may throw at us.
We just need to be focused on him, not the problems. We do this by submitting to authority,
by being thankful to God, talking about spiritual things, and singing to the Lord. These are all things that are challenging to us because they go against our flesh and what feels good in the moment; rather, they require us to choose faith, choose delayed gratification, and deny our flesh. The result is wonderful; I can’t explain it to you, though. You’ll have to try it for yourself.
You can’t give in to doubt and fear when you’re praising God and being thankful. Music was
one of the most powerful tools in my life over this past year to help me to focus on God instead of my problems, on His power instead of my weakness.
The hurt and pain of the past year is still very real and present in my life. I don’t intend to go
in-depth with the trials of this year. However, I thought I’d share some of the pivotal moments
in my life over the past year and the songs that helped me to stay thankful, stay focused,
and stay the course.
2017 was a hard year for me; my hardest yet.
I have had to rely on everything I’ve learned and been taught in my life; things that I have known since I was a child, yet, up until this year, had little opportunity to put in to practice.
Were it not for the grace of God, I would not be writing this.
I would not be at peace.
I would not have joy.
I would not be okay.
But God is gracious.
He gives us so many great gifts to help us in our times of need and struggle in life.
God is our refuge and strength,
A very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear,
Even though the earth be removed,
And though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea;
Though its waters roar and be troubled,
Though the mountains shake with its swelling.
There is a river whose streams shall make glad the city of God,
The holy place of the tabernacle of the Most High.
God is in the midst of her, she shall not be moved;
God shall help her, just at the break of dawn.
The nations raged, the kingdoms were moved;
He uttered His voice, the earth melted.
The LORD of hosts is with us;
The God of Jacob is our refuge.
Come, behold the works of the LORD,
Who has made desolations in the earth.
He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
He breaks the bow and cuts the spear in two;
He burns the chariot in the fire.
Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!
The LORD of hosts is with us;
The God of Jacob is our refuge.
I love this Psalm. Did you know that the Lord of Hosts is Jesus?
The same One who spoke with Abraham as a friend.
The same One who was with the three Hebrew children in the fire.
The same One who wrestled Jacob, who finally conquered him.
He is our defender. He does great and mighty things. He destroys armies. He stops people
in their tracks. He makes all things work together for our good.
Why, then, do we give in to fear?
Fear, my dad once said, reveals that we are walking by sight.
And I think, sometimes, we forget that during those times, while waiting for deliverance,
waiting for freedom, waiting for healing, they were doing just that — waiting. They did not know the end of the story. They did not yet see God’s intervention. They didn’t know how he was going to work things out for their good, how he was going to fulfill his promise to them.
So they waited.
Some waited well. They “strengthened themselves in the Lord,” as David did in 1 Samuel 30. They fixed their eyes on the Lord rather than their circumstances, they chose to trust him,
not their emotions, and they were determined to walk by faith, not by sight.
Others waited, well, badly. They focused on their pain. They focused on their circumstances. They took matters into their own hands, afraid that God would fail them. And the results
always proved tragic. The deliverance was delayed, their relationships damaged, and often, their testimonies tarnished.
I want to wait well.
In a word: passionate.