I don’t know about you, but I frequently find myself losing in the daily battle with sin more often than I find myself winning. Sin discovers creative ways to rear its ugly head in my life, so I must be creative in my battle against it. Over the summer, the ladies in my church completed a ten-week study of Jerry Bridges’ book, The Pursuit of Holiness, and through it, the Lord urged me and continues to urge me to pursue holiness with a fresh method of “attack.” Bridges points out in his book that we must strive for holiness in very specific ways in order for our efforts to really stick and make a difference. In other words, if I just aim for holiness in a general sense but don’t specify the action I’ll take toward growing into the likeness of Christ, I tend to become overwhelmed and do nothing at all. Awhile back, I wrote about my continued efforts to purge excess social media from my life, which is one specific way I’m attempting to pursue holiness on this lifelong journey of sanctification. In keeping with this practice of constantly pursuing holiness in specific ways, my next battle is one that forces me to push myself to the limits: stepping out of my comfort zone.
My comfort zone in life is likened to my favorite chair where I can curl up with a blanket and sip a cup of hot coffee. It’s that place where I feel cozy, at ease, and – for lack of a better word – comfortable. I take comfort in the familiar: familiar places, familiar events, and especially familiar people. While stepping out into uncharted territory is thrilling to some, for me it’s intimidating and, at times, downright scary. As a former schoolteacher I’m very confident and relaxed with kids, but when it comes to talking with my peers I’m a shy person, not quick-witted or eloquent in speech, certainly not in face-to-face conversation, and definitely not with people I don’t know well. So when the Holy Spirit convicted me about my tendency to linger in my “happy place” surrounded by familiar people, I gritted my teeth and dug my feet into the ground. “Don’t touch my comfort zone!” I whined.
Thankfully, the Lord has since softened my heart regarding this issue, and I’m now excited about venturing out of my comfort zone to meet new people, to share the Gospel more freely, and to build deeper relationships with others. My aim in stepping out of my comfort zone is two-fold: 1) to grow in my relationships with other believers, especially those God has given me within my own church family, and 2) to boldly reach out to unbelievers who desperately need to hear of the grace and hope that can only be found in Jesus Christ.
Strengthening Relationships with Other Believers
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. ~Hebrews 10:24-25
By God’s grace, I already have several wonderful, meaningful relationships with wise, godly women in my church, but I had to ask myself if I was doing everything I could to cultivate new relationships within the body while also deepening the existing ones. Am I doing my best to engage in meaningful conversation with my brothers and sisters in Christ? Not small talk but genuine, heartfelt, honest conversation? Am I striving to be as hospitable as I can be? Am I redeeming the time by serving others as I should? Am I praying for others the way I ought? Am I seeking to pour into others or am I only seeking to be poured into? It’s so easy to get wrapped up in my own world and in my own family that I neglect to care for others as God calls me to. Not only that, but I often fail to observe those around me who are longing for meaningful relationships in their own lives. One of my favorite authors, Gloria Furman, notes that not every relationship we have within the church will be ten feet deep; some relationships will only be two inches deep. It’s just not possible to have a deep relationship with every person, and that’s okay. But I must still be intentional about building new relationships and strengthening the ones I already have, rather than camping out in my comfort zone, using busyness or motherhood as excuses for not reaching out to those around me. The body of Christ is a gift to believers, so may I prayerfully strive to be a good steward of God’s grace, contributing to the needs of the saints, seeking to show hospitality (Romans 12:13), confessing my sins to others, and praying for others daily (James 5:16).
Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace. ~1 Peter 4:8-10a
Reaching Out to Unbelievers
I saved this section for last because, frankly, it’s the area I’m lacking in most. As I said at the beginning of this post, I’ve always struggled with talking to unfamiliar people, and in recent history, I’ve let myself off the hook when it comes to evangelism, explaining it away by pointing out that God has given me a mission field in my very own home as I seek to share the Gospel with my son on a daily basis. Now I don’t want to minimize my responsibility to share the Gospel with my child, but there are also countless other people I come into contact with every day – in my neighborhood, at the local park, or walking through the grocery store – who desperately need to hear of God’s amazing grace too. (Not to mention, is there a clearer way my child could be shown the urgency and importance of Christ’s Gospel than for him to witness one of his parents share Christ with others?)
Jesus himself provides us with a wonderful example to follow when, in Luke 5:27-32, He eats with tax collectors and sinners as the Pharisees grumble and question His actions. If Christ sought to build relationships with unbelievers, shouldn’t I make it a priority to do the same? When we live lives of humility because of undeserved grace, when we care for others’ needs above our own, and when we demonstrate a genuine spirit of love through Christ, God’s glory is put on display, and in His sovereignty He will pierce stony hearts through His powerful Gospel message, even when it’s presented by a timid, stammering sinner like me. May our authentic love for others cause us to gain a listening ear so we might share the Gospel with a desperate world that doesn’t even know it’s desperate.
You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. ~Matthew 5:13-16
Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. ~2 Corinthians 5:20
Where Do We Go from Here?
Over the years I have come to realize that all of us have insecurities, even those who seem to have it all together. Everyone wants to be liked, and everyone wants to have friends, believers and unbelievers alike. It is my aim to be a better friend as I seek to be more intentional in my love and care for others, and I pray that God may be glorified through my efforts as new friendships are formed and existing ones are strengthened. I can’t just sit back, relax, and expect these things to happen on their own; staying in my comfort zone will never produce growth or change. What good is it if I take in knowledge but never take action? How unloving can I be to know the truth but not share it? Holiness requires hard work, and thankfully, God uses frail sinners to accomplish His purposes. So in my striving for deeper friendships and more meaningful discipleship, I am determined to step out of my comfort zone, even if that means starting uncomfortable conversations. After all, every cherished relationship begins with a simple, and sometimes awkward, hello.