What comforts do you desire? Do you desire a temperature-controlled house? Do you desire a predictable, relaxed, stable, forty-hour-a-week job? Do you desire heated seats in your SUV? Do you desire cushy, padded seats at church? Do you desire a lightning fast computer? Do you desire clean, private restrooms? None of these things are bad things. Comfort, in general, isn’t a bad thing. It can serve to keep us healthy in many ways.
But as I evaluate my own life experiences, I observe that some of the greatest joy I’ve experienced has been during times when I’ve been the least comfortable. I experienced joy during the service-oriented trips with my high school youth group that I reluctantly attended. I experienced joy when I moved up from C league to B league in hockey. I experienced joy when I gave up my stable jobs and started my own business. I experienced joy when I gave up the comforts of Churchianity and became a missionary to the people of Findlay. Isn’t that ironic? Comfort, the very thing in which many of us trust to provide us with joy, actually seems to be robbing us of it. Let’s take a closer look.
Sandbaggers Lack Joy
Sandbagger: A player who deliberately misrepresents and downplays his ability in order to derive an advantage over his opponents. Those of you who have played recreational sports are all too familiar with these people. They find their way into lower-skilled divisions because it’s more comfortable to play there than to be pushed outside of their comfort zones in higher-skilled divisions.
Personally, I’ve played in a few recreational hockey games where my skills were quite obviously superior to the skills of the people on the other team. Honestly, those games weren’t much fun for me. I can remember one in particular where I scored a breakaway backhand shot to the top corner of the net and we handily won the game. You would’ve thought I was overjoyed with the outcome, but as I drove home that night, I felt very dissatisfied.
Why? What was wrong with me? Wasn’t the level of comfort I felt in that game, the sweet goal I scored, and the win my team achieved supposed to give me joy? Why did I still feel dissatisfied?
Conversely, in the summer of 2015, I played on a team where I was one of the least-skilled players on the ice. We lost every single game that season and I struggled to get on the scoreboard, yet I experienced a lot of joy.
Sounds counterintuitive, doesn’t it? We would think that the more we stay in our comfort zones, the more joy and satisfaction we would experience. Yet it seems to be just the opposite. It seems that the greatest joy is found when we’re taken outside of our comfort zones.
I’ve discovered that this same principle applies throughout every area of my life. When I’ve been challenged to step outside of the comfort zone of my temperature-controlled house, stable job, and padded seat, the floodgates of joy opened around me.
God’s Role in Our Joy
I would fail to paint the entire picture here if I failed to share about God’s role in our joy. Yes, I think there is a level of joy which can be found when we overcome challenging situations. But personally, the greatest amount of joy I’ve experienced has come during times when I’ve been completely dependent on God to bring me through my challenging situations, including the strength he’s provided me to play hockey at a higher level.
I’ve heard many Christians, even in the last week, say, “God won’t give us more than we can handle.” First of all, that’s not what the Bible says. It actually says:
For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.
In this passage, Paul was explaining that he was burdened beyond his strength. In other words, he was given more than he could handle. But then he goes on to say that the reason he was given more than he could handle was so that he could rely on God and his strength rather than on his own strength.
And second, if Paul’s experiences are similar to those of other people, which I think they are, then it wouldn’t be in our best interest for God to allow us to continue living in our comfort zones. Paul experienced great joy in his life, even though he went through more hardship than anyone can personally handle. He survived being stoned, was flogged five times, was beaten with rods three times, was shipwrecked three times, and was in constant danger. Do you think that was more than he could handle? Of course it was. But as he wrote in his letter to the Corinthian church, by facing all these hardships, he was forced to rely on God to get him through them. And it was in the process of relying on God that he found joy in God.
When we live in our comfort zones, we have no need for God. Why would we if we can do it all on our own strength? But doing things on our own strength only gives us, at best, a minimal amount of joy. It promises to completely satisfy us, but it fails every time. It’s when we trust in God’s strength to make it through and then watch him come through that we experience great amounts of joy.
Don’t let comfort continue to rob you of joy. Let God take you out of your comfort zone, watch what he can do, and soak in the joy that can be found in him.
Have you experienced this contrast between comfort and joy? In what ways might God be calling you out of your comfort zone so that he can give you more joy in him?
 2 Corinthians 1:8-9.
 2 Corinthians 11:23-29.