Comfortable or Conformable

A letter or two can make a great deal of difference.

I was reading some devotional material and came to what my eyes registered as a common, familiar word. But context caused me to stop and look again.

Comfortable or conformable?

What difference does it make?

In spiritual things (and many others), the different is vast.

One is like a slow-acting poison that almost ensures our lack of growth. It is the most dangerous of luxuries and yet the default to which we cling. This limiting force entices us to thicken into spiritual couch potatoes.

The other reflects a softened lump of clay flung onto the potter’s wheel. It is that readiness to be remade, reshaped, rebuilt. It is a softness of heart, an eagerness of spirit, a submission of will that expects the result to be worth the process. This stretching  warm-up prepares us to become what we were made to be.

One is reflexive and soothing and a necessary part of our lives.

The other is often awkward and sometimes painful and also a necessary part of our spiritual lives.

Centuries ago a prophet by the name of Jeremiah was directed to walk down to the potter’s house and learn. While he watched the potter shape the lump of clay over and over until he was satisfied that it would fulfill its purpose, God helped Jeremiah see that he and you and I are just like that lump of clay. (Jeremiah 18.1-6)

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God’s intention for every follower of Jesus is to be “renewed after the image of its Creator.”(Colossians 3.10) That means that He intends to shape us more and more and more to be like Jesus.

So… does your life look more like you or like Jesus?

Right. Me too.

So there’s more work to be done in this transformation. And the reality that’s hard to accept is that very little growing happens when we are COMFORTABLE. It’s the same as the way that I can’t get in shape without doing uncomfortable things and things can’t be surgically repaired without being uncomfortable.

Let’s be frank about it. The only time our healthcare priority is making a patient comfortable is when there’s no more hope of healing treatment. It’s called palliative care.

Is it possible that many of us are spiritually resigned to just sit and remain comfortable? Are we ready for spiritual hospice?

There is just so much more to experience of God’s wonder and grace. And, to really get the most out of a lifelong journey with Him, we should strive tobe CONFORMABLE to His plan, yielded to His hands, like a moistened lump of clay upon the potter’s wheel.

A letter or two can make a great deal of difference.

Just nice.

Sometimes I find myself to be pathetically nice.

I try to drive politely. Behind the wheel I’m nice.

I will often insist someone else go first. In line I’m nice.

I attempt to hide my annoyance and smile politely at the server. In the restaurant I’m nice.

I will choose a parking spot further out and leave the close ones for those who really need them. In the parking lot I’m nice.

I know, I know, those are indications of attempting to simply be a decent human being. None of those things are bad. But they’re not necessarily good.

Song lyrics often lodge in my head like a piece of a popcorn kernel in my teeth. It’s been a while since I last watched it, but the bizarre work that is Sondheim’s “Into the Woods” contains a lyric, spoken by the witch, that has stuck in my craw for quite some time.

You’re so nice.

You’re not good.

You’re not bad.

You’re just nice.

They sting my heart as they roll onto the keyboard through my fingers.

She could be talking about me. I want to be good. I know that goodness is a fruit of the Holy Spirit within me. It is something that I want to cultivate. But I just can’t do it in my own strength.

These words haunt me because of the way I walk through life and interact politely with many people and perhaps even express legitimate concern for their well-being and may to a large degree commiserate with their problems… but I don’t even particularly look for something that I might do to make it better.

I’m not bad. I don’t look for ways to pile difficulty or troubles upon their heap of burden. I don’t kick them when they’re down. I don’t laugh or mock their pain. No, I’m not bad.

But I’m not good. I don’t step into their mess and walk with them through it. I don’t look around for some way of providing assistance, comfort, or aid. No, I’m not really good.

I’m just nice. I smile and nod and maybe break the tension with a silly comment or a surface commiseration. You know… just nice.

No, it’s not all the time. But, much of the time, I’m not bad and I’m not good. I’m just nice.

But I know the source of all comfort and assistance and aid. I talk with Him moment by moment and day by day. I spend hours studying His writings and seeking His guidance and encouraging His followers.

When I interact with someone and have the opportunity, even for a brief moment, to speak or share or point to joy and hope and I fail to do so… it’s worse than bad.

Something is lacking. Jesus told us that the world would recognize His followers by the love we demonstrate to others. He did not say they would recognize us because we’re nice. There is a difference.

But, God help me, sometimes I’m just nice.

Not bad.

Not good.

Just nice.

Blow the Dam

What if you suddenly realized that God has a desire to overflow your life with His grace?

If you are a follower of Jesus, then you probably suspect (even if you’re not really fully convinced just yet) that this is true.

I would go so far as to say that the entirety of Scripture is an expression of the unmerited favor of a holy and loving Creator for his fallen and unworthy creatures that will end in an eternal flood of His grace beyond our imagination.

That was kind of a thick, chewy sentence. Let’s try that again.

The Bible is all about God’s grace for broken people.

This morning I was reading in Brother Lawrence’s “The Practice of the Presence of God.” He suggests that God is eager to pour out His grace in every part of your life and mine. He paints a picture of a torrent or flood of God’s grace and favor that overflows the banks of our expectations and overruns our boundaries. (Fourth Letter)

I think he’s on to something.

I believe God’s holy desire is to flood every corner of your life with His grace—a grace that loves us unconditionally exactly as we are but loves too intensely to simply leave us as we are.

But we humans are dam builders.

Merriam-Webster Dictionary entry for “dam”

Do you see that? A dam is built to prevent the flow.

Is it possible that we have built dams around certain parts of our lives that prevent the free flow of God’s grace into that part of us?

Maybe it’s a relationship in which we are harboring bitterness or envy or hatred. Perhaps it’s an area of struggle or sin that we are unwilling to confess. It might even be some part of us that we are so very proud of that we hold only for our own fame.

And we have erected a dam that prevents the flow of the torrent of God’s grace into that area of life.

Can I tell you a secret?

His grace is better. I promise.

When we are willing to blow the dam, we find that we have been, like the little dutch boy, holding our finger in the hole or continually piling up sandbags to reinforce the dam… and when we just let go and let his very grace blow up the dam, we find the sweet, rejuvenating wonder of His grace pouring over us.

Come on, now. Blow the dam.

You’re not sure where it is? Ask Him to show you.

Then blow the dam.

Not sure how? Ask Him to show you.

Then blow the dam.

Let His unfettered grace infuse every part of you.

And in that unhindered flow you will find, as Peter called it, a “joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory.”

Am I really sure about this?

James seemed to be when he wrote, “But he gives more grace.” (James 4.6) How much? More. More than what? Yes. More.

Am I sure that there is really more grace than my sin? I am a pretty big sinner. But Paul taught me that “where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.” (Romans 5:20)

It really is true. As John testified of Jesus:

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth… For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. (John 1.14, 16)

Like flood waters piling above and beyond, so His grace abounds.

So blow the dam and let grace flow.