I love my comfort zone. It’s familiar and safe and I would live there if I could. I also know that it is not where I grow as a person and a follower of Jesus.
For many months now we have been hearing this phrase - ‘going deeper’ and asking what it looks like to go deeper with God (up), with each other (in) and with our wider community (out). I believe that part of this is learning to step away from what is safe and familiar, being willing to take risks and step out towards Jesus and who He calls us to be.
(As a side note – I don’t think that we are called to live outside our comfort zones 24/7 – I think that as well as being called to step out, we are also called to step in - into all that our father has for us, that includes peace, restoration and knowing deeply His unchanging love for us – but perhaps that’s another blog!)
This year I have started reading the ‘Bible in One Year’ plan and I have found myself drawn to stories of those who met Jesus and pursued Him with a ‘no risk, no reward’ attitude.
The woman who reached for Jesus’ cloak in a crowd and receives healing. (Matt 9:21)
Zacchaeus, the tax collector who climbed a tree just to see Jesus and we are told ‘salvation came to his house’. (Luke 19:9)
The friends who lower their paralysed friend through the roof of a house, and, when Jesus saw their faith, he was healed. (Luke 5:20)
The sinful woman who pours perfume on Jesus’ feet receives forgiveness because of the love she had shown Him (Luke 7:48)
I have no doubt that these acts required stepping out. The risk was great, often defying laws and customs of the time and inviting the judgement of officials and neighbours in the community. But the reward was a transformational moment with Jesus.
But these people also had a sense of the reward before they took the risk. They had such faith in Jesus that they would be healed, that He would bring transformation in their life – that it was worth the risk. Risking ridicule or hardship was worth it, knowing what Jesus offered them.
In my own life, I find it very easy to be held back by what I think others think, that I often wonder if I am missing opportunities to engage with Jesus and be transformed by Him. I am reminded of Narnia when Mr Beaver speaks about Aslan; “Safe? He’s not safe. But he’s good”. God is good all the time. We know this, yet we still let fear hold us back.
So, how do we overcome fear and step out?
The fear we feel is not unwarranted, we are being called out of the boat (our comfort zone) and onto the water (our ‘discomfort zone’) (Matt 14:29). However, if our focus is on the one who is calling us, He honours our obedience and He is the one who will stop us from sinking.
Be willing to make mistakes
I am always encouraged by Peter’s failure in taking his eyes off Jesus moments after he stepped out of the boat (Matt 14:30). In fact, I’m encouraged by Peter’s general willingness to try things and make mistakes. In Matthew’s gospel, Peter is mentioned in 24 verses. In 11 of them he is doing or saying the wrong thing. Let’s get comfortable with making mistakes for the right reasons (and other people doing the same). I am convinced that Jesus transforms our lives when we choose to be vulnerable with Him and one another.
Be intentional: Choose to step out
It is about choice. Having a ‘no risk, no reward’ attitude in the knowledge that the reward - an encounter with Jesus, getting closer to Him (our ultimate calling) - is worth the risk of stepping out of what is safe and cannot leave us unchanged.
I am a pragmatic sort of person and I love to journal – it helps me to process my thoughts and turn them into concrete thinking. So I thought I’d offer an exercise as we come to think more about going deeper in the context of ‘up, in and out’.
I invite you to reflect upon your own comfort zones and write down your thoughts using the diagram here. The green area represents your comfort zone, the things you can do easily without challenge. The amber area, represents the things you could do if you were feeling bold, if the environment were ‘right’ or you were particularly encouraged. The red area represents the things that feel too challenging for you right now or require different skills and gifts to carry out.
Do this exercise 3 times, firstly thinking about your own relationship with God (‘up’). Asking questions such as: Could I be bolder in my prayers? Could I be more free in worship? Could I devote more time to getting into God’s word? Etc. Ask God to show you how He wants to grow your relationship.
Secondly, thinking about our relationship with each other (‘in’). Asking questions such as: Could you invite someone to dinner? Say hello to someone new? Sit next to someone new? Etc. Ask God to show you how you can love others better.
Thirdly, thinking about our relationship with our friends outside of church and wider community (out). Asking questions such as: Could I invite someone to Alpha? Could I tell someone I am a Christian? Could I share what I did last Sunday? Am I being called to help with/start a new ministry? Etc. Ask God to put people on your heart and show you how to reach them.
As you look over your reflections, pray over them, ask God to help you to intentionally stretch your comfort zones in each of these areas.
Finally, I encourage you to share your plans with your life group. There is nothing like being held to account and being supported with prayer and encouragement to help you as you step out and go deeper.