By Jason Hiles
Dean, College of Theology
We have experienced some unique challenges this year along with some unforeseen opportunities. On one hand we are facing a global pandemic, we just passed through a contentious election season, and we’re experiencing conflict from coast to coast. We’re also connecting by YouTube, Zoom, and phone at least as often as we are connecting in person these days. So, this isn’t exactly a normal year. I think it is safe to say that we are living well outside of our usual comfort zones.
Regardless, it is important not to lose sight of the many opportunities that also accompany difficult times. Comfort zones have a way of slowing growth and limiting us. Human nature seems to long for comfort, but once we’re comfortable we tend to avoid challenges by settling into familiar ways of thinking, living, and interacting with others. In fact, we rarely think of comfort zones as productive modes or a period of rapid growth or development because they rarely provide the kind of environment that fosters growth and development.
Interestingly, the Christian story begins in many ways with Jesus’ call to a handful of fishermen and a tax collector to step out of their comfort zones. He called the fishermen to leave behind the comfort of their fishing business. He called the tax collector to leave behind a dishonest but lucrative day job. In fact, he seemed to call just about everyone he encountered to leave behind their comfort zones in order to join him on an adventure that would change their lives and, in time, the entire world.
So, even though we haven’t had a comfortable year so far we can still look forward to seeing what God is doing during this unusual and uncomfortable time. He is at work all around us making all things new through Christ. Sometimes we just have to trust Him as he works in spite of the appearance that hope has been suspended. In other words, we have to exercise faith. In many ways, difficult circumstances should serve as a reminder that we don’t have to settle for what we can see. Instead, we can rely on the unseen God whose promises never fail.
During a season of disease, conflict, and controversy, it can be vital to slow down and reflect on the unique resources that the Christian worldview has to offer for times like these. In Matthew 13:44, Jesus describes the Kingdom of Heaven in terms of a treasure hidden in a field. In order to help his audience understand the value of the Kingdom in comparison to all else they might pursue, he tells a simple story of a man who discovers an immense treasure and then covers it up again. Then, “in his joy” that man goes off, sells all that he has, and buys the field in which his newly discovered treasure lies hidden.
The point is simple but profound. Once the man got past everything that obscured this prize he was able to recognize the all-surpassing value of something that he had not previously noticed or understood. He was filled with joy as he went away to cash out all he owned in an attempt to secure something that was far more precious than everything else he had acquired. In fact, he sold all he had gained up to that point in order to obtain the treasure buried in that field.
From the vantage point of one who does not yet grasp the worth of the Kingdom, the man’s sacrifice may seem irrational. But for the man who was able to clearly see, assess, and compare what he had with the prize hidden in the field, this was a joyful investment. It wasn’t actually a sacrifice for the man at all. In fact, he was willing to let go of everything to get his hands on the treasure because the exchange was exceptionally favorable once he understood what was waiting for him underneath all the dirt and the rocks.
As the famous missionary and martyr, Jim Elliott, once observed, “he is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” Many of the things that we cling to in hopes of enjoying comfort, security, and ease will not last. But what has been offered in Christ is of all-surpassing value. He offers us treasure that we cannot lose even if securing it feels like a sacrifice at many points.
In short, we can trust that the many Kingdom Treasures available to those who trust in Christ are sufficient for a life of faith, hope, and love during a time that is marked by suffering and strife. We may not always be able to rise above our circumstances in a way that allows us to be comfortable. But we can remain secure in the knowledge that Christ remains on the throne and everything is under His control even when they seem out of control to us. Indeed, times like these tend to shape us in intriguing ways.
The virtues of faith, hope, and love can be cultivated in our lives as we work through the various challenges of life. The cultural narrative is confusing at best. Nonetheless, some incredible resources are available to help us navigate the challenges of life for who are willing to dig into the resources available in Scripture.
Grace and peace,
Dean, GCU College of Theology & Seminary