There is no doubt that what has happened to us as a Church over these last couple of months due to the COVID Crisis has pushed us out of our comfort zone. We have not been able to do and be church in the ways that we have been familiar and if we are honest, comfortable with. As a church leadership, we have been faced by a procession of problems in thinking about not just how we function as a church but also how we will survive this crisis as a church. There have been times when I have been annoyed, even angry, with God for this situation pushing us out of ways of doing and being church that I have to confess I was comfortable with.

I don’t know where the idea came from, for its certainly not in Scripture, but many of us, and as I have just confessed, I have to include myself in this, seem to believe that God exists to make us comfortable. Subconsciously we imagine and treat God like Hudson, the butler from “Upstairs, Downstairs” or maybe to make it more contemporary, Carson the butler from Downton Abbey . Butlers are there to be at people’s  beck and call and constantly work to make their employers lives comfortable and pleasant.

 The problem for us is that God refuses to play the part of being our butler. He refuses to make our comfort as his disciples or church his main priority.  He is so much more interested in His mission and our character than our comfort. God’s agenda, from what I can understand, never involves allowing us to slip into the self-satisfied stupor of only doing that which is easily achievable in our own strength. All of that came back to me recently as I read these words in a book by Eugene Peterson about Jeremiah.

“There was a memorable passage concerning Jeremiah’s life when, worn down by the opposition and absorbed by self pity, he was about to capitulate to just such a premature death. He was ready to abandon his unique calling from God and settle for being a Jerusalem statistic”

I think in that sentence Peterson nails the problem in so many churches, in so many church leaders, in so many church members and in my life. We seem to have an inbuilt tendency to

“settle for being … ”

We allow God to take us to a certain level and then we settle for that,

we settle for the familiar,

we settle for what we are comfortable with,

we settle for what we can achieve easily,

we settle for what doesn’t require sacrifice

we settle for what won’t upset people,

we settle for what we know,

we settle for what is safe

we settle for what we know how to achieve with the resources we already have

This current crisis is taking away from us probably as individuals, but certainly as a church, the option to “SETTLE FOR BEING.” Change for us as a church is no longer a possibility its now a necessity.

The Special Air Service is said to be the toughest military force in the world. I remember watching a documentary about their training methods and hearing one officer saying what they were looking for went beyond physical strength. What the SAS really looks for is mental strength, the ability to embrace new challenges and to being willing to be constantly stretched, physically, emotionally and intellectually. Apparently, one of the main tests is that prospective recruits are faced with ever more difficult challenges one after another, those who relish the next challenge make it and those who complain that they have just completed a difficult task, are RTUd (returned to unit).

I must admit that in the middle of this current Covid Crisis there have been times when I have felt like an SAS recruit who should have been RTUd on several occasions. When our current situation has confronted us with another new challenge I have complained to God that we have just completed the last one which was difficult enough. I have longed to go back to the comfortable and familiar ways of doing things.

 I wonder if that is what happened to Jeremiah? he had kept going, kept rising to the challenges God had laid before him but then one day he just wanted to be left alone, he wanted things to be comfortable again. It was at that point that, when Jeremiah was scunnered (that’s fed up and bit depressed if you don’t speak Scots) that God issued this challenge …

5 “If racing against mere men makes you tired,

how will you race against horses?

If you stumble and fall on open ground,

what will you do in the thickets near the Jordan?

Jeremiah 12:5 (New Living Translation)

Jeremiah, the Lord says, if you think what I have just called on you to do has been hard, that’s just the equivalent of “racing against men,” how on earth will you cope with what I have in mind for your future, which is to “race against horses?”

I have spent a bit of time this week thinking about this verse. Its been an unsettling process.

 Here is where I am in my thinking:

THE FUTURE IS GOING TO BE CHALLENGING NOT COMFORTABLE …. As I said God isn’t interested in allowing us to slip into the comfortable mediocrity of the familiar, of doing only what we know we can easily do. I can come to no other conclusion than that to follow God is to embark on a life of challenge and adventure, even danger, even the danger of failure. God constantly stretches us, if we can run against men then he will call on us to race horses.

 It feels like through what we are facing right now the Lord is forcing us from our limpet like hold to “our comfort zone” and into the “challenge zone” It feels like we are being confronted by situations and challenges that are making it increasingly clear that our future is going to involve “racing against horses.” That is trying to do the humanly implausible or impossible. The future of Westlake doesn’t seem to contain the option of going back to “racing against men” Going back to what we know how to do and can easily achieve.   I am starting to realise that while this future of “racing horses” won’t be easy it will mean a life of being so much more alive than the alternative which is the existence of the easily achievable just, “racing against men?”

GOD SEES OUR POTENTIAL BETTER THAN WE DO … I am pretty sure that Jeremiah was happy metaphorically “racing against men” He knew what he was capable of and what he could achieve. But “racing horses?” I am equally sure he didn’t think he had the potential to rise to the kind of challenge that involved. The Lord was equally sure he could. God saw much more clearly Jeremiah’s potential than Jeremiah did. So it is with all of us. Its easy to see all of our weaknesses and problems as a church but God sees our potential. He believes in us, otherwise he wouldn’t challenge us to “race against horses” to do the apparently impossible. He gave us the Holy Spirit at Pentecost to give us the potential to do the humanly impossible. Who would have believed that that rag tag groups of 120 women, former fishermen, roman collaborators, and those generally from the margins of Jewish society empowered by the Spirit would “run with horses” and literally change the world?

God doesn’t call us to a future full of challenges, to keep us humble through failure and frustration but because he sees in us the potential to do what he is calling us to do. After all, as we just noted, he put the potential there in the first place! God seems to delight in surprising his people with what they can achieve when they rise to the challenge of partnering with Him and race against horses.

So right at the moment if you, like me, have been  feeling discouraged and overwhelmed by the enormity and difficulty of what seems to lie ahead for us, remember this, its not just that we believe in God but that  God believes in us.  He believes in our potential, he believes like Jeremiah, we have the potential to go beyond the easily achievable and “race against horses” and make our way through “the thickets near the Jordan”  That means to make it through all the problems and difficulties we will face and do what we could never have dared to believe we could if the Lord had not challenged us to race against horses.

I am up for the race, how about you? Time to get our running shoes on Westlake and surprise some horses!

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