During the fourth watch of the night Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. Matthew 14:25
Surrounding almost every major city in the world is a circle or ring of highways that facilitate the flow of traffic. Some are called beltways, others traffic rings, or whatever. They are intersected by roads which go to the very heart of the city and, of course, lead away from it in the opposite direction. They serve a function and purpose, allowing people to move back and forth without having to go through the heart of the city or going very far away from it at the same time.
My wife suggests that the people who travel them are much like planets that orbit around the sun, a comfortable distance away without getting too close or too far away at the same time. I’ve been thinking that a lot of people are like that in relationship to God. They don’t want to be too far away from Him, but neither do they want to get so close that He can easily get to them. A comfort zone is OK. After all, it’s good to be on the side of God, motherhood, and the saints, but just don’t get carried away with this business of religion, anyway.
By His life and mission, Jesus demonstrated that God’s purpose was not to allow us to live and eventually die a comfortable distance from Him, but to bring us into a place of intimacy, to cut across the comfort zone we had established and to bring us into a place of fellowship. Intimacy—be it spiritual or personal—is frightening to many people who prefer to keep everybody—God included—at a certain distance.
And why are we afraid of getting too close to God, or letting Him get too close to us? There are three clusters of fear which keep us on the spiritual beltway—neither too close nor too far away.
Fear #1: You can never really please God, so why try? For you this may not be a challenge, but a lot of folks—especially those who have had parents whose expectations were never completely met—think they can never be good enough, or spiritual enough for God to receive them and fully love them. They are the ones who always struggle with spiritual complexes, always sensing guilt and failure.
Fear #2: Allowing God to get close to you means that you are going to lose control. The issue of “who is in charge” keeps lots of people on a spiritual beltway. This way, they don’t have to make a total commitment. Yes, they want to be close enough to get God’s attention when things get desperate but not so close that they can’t occasionally make a spiritual detour.
Fear #3: God may ask you to do something you don’t like or send you somewhere you don’t want to go. Like what? Like drinking vinegar, or remaining celibate and single, or going to a distant country as a missionary, or inviting your neighbor to go to church with you.
These, of course, are fears which are irrational and without foundation because God is a loving Father who wants the best for you—not a cosmic kill-joy who considers the degree of your suffering to be the measure of your dedication.
When you understand who God is and how great is His desire to have fellowship with you, you quickly abandon the beltway of comfort and strive to move towards the presence of the Almighty.
The words of an old English hymn go, “If I but knew thee as Thou art, O loveliness unknown, with what desire my lonely heart would claim thee for its own.” It’s still true. To know God’s desire to have fellowship with you helps us to move out of the comfort zone and reach out to Him.
Resource Reading: Psalm 34:1-8