This is an adaptation of a talk I did yesterday.
I want to start with a question. When are you comfortable? It might be a when, it might be a where. But I just want you to picture when, or where you are comfortable. When we are comfortable we are in a place where we feel safe, where we don’t necessarily want to move from, possibly with people who we know and who know us.
The dictionary definition of comfortable is providing physical ease and relaxation. With synonyms including cosy, snug, pleasant, enjoyable, agreeable. I’ve just spent a few days over half term in Birmingham with my parents. I am always comfortable at home, there’s no pressure to be anyone or do anything. There’s not always a huge amount of conversation, but there doesn’t need to be. I relax when I go home. It was exactly what I needed to refresh and Relax ready for another term at school.
My husband can get very comfortable sitting on the sofa, or in bed. Quite often he will suddenly shout out and jump up.
Imagine a 6ft 7 bloke sitting quietly and suddenly jumping and shouting!
When this first happened I got quite scared, and asked him in quite a panicked voice, “what? what’s wrong?” to which the response was… “nothing. I just needed to get up!” I was close to hitting him. I’ve gradually got used to it! But for him, he just needed something to snap him out of his comfort!
When we are comfortable we can go on automatic pilot, not necessarily paying attention to what is happening, we just are. And sometimes we need something to snap us out of it. That may be us, that may be someone else, it may be a completely external force.
Over the last 18 months my life has become almost unrecognisable from what it was. I was comfortable. I was in a job I’d been doing for 8 years, surrounded by friends, living a life that seemed to meet my purposes, going to a church I’d been going to since I was at uni. I was comfortable.
Comfortable doesn’t necessarily mean happy. Comfortable doesn’t necessarily mean productive. I was definitely on automatic pilot. I did what I did because it was what I did. Not particularly for any purpose or meaning, it was just what I did! There was nothing wrong with what I was doing, but…
As I look back, I realise that I had been nudged a couple of times previously, but that was the equivalent of pressing the snooze button. It interrupted the comfort momentarily but it didn’t take much to hide back under the covers.
But May 2014 was the turning point. I was meeting with a friend at work, who said I think you need to move church. This was a lightbulb moment. Something clicked, it made sense. I got home spoke to Gav, who said he’d been thinking about it for a while. This was not a decision we made lightly, or quickly. After all the Church had been a big part of our lives for so long, the husband grew up there, we met there, we got married there, our friends were there. We chatted to numerous people, we prayed a lot, we visited churches. And in September 2014 we started going to our new church.
I was no longer comfortable, I had very much been taken out of my comfort zone. I had to make an effort to get to know people (not my strongest point) when the husband was at work I had to go on my own, I had to walk to the other side of the city (at the time a feat in itself). The church was in the middle of an interregnum with a new mission priest about to join. I was uncomfortable, but… I knew it was where we were meant to be.
The biggest difference over the past 18 months is that I have started listening to God. The problem when I was comfortable was that I didn’t feel the need to listen, to make the time, I think… If I’m completely honest I was scared. I like to do things properly, therefore when I’m doing things, I like to do things that I know. If I have to do something new, I may fail, or get something wrong, not something I can deal with particularly well. Therefore let’s stick with what I know, and with comfort.
The problem is of course, God. God was not going to give up on me. He nudged and nudged but in the end he needed to give me a right Royal kick up the backside.
As a teacher I like to give illustrations! Let’s think about wind-up toys. With wind-up toys, you wind them up and then they keep going until…they wind down and stop… Or, if they are on a table, until they fall off the edge… Or until someone picks them up, winds them up, and turns them around.
I was like that wind-up toy, I was definitely close to winding down to a stop, and if I’m completely honest I was scarily close to the edge. God had tried to put obstacles to change my direction but I got round… But… Just as I was coming close to winding down, close to the edge God got in there picked me up, wound me up, and turned me to face the correct direction.
I think quite often when we talk about listening to God we feel a pressure. Feel that it is something that we have to discern for ourselves. This is what scared me. But the more I’ve listened the more I’ve realised that this is not something we do on our own. I’ve recently had the opportunity to explore the concept of vocation. And I looked at all the stories of people in the bible who are renowned for having listened to God, stories that could be deemed as cornerstones of our faith, quite intimidating to say the least. Moses, Samuel, Jonah, Mary, Jesus, Paul.
But as I read the infamous stories that I had read numerous times before, I realised that these people didn’t just hear God, there was a process, there was often a refusal, and quite often other people had a fundamental role to play..
Let’s take Samuel. This was the one that really spoke to me. Samuel kept hearing God, but he kept thinking that it was Eli. It was Eli who, eventually realised that it was God calling him. So he gave Samuel the instruction to respond saying “here I am Lord,”. If Eli hadn’t recognised God, would Samuel have said those infamous words?
God speaks to us all differently. Some people are able to hear God and know that it is God, and know exactly what He is saying. I may be wrong here, but I think that that is actually a minority of people. For many God speaks to us, where we are and through those we are with.
God was always speaking to me, but I wasn’t listening. Eventually God used a friend to tell me exactly what I needed to hear. He did what He needed to do. I didn’t take what that friend told me and change everything, but I did take the time to listen to God and work out whether what my friend had said was actually what God wanted.
Since that initial pick up, wind up, turn around moment, I have been listening. I’ve been listening because I had to. I was in a place where I had to discern what God was saying to me, to my church, to us as a couple. I had no concept where that was going to lead.
God was constantly challenging me on every aspect of my life. Whether that was health, work, family, church, friends, my walk and relationship with him.
I was no longer comfortable, I was no longer in my safety of being in control, I was no longer on autopilot. I was reliant on God, and that meant that I was truly living life, I wasn’t just existing. God was blessing me, and I wanted to bless others.
I have taken the time to discern that my vocation is teaching, and that has meant I have a renewed love for the job I have a focus. I know that I am where God wants me to be, doing what God wants me to be doing, and I want to do that to the best of my ability. Suddenly teaching is more than just a job, it is a vocation. God has placed me in that school, and I want to make sure I am doing what I am meant to be doing. It’s not been an easy year at school, in fact I think I have worked harder than I ever have before, but it has been the best year.
But I am trying to be careful not to get too comfortable. Comfort is good, it allows us to rest, relax, renew, refresh, to then be able to move on. But it can also allow us to switch off.
I am by no means any form of expert on listening to God. But I know that I am now constantly reflecting on what God is doing in my life, and what God is saying to me. In the summer my mother-in-law told me I should start writing a blog. I have done that, and although it’s not necessarily a ‘Christian’ blog it has helped me to reflect.
And every day on my walk to work, or when I’m going for a run I think about what God is doing, and it is here that I discover what God wants me to be doing as well.
Sometimes God is saying could you just stop for a minute Helen and spend some time with me. Sometimes he is giving me ideas of how I can be bringing Him to those I work with. Most recently he has made me realise that I may have started to get a bit complacent and think that I am invincible, when actually all that I have achieved over the last 18months isn’t my achievement alone, but could only have happened with love, support and is completely and utterly to the glory of God.
God loves us, and wants to spend time with us. All relationships benefit from time spent with each other. God doesn’t want us to just call on Him when we need something, sometimes we just need to be with Him. I have seen what God has done in my life when He has got my attention, and when I have specifically put time aside to discern what he is calling me to do. I can only imagine what will happen if I make that time every day. I know I’m excited to find out what is next in our adventure.