I’m currently breaking in a new pair of work boots.
The thing about work boots, of course, is that they’re usually really uncomfortable when they’re brand new. The leather hasn’t yet properly stretched and moulded to the precise shape of your feet, and so they rub on the heels, or pinch your toes a little bit. Trying to put your feet through the fairly intense workout mine get of tramping all over about a square mile’s worth of rough ground on a jobsite (hard rough ground, too, at the moment; the site is practically all solid rock) for a whole day with a brand-new pair of work boots is a recipe for blisters.
You have to wear them in gradually; a couple of hours at first, half a day, as long as your feet can stand them without getting damaged, so that the leather can start to fit itself to your feet and your feet can get used to the shoe. In some cases you have to wear them around the house just for sitting in a chair for a day or so. Depending on how much you wear work boots, you might have to keep this up for a week, two weeks, a month.
The alternative of getting work boots that you can wear immediately without them rubbing your feet is actually worse, because as you continue to wear them, the leather will inevitably stretch and you’ll end up with boots that rub holes in your feet all the time, rather than just for a week or two at the start.
I bring this up because it rather put me in mind of David going out to fight Goliath. King Saul tried to dress David in his own armour, which was an incredibly high honour. Later in the time of Esther, King Xerxes would honour Mordecai by dressing him in a royal robe and seating him on a horse that the king had ridden.
But David straps on his sword over his armour and tries walking around, then says “I cannot go in these; I am not used to them”.
Much has been written about this, about how it shows David’s refusal to trust in physical might and armour, how it shows a heart unlike that of Saul, who feared the people and was concerned with outward appearances.
This is all great sermon material, but in my new work boots, I’m much more put in mind of the second part of his statement. “I am not used to these”.
There’s nothing wrong with armour per se. Jonathan would later dress David in his own princely armour, probably an expensive coat of overlapping hard bronze scales, both protective and flexible. David is not recorded as refusing that kingly gift; it’s not that it would have been intrinsifcally wrong to wear armour.
Whether the problem was that it was Saul‘s armour is another question, but David is always respectful in his dealings with the king he had been anointed to replace, and I just can’t see him turning his nose up at this honour and expression of royal imprimatur on David as the Israelite champion just because “eww! Some sinner has been in this!”
From a practical point of view, David isn’t used to armour. It’s like a pair of new work boots, only all over the body. If you’re not accustomed to it, it will rub over here, chafe over there and generally hurt. Knights in the Middle Ages wore padded undercoats to protect them from the chafing of their armour, and they were fully accustomed to wearing it. Furthermore, armour is heavy. A Mediæval foot armour weighed between 50 and 70 kilograms, and bronze is heavier than iron for the same volume of metal. Clanking around in a long coat made out of heavy metal scales isn’t easy to do when all you have to do is walk around. If you actually have to fight for your life, that sort of encumberance is only helpful once you’re used to it.
There’s something to be said for the tried and true, for that which we’re used to, for the comfortable. It’s been said that a good sermon should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable; we can often go from there to the idea that God wants us to be uncomfortable. That whatever He’s calling us to will chafe us. That it will be difficult and painful, something to be endured rather than enjoyed. That it won’t be anything we’re used to.
This sort of low-level sadism on God’s part is nothing like the loving Father we find in the pages of Scripture. Yes, sometimes what He calls us to do does not come naturally: it’s only through the Holy Spirit that we can put aside the desire for vengeance and forgive someone who hurt us. Yes, sometimes what He calls us to will be unlike anything we’ve done before, and something we need to inure our metaphorical feet to wearing. But His calling is not to a place of permanent discomfort.
On the contrary, Jesus said “Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light”.
Rest, easy, light and gentle are not the words of one who wants us to be uncomfortable.
Lately there’s been a lot of focus in our churches on “moving out of our comfort zones”. The Hillsongs worship song Oceans takes the imagery of Christ’s invitation to Peter to get out of the boat and walk on the water to Him and turns it to a song about God’s invitation to move out of our comfort zone, out on the waters “where feet may fail”. Trusting God does sometimes lead us into situations where the ground seems to be shifting like water underfoot and where the only constancy is the Master walking beside us. But if this is our primary image of what it means to follow Christ, if God is always “out there” in the storm, on the uncomfortable shifting waters, we may be going beyond where the Bible does.
It’s like what a wise friend once said about finding God’s plan for your life: “If you’re 4′-2”, God probably isn’t calling you to be a basketball player”.
When we’re trying to make something work in our own strength, it’s hard. It’s a burden, a labour, something you strive at. It’s death-bringing, not life-giving.
When we’re doing what we’re called to, it’s a place of ease and rest. Not that there aren’t difficulties or problems, but that there’s an ease, a refreshment in the doing. It’s life and peace.
There are probably people doing missionary work or being preachers or any other “Christian service” who are trying to do it in their own strength and finding it to be chafing. Likewise, there may be people who are called to those things who are finding work as a banker or a construction worker to be a labour of death.
The bottom line is that God is a lot less concerned about what precisely we are doing with our lives than He is about whether we’re doing it in the obedience of faith or not.
As it is written, “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all to the glory of God the Father”.