(I am going to do a little preaching to myself here, so recognize that I speak as one who is still learning, and doing much of my learning in this public way).
American Christians worship the god of comfort. We base many of our decisions on comfort...decisions on preferences like where to live, where to work, what to wear. Decisions on convictions such as homeschooling or public schooling, birth control or no birth control. And we seem to have a deep belief that we have a God-given right to comfort. But I don't see this in the Bible. Yes, I see that God wants us to be happy, but so often I see that His way of bringing about our ultimate happiness is often not anything of which we would ever conceive.
One thing that impresses me about times past is the depth of those Christians' faith and devotion to God. Compare yourself to a John Bunyan, Susannah Wesley, or William Tyndale and you will probably find yourself falling shamefully short. Certainly being tortured, imprisoned, and martyred for the faith would lead to sanctification, but even those with "normal" lives seemed to have so much spiritual depth. I often wonder if the "normalness" of discomfort in that time played the major role in many of our Christian heroes' sanctification. So many women struggled just with the simple daily chores. Laundry was real work. Eating required far more reliance on things beyond human control, such as weather conditions in order to grow the food, health in order to harvest it, and time in order to prepare it. God had a part in the process, and faith was exercised regularly. Today, we open the freezer, pull out a bag of peas and dump it in a pot on the stove. No peas left? No problem. Having "faith" that the grocery store will be well-stocked, we hop in our cars to make the quick trip up the road, swipe a piece of plastic to "harvest" it, and return to slave for a full 10 minutes to heat them on the stove.
And food was just one aspect of faith-stretching that these Christian giants of the past faced. What about childbirth? Women got pregnant often, and there was no guarantee that the delivery would be safe and easy. In fact, very often it was not. It was a fairly common occurrence for a woman to die in childbirth, leaving her husband and little ones behind. Today, it is almost inconceivable to our weak spirits. Women hear from their doctors that they may face death if they refuse to prevent, or worse abort, a pregnancy. So they opt for "safety". Sure, no one wants to face their mortality, especially with so much earthly treasure to lose. But treasure, whether it be material or familial, is still just temporal. Eternal riches are gained only through sanctification. And women of those days had no choice but to accept God's path to sanctification, whatever it brought along the way. In having to accept it, they faced their mortality with faith in a loving God who was sovereign over all, and hope in an eternity filled with greater riches than earth's.
Schooling, too, was an issue of discomfort at times. Imagine not only having the daily work load to bear, but also having the responsibility of educating and discipling your children, who were often numerous, due to no birth control options. One of the biggest reasons (or excuses, if we are to be completely honest) I hear from a person who chooses not to homeschool is, "I just don't have the patience." Really? You don't have patience for your own child? Don't get me wrong. I have days when my humanity is blatantly evident. To put it another way, I yell at my kids too! But what about sanctification? If you do not have the patience, would you be willing to put yourself in a position of discomfort in order to gain that quality, which is directly related to love (1 Cor. 13)? Back then, homeschooling was the common practice and parents had to have patience or learn to develop it quickly!
As you read this, you may be counting your blessings, feeling grateful for our modern conveniences and societal advances. But are we really better off?
You see, this life is not about comfort. If we constantly take advantage of our many modern "perks" by making our choices based purely on what is "best" according to personal comfort, and then dismissing the issue with two simple words (Christian liberty), then we have missed it. We should not ask ourselves which decisions or convictions are most comfortable, but rather we should ask ourselves which decisions will most pull us out of our comfort zones and cause us to rely on the Lord the most. Which options will grow us in our faith? We should not ask which options are safest, but which have the most potential to cause sanctification. Isn't spiritual growth more important than life itself? Likewise, isn't obedience to God more important than anything, including our own mortality? If in our eternal life we have nothing to show for this life, were all the comfortable decisions really best?
Once identified, we should ask the Lord if that uncomfortable, dangerous, sanctification-producing decision is truly what He wants for us individually. And not just pray, but plead for it for the growth it can bring! I think more often than not, He will direct us down that narrow way. Or, as Robert Frost put it so well, "the road less traveled by". And that, my friends, will make all the difference!