What does it mean to experience the comfort of God when we are facing trouble or affliction? Think about that before we move on…. What does God’s comfort feel like to you? For me, as I have faced some dark times in my wrestling match with pancreatic cancer, God’s comfort has often come in the form of a freedom from fear through trusting in his providential care. God’s comfort has also shown itself by an awareness of his presence and the overwhelming sense of peace that such an awareness brings. It’s like my soul says, “God’s got this bro, go have a good meal.”
The Lord has also comforted me through the care and encouragement of others—their prayers, cards, letters, emails, texts, just letting me know they were thinking about me or praying for me. I remember when I was guest preaching at a church (back in the day when you could do that sort of thing) and a group of about 20 people gathered around me after the service to pray for me—guess my sermon was really bad (just kidding). They laid hands on me and prayed for my healing and spiritual well-being.
In another church, a smaller one, the entire congregation prayed for me just before I gave the benediction. I could give you example after example of how God has used others to comfort and encourage me—like many of you reading this post. Thus, when Paul in 2 Cor 1:4 calls God “the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort who comforts us in all our troubles,” I understand what that means, because he has comforted me and continues to do so.
However, that is not all Paul says about God’s comfort. In v. 4, he continues “who comforts us in our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” This reminds me of Psalm 67, where the psalmist asks that God would bless and be gracious to him and his people, “so that your ways may be known on the earth and your salvation among all he nations.” God blesses us so that we can bring the blessings of the gospel to others.
And so it is with all of God’s gifts; they do not stop with us. We are to love others “as I have loved you;” we are to forgive one another as “God in Christ has forgiven you;” we are to be generous in the use of our wealth, because we “know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” Therefore, God’s comfort is not designed to make us comfortable, but to make us a comfort to others, like some of the examples I gave above.
There is one more thing that Paul says about comfort in v. 6, “If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same suffering we suffer.” It seems like Paul is saying that whatever trouble or affliction he suffered, it would have an impact upon others in whom God was working to develop their faith. It all sounds very theoretical until you go through it and then it makes sense.
I remember that not too long after my diagnosis (which, by the way, was 3 years this past Good Friday) when I didn’t want a lot of people to know I had cancer. It was humbling to admit and it made me feel weak and vulnerable. It was my oldest daughter who sensed my hesitation and challenged me to let people know, so they could be praying for me. Then she said (at least this is what I remember), “Dad, we are going to be watching you, because how you handle all of this is going to set a pattern for your children and grandchildren.” The same thought was expressed to me by two other unrelated people in my church; the fact that they were watching how I was handling all this.
Wow! What a powerful thing to recognize that our afflictions do not take place in a vacuum. Other people are drawn in and are effected directly or indirectly by what we suffer. To personalize this—I know that I do not suffer alone (although sometimes I feel that way when I’m having a pity-party). There are more people than I can imagine who have been pulled into my world through kinship and friendship, and who are impacted by my affliction. And that is true for you as well. How you deal with your troubles can bring tremendous comfort to others whose faith is untested in certain areas.
It can be a great encouragement to their faith to see an example of someone who is not embittered against the Lord or constantly whinging about the hand they’ve been dealt. Instead, they see on display a very ordinary human being, simply trusting, hoping, and enduring because s/he believes that God is good, in control, and will never leave nor forsake. I guarantee that such an example will be of inestimable value in their spiritual development and will strengthen the muscles of their faith especially to have the privilege of praying for you during your affliction. Don’t be afraid of letting people know of your need, which is very humbling at first, but after awhile it becomes very freeing. Not only that, but God will bring you comfort and healing through those prayers. God’s comfort comes full circles back to you.
So, if you are suffering affliction today, may you experience the comfort that only the God of All-Comfort can give to you. May you also look for those within your sphere of influence whom you can comfort in some way, with the comfort you have received from God. Finally, may you recognize that though you wish for anonymity in your suffering, you are on display before family and friends, who will be greatly influenced by your simple faith and trust in the Father. Let them know how they can be praying for you and allow yourself to receive the comfort and blessing that it will bring.