A young couple eagerly awaiting their first child returns home from the hospital with empty arms after delivering a stillborn. A wife and mother listens numbly as her husband confesses his love for another. A single woman struggles with loneliness. Ongoing unemployment forces a family to file bankruptcy and an unknown future.
Life is hard. Jesus warned: “In this world you will have many troubles… (John 16:33) and Peter said, “Do not be surprised by the fiery trial you are facing” (1 Peter 5) yet often we are surprised when suffering comes. And when trouble does come our way, we may find that there are helpful comforters and there are not so helpful comforters (consider Job’s friends). The question is; what kind of comforters are we? What words and actions offer enduring hope and strength to others? Ultimately we find the answers to these questions only in the gospel.
Comfort, according to the dictionary, means “to strengthen the mind when depressed or enfeebled, to invigorate; give consolation under calamity.” I have found that in times of ongoing affliction we are vulnerable to feeling weak or weary in spirit, foggy in thinking, and prone to discouragement, defeat, and despair. As we come alongside of others in pain, how can God use us to help strengthen those whose circumstances might not change immediately or at all?
As suffering believers, we must begin by reminding ourselves that “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses” and that we can confidently “draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in times of need” (Hebrews 4: 14-16). The apostle Paul tells us that God “…comforts us in all our affliction so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we are ourselves are comforted by God” 2 Corinthians 1:1-11. Any meaningful encouragement we receive or give is rooted in the gospel; that Christ came to die for our sin, is committed to making us like Him, and is preparing an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison for those who trust in His name. This is the sustaining source of comfort God provides and calls us to bend toward others.
Ultimately suffering reveals where we’ve put our hope. The gospel alone compels us to trust and persevere through hardship and encourage others to do the same as they endure fiery trials. As we look to the author and perfecter of our faith, we discover His grace empowers us to endure for the glory of Christ.
As you reflect on what brings you comfort, consider ways the world offers comfort and how helpful those solutions have been to you in the past? What has brought you the comfort of Christ and what difference did that make?
Next week: 4 Marks of a Godly Comforter