How to Find Comfort

William C. Brownson Uncategorized

READ : 2 Corinthians 1:3-4

Comfort – the word makes us think soft and soothing, but how do you find comfort when your problems go beyond the power of a cup of tea and an easy chair to solve?

STRONG COMFORT

I feel privileged today to talk about how to find comfort. All of us need that. Our hearts cry out for it. Be sure of this, friends; it can be found. Listen to the apostle Paul speaking from his own experience, in his second letter to the Corinthians: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort, who 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 ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Cor. 1:3).

This passage of Scripture has been enormously helpful to me in understanding what real comfort is, where it comes from, and where it leads us. I hope it will speak to you and help you to find strong comfort. I say strong because most of us no longer look on comfort as something vigorous and bracing. The word, it seems, has fallen on evil days or soft days. Comfort for many people means ease, luxury, having a thousand conveniences within reach. Being comfortable for them is resting securely on hoarded assets or reclining in ease on a soft chair.

And even when people talk about comfort at deeper levels, the note of strength is rarely present. In ordinary usage, to comfort is to console, to sympathize, to soothe, to wipe away tears. When we think of comforting, we picture a mother patting a little child’s head and saying, “Now, now, there. Don’t cry.”

I don’t mean to discredit that use of the word. Not in the least. The ministry of solace and consolation is a precious one. And it is certainly included in this rich term. But our English word comfort, as many of you know, originally came from two Latin words meaning “with” and “strength.” To “comfort” was to be with someone to strengthen that person. And the biblical term which our word originally translated carries that meaning in an even more pronounced way. A comforter is one who is called alongside to help. Comfort is something encouraging and invigorating. When we are comforted, we are heartened, we are nerved; our whole personalities are reinforced. Real comfort doesn’t merely soothe your sorrows. It girds you with strength and makes you ready for the battles of life.

Paul indicates that in his ringing personal witness. He talks about comfort in the midst of “affliction.” We’re not thinking here about minor annoyances but about deep trouble. Comfort is what picks us up and keeps us going in the midst of the very worst that life can bring.

Here’s a sample of what the apostle had been through. I’m quoting from this same letter to the Corinthians. “Five times I have received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I have been beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I’ve been shipwrecked. A night and a day I’ve been adrift at sea . . . in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure” (2 Cor. 11:24-27). This man sounds like something of a veteran, doesn’t he? Paul had known more than his share of privation, pain and danger. He had been scorned and mocked, hated and hounded. He had seen from the inside the indescribable filth of an oriental jail. If anyone ever had a master’s degree in the school of suffering, it was this apostle. Just before he wrote this letter, he had been especially hard pressed. Hear how he describes it: “We don’t want you to be ignorant, brethren, of the affliction we experienced in Asia, for we were so utterly, unbearably crushed that we despaired of life itself” (2 Cor. 1:8). But he found a comfort that sustained him, that gave him new strength.

THE COMFORTING GOD

The comfort Paul found came from God. He was so impressed by that that he coined a new name for the Almighty. He calls him here “the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort” (2 Cor. 1:3).

Sometimes the comfort came through a divine word. Once when Paul was being reviled and opposed in the city of Corinth, the Lord spoke to him in a vision: “Do not be afraid but speak and do not be silent, for I am with you and no one shall attack you or harm you, for I have many people in this city” (Acts 18:9-10). That gave the apostle fresh courage and hope for his work. When a painful, humiliating affliction wouldn’t leave him, the Lord spoke this assurance to his heart, “My grace is enough for you” (2 Cor. 12:9).

For most of us, God’s Word doesn’t come through visions or audible voices but in the words of Scripture. I was moved once to hear my aged uncle tell of how God had cheered and strengthened him through the twenty-third psalm. As I read it one day at the dinner table, he spoke the words by heart, with deep, personal conviction.

Sometimes comfort came to Paul through a striking event. Remember when he and Silas had been thrown into the dungeon in Philippi? As they tried to lift their spirits in hymns of praise through the dark hours of the night, the Lord visited them with an earthquake. The foundations of the prison were shaken and the doors thrown open. The jailor was so smitten that he came seeking the way of salvation and was led to Christ. I’d call that earthquake “strong comfort,” wouldn’t you? Again, most of us don’t find our situations turned around that dramatically, but again and again God brings a change in our circumstances that puts new heart in us and gives us resources to go on.

Perhaps most often the comfort of God came to Paul not in words from the Lord or earthshaking events but through his Christian brothers and sisters. Listen to this touching word from the same letter: “But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus” (2 Cor. 7:6). To see the face of a loved one, to be encouraged and supported by those who care for us – that’s how God’s comfort often reaches our lives today.

I’ll never forget what our friends did for us at the time when our son Billy died. A blind friend called that day to weep with us over the phone. Some left important responsibilities to come to our home and just sit there with us. A kind of wordless compassion and unseen strength flowed from their lives to ours. Another friend sat by as we discussed the arrangements for Billy’s funeral. He took down everything we needed to remember and later made us a gourmet omelet. Our neighbors from next door came over the moment they heard the news. One look at their faces made us know they shared our pain. How they helped us! Some made phone calls at their own expense to tell our friends and relatives. Pastors came and lifted us to God in prayer, tuning in to our feelings and making the hope of the gospel freshly real. With some it was a hug, a clasp of the hand, a firm grip on the shoulder, a hot dish, a beautiful fern. What comfort came to us from these dear people!

The apostle Paul saw all of that kind of ministry as coming ultimately from God. Whether it was through his Word or a providential happening or a caring friend, it was always the Lord’s sufficient grace.

If you want to find comfort, he is the source of it. Paul knew, you see, that God is the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort because he had met him in Jesus Christ. He had seen the light of God’s glory in the face of Jesus. He had found a forgiving, accepting, strengthening love that transformed his life. Now in all that came to him, he saw the hand of a gracious Father.

An old catechism starts with this question: “What is your only comfort in life and in death?” Here’s the answer: “That I with body and soul, in life and in death, am not my own but belong to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.” Seek comfort there, in the gift of God’s Son, and you’ll never be disappointed, and you’ll never be forsaken.

LEARNING TO COMFORT

We don’t find the fullness of comfort, friends, until we see in it a purpose larger than our own lives. When Paul sings his praises to the God of all comfort, he isn’t thinking only of the timely help and strength that he received. He sees a further, grander design: we are comforted to be comforters. Listen again: “Who comforts us in all our affliction so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble.”

There are many mysteries about the sufferings we endure. When we ask why, we are peering into depths that none of us can fathom. We’re rightly suspicious of those easy explanations in which people tell us exactly why God let something come into our lives. I especially cringe when such interpreters of providence identify the faults and failings in others which have brought this tragedy upon them. I ask myself: How do they know that? Who has discerned the mind of the Lord? His thoughts, his ways, are so much higher than ours.

But some things about God’s purposes for trouble and affliction have been made clear to us, and here’s one of them: God’s comfort in our trials fits us to be comforters to our sisters and brothers. Haven’t you found that to be true?

We in our family will never understand, at least until we’re with the Lord, all the purposes behind the illness and affliction of our son Bill. Why he should have had encephalitis and be left paralyzed with brain damage and a seizure problem for the rest of his life – that’s a mystery that completely baffles us. But that God strengthened us and encouraged us in the midst of that I am sure. And of this too I am certain: God used the whole experience to open the way for us to minister to other people. How many times have we talked to other parents whose children were stricken and handicapped! Often this was the result – what we had learned, what we had experienced, what God had done for us in the midst of our struggle, we were able to pass along. Other families seemed to be helped. Often they couldn’t say enough about what it meant for them that someone else with the same problem could share with them a listening ear and an understanding word.

But I think even more of how we’ve been on the receiving end of that. How many people have brought to us the strong comfort of the Lord! Over and over again we’ve received some special grace from a person or a family who had known real heartbreak and loss themselves. Their words, their expressions of concern, their silent compassion and understanding have meant more to us than we can tell. Perhaps if they hadn’t known that divine comfort in their trouble, they wouldn’t have had so much help to offer us.

How closely and wonderfully our lives are linked together! This is true especially within the church, which the Scriptures call “the body of Christ.” Paul speaks of how “the sufferings of Christ abound in us.” We Christians are so identified with Jesus that all he did in suffering and dying benefits us, and we somehow share his life. And he is now so identified with us that he is, as the Scripture says, “afflicted in all our afflictions.” He feels our pain. He weeps with us in our sorrows. Our sufferings can in a sense be called his. And because we are all members together of his one body, bound together by his Spirit, sharing his life, our experiences are marvelously linked with those of our brothers and sisters in Christ. We can see now our troubles and our comfort in the light of what they bring to the wider fellowship of God’s people. God’s dealings with us, both in joy and sorrow, have meaning for the whole body. We rejoice together and we weep together. All of us receive God’s comfort in the midst of our troubles and all of us are thereby equipped to share it.

I ask you today: Have you become a part of this family, this kinship of faith? Have you come to know the Father of mercies as your Father? The God of all comfort as your God? You can know him by trusting in his Son Jesus Christ. I invite you to commit yourself to Christ as your Savior and King, to trust in this God of all comfort. Then, when your worst hours come, expect in the most unlooked-for ways his strong comfort. You’ll surely have opportunity to pass it on. When you find Christ, friends, you’ll find comfort, and find also a blessed opportunity to comfort others.