Originally published Tuesday, 26 August 2014.
Do you ever go through seasons of discouragement and wonder why your faith is so fragile? Do you ever think that since you’ve been a believer for so long, you shouldn’t ever struggle, experience weakness, or feel stabs of fear? Have you ever felt overwhelmed by the pressures of life and wondered what is wrong and why you have no peace?
As one who has battled depression on and off for years, I could answer yes to all those questions. It’s as though I think I should be beyond the need for comfort or help. Yet there are multiple examples in Scripture of God being described as our comforter, healer, shelter, and help. That must be because we need his comfort, healing, shelter and help. That is, if he offers his love and compassion toward us, it must be because we will never outgrow our need for it.
The God Who Comforts Us
The truth is, we live in a sin-stained world where nothing works as it should. We struggle in our work, our relationships, our health, and everywhere else in between. Satan tries to make us forget that we live in a fallen world. He’d rather us think that we can get a hold on the chaos and follow a formula to make our lives work. But as Paul said in Ephesians 6, we are in a spiritual battle and we should anticipate arrows, thorns, trials, and persecution. Jesus said that in this life we will have troubles and trials (John 16:33). There will be times when we are discouraged, sorrowful, and downright frightened. Life is sometimes just plain hard and we will be overwhelmed or exhausted.
But God is always gracious. I love the story of Elijah and how God gave him rest when he needed it. No chiding. No questions about his weak faith. Just providing what he needed when he needed it. “Elijah was afraid and ran for his life…he lay down under the tree and fell asleep. All at once an angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat.” He looked around, and there by his head was a cake of bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again. (1 Kings 19)
Even giants of the faith have needed comforting. Paul, in 2 Corinthians 7, talks about battling fatigue, harassment, and even fears and how God brought him comfort. “For when we came into Macedonia, we had no rest, but we were harassed at every turn—conflicts on the outside, fears within. But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus” (vs. 5-6). Titus came to Paul and encouraged him with good news from the Corinthian church. The Philippian church also came to Paul’s aid and provided for him when he was in great need, “Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles. Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, no one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid again and again when I was in need.” (4: 14-16)
Sometimes God comforts by providing food and rest, as in the case of Elijah, and other times by sending a brother or sister in Christ, as in the case of Titus. God comforts us through his Spirit, strengthening us to do what we cannot do on our own. He also comforts us through the physical arms of loved ones. He comforts us through his word as we read and remember all that he has done for us in Christ. He provides comfort through the words of a friend. He answers prayer and gives us peace at times when peace seems unattainable. He prompts a brother or sister in Christ to call, just when we need a friend the most. In a myriad of ways, God is our comfort, our "refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble" (Psalm 46:1).
A Comfort to Others
This comfort he provides is not given in isolation. It doesn’t end with us. It’s given so we can pass it on to others. “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God” (2 Corinthians 1: 3-4).
We can comfort others practically as the early church did, "Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality" (Romans 12:13). I've never forgotten the Thanksgiving weekend decades ago when my father was out of work. I heard the doorbell ring and to my surprise, saw kids from my youth group standing at the door. In their arms were bags filled with all the ingredients for a Thanksgiving dinner. Like the kids in my church, we can bring meals to those who need it. We can share what we have with those who need it, whether it's a skill, time, money, food, clothing, transportation, and more. We can invite the lonely over for a meal. The practical ways we can comfort others are endless.
We can also comfort others with the ultimate source of all comfort, the gospel. We can send a note or email, encouraging a friend with the truth of who Christ is and what he has done for them. We can invite them for coffee and pray with and for them. We can give them gospel centered books to read. We can call or text to check in with them and tell them we are praying for them.
The truth is, we all need comfort. As long as we live in this world, we will never outgrow our need for God's gracious help and compassion. And he is happy to give it. Whether it's through his word or prayer; through a friend's kindness or a stranger's generosity; through a check in the mail or an invitation to dinner, God provides his comfort to us in many ways. May we gladly take the comfort we've been given and extend it to others.
Have you experienced God's comfort? How can you then comfort someone else?