Recovering Joy: Chapter Five (5) “Comfort”
Note: Recovering Joy is book I wrote about the process of growing in God, finding fellowship with Him, and experiencing His joy. I keep meaning to return to it, to see what I can add, things I did not know when I wrote this last year. The hindrance is that it never seems like I know enough. I fall short and need to learn that which I would teach. Thus, so far, I’ve made no attempt to do anything with this. God willing, it will be finished one day and there will be enough of an audience for the book for someone to want to publish it. For now, though, I see the need to share this chapter with you, now. I keep running into people in stress and pain who are struggling to find their way with God and understand His purposes. So, here is a word on God’s comfort and our suffering. May God use it to His glory.
“… for they shall be comforted.”
A friend’s agency oversees court-appointed advocates for abused children. It is a demanding and heart-wrenching job. She finds herself wondering about the work she does. Sometimes, it seems as if they are taking a child out of an abusive home only to place him in an abusive system. Troubled by yet another tragedy, she is close to tears as she speaks, but the story she tells is of God’s grace and comfort.
The story begins with Terry Long, the pastor at Lilly Orchard Baptist Church. He felt led by God to erect a 14-foot tall cross at the busiest intersection he knew and to pray over a hundred days for revival in America.
So he erected the cross and stayed there to lift up his prayers to the Lord. He came back day after day, taking no salary for his time, either from the church or from his job. People began pulling over to the side of the road and praying with him. They began writing down their prayers and nailing them to the cross. Others gave their lives to Jesus for the first time.
The hundred days have come and gone but the cross remains at the corner of 63 and 613, a reminder of God reaching down in grace to take upon Himself the burden of so many. He made Himself a sacrifice for our sins. He took our sorrows upon Himself and offered us His joy and abundant life in return.
Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
My friend passes the cross every day on the way to work. On one particular morning, the weight of the world was pressing down upon her. Tears rolled down her cheeks. The burdens of life and her job had piled so high they were crushing her. Then, she sees that cross, and God speaks to her heart. He reveals to her the weight of the cross that He carried on her behalf. She sees, like never before, how He has carried her guilt, shame, pain, and sorrow. That day, He bore upon His back a weight beyond anything we can imagine, and He did it so that we could be free.
Suddenly, she can sit upright. The tears clear from her eyes. When she gets to work, she must look a mess, her makeup smeared and running. Her coworkers meet her with concern. But in contrast to her ruined makeup, she carries a brilliant, unburdened smile. It is a wonderful, glorious morning because God is gracious. The burdens of that day and every day, rest upon His broad shoulders.
His Greater Purpose
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ.
2 Corinthians 1:3-5
“The sufferings of Christ abound in us.” There is suffering for the Christian in this world. We are fallen creatures, and as fallen creatures we hurt each other. We fall under spiritual attack. Our own flesh rebels against us. Even the great preacher, Charles Spurgeon, suffered from depression. Times of sadness will come, but God is greater than our sadness. “Our consolation also abounds through Christ.”
“In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”
God “comforts us… that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted”. There is both suffering and comfort in life, and we experience both not for our sakes only but for the sake of others. We know what it is to live in this world. We know what it is to hurt. For that fact alone, we know what it is to be lifted up again.
And God, the only true source of comfort, wants to comfort us so that we can share that with others. All too often, all we know is how to run to food or alcohol, sex or pornography. We settle for sources of false and fleeting comfort, the highs that pass and leave us wishing for death, because we have no assurance of a better hope.
God promises something more. His comfort is real. His hope is secure.
It is here that the skeptic in us rises up and screams, “Wait! The God who offers comfort is the God who allowed tragedy and sorrow in the first place.”
Our inner-skeptic is correct on this point. If this seems strange to us, it is because we have made our comfort the point. It is not. For His greater purposes, God allows us to face dark and troubling times. He promises comfort for those who mourn. He promises that we will be “blessed” as we face each stage of the Beatitudes, and those promises are necessary because we do not always feel blessed. We do not always feel comforted. Sometimes, the way is hard, but God is telling us that comfort is coming.
The realization that your comfort is not God’s ultimate purpose is, in itself, a strange source of relief. Comfort, peace, and joy are byproducts of our relationship with the God of all comfort. The path God chooses to achieve His purpose through and in our lives is often uncomfortable, for a season.
At Hathaway Children and Family Services, I moved from the residential units to the school, where I first served as an aid, and then a substitute teacher, and then was given a classroom of my own, teaching emotionally disturbed ninth graders. You can imagine the challenge. By Easter break of that year, I thought I had taken as much as I could bear.
The night before our return to school, I shut myself in the restroom and cried. In prayer, I called out to God, “I know You don’t want me this stressed…”
God answered me. This was no impression upon my heart. It was the first time I heard Him answer with an audible voice, and that voiced asked me a question. “What if I do want you stressed? Will you still serve me?”
My heart broke, but I knew there was only one answer. “Of course, I will still serve You,” I whispered.
The stress at work had been like a physical weight. I could feel it settle upon me, even when I went in after hours, when no one else was there. It felt as if it would crush me.
The day after my encounter with God, I returned to work. The weight came back, but it seemed more detached now. It was there but not overpowering. The following day, the weight lessened. By Wednesday, it was gone.
I had approached God with the assumption that my emotional experience was contrary to His will. He answered my prayer and delivered me through and out of that time, but it was not in the way I had expected. He was teaching me that there are times when my stress and sorrow are very necessary.
Christian service is unpopular because we wrap it up in false promises. We tell ourselves that God is lucky to have us, and if we’re willing to serve then God owes us success. We believe that if God is in something, then it will be easy and pain free.
I didn’t think I believed any of that, but I did.
I knew about the hardships the apostle Paul faced, but I knew them from a distance. They were romantic ideas. He was shipwrecked but led everyone to shore safely. As they gathered wood, he was bitten by a poisonous snake, but he shook off the beast, unharmed. I was looking forward to these kind of hardships, like something from an action movie with Bruce Willis or Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson playing Paul. Bring it on!
The fantasy of Christian service has every hardship being easily endured as we move from miraculous event to miraculous event. The reality of Christian service is a struggle that we often cannot figure out. It’s not always easy. It doesn’t always feel good, and instead of being rewarded, we are attacked from unexpected directions.
When you serve God, mourning is part of the game plan. We are often hurt and rarely appreciated. It is no wonder that so many Christians decide to sit on the sidelines and just watch “the show”. If we don’t have our hearts and minds set on God and His eternal perspective, we will give up.
Our suffering is rarely glorious. Very few will understand. Usually, we do not understand it, ourselves, and the promised blessings and comfort are slow to come. That’s one reason we are often told by scripture to wait on the Lord, but we don’t want to wait. We want to escape. We have been trained to expect instant relief, and we demand as much from God.
Because of His love, the comfort is coming, but His purpose may require a season of discomfort and pain. God loves you. He endured all for you. There are times when we have to face the struggle and determine that this is the moment I will live my love for God in return.