I’ve been thinking a fair bit lately about the life of the apostle Paul (as you do, I guess?) And when you look through the book of Acts and the letters he wrote to the churches he planted, wow, did he have a rough time of it . . . In 2 Corinthians 11: 25-28, Paul himself tells us that at various times, he was “beaten with rods, stoned, shipwrecked three times; in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from his own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; he faced toil and hardship, sleepless nights, hunger, thirst, cold and exposure.” And, on top of all of that, he was also anxious about the churches he’d planted (so no pressure for our pastors, then!)
So, it’s a bit of a surprise when one of the first things he writes in his second letter to the Corinthian church is: “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.”
I don’t know about you, but I think that it’s absolutely incredible that Paul chooses to look back at the suffering he went through and to thank God for it, because it meant that he could comfort the people he ministered to in their suffering. Later on in this letter, Paul even goes as far to say that his afflictions are “light and momentary” (2 Cor. 4:17), because He could see that as hard as life on earth can be sometimes, that when we get to spend eternity with Jesus, all we’ve suffered now, will seem like it was over in the blink of an eye.
So, what does this mean for us, while we may still be struggling? First of all, we need to know that we can: “cast all our anxieties on [God], because he cares for [us].” (1 Peter 5:7) I’ve been a Christian for a while now, and this is still an idea that makes my head spin. It’s incredible to think that the God who laid the foundations of the earth, determines the number of stars and calls them each by name; cares so much about each of us that he knows the number of hairs on our heads and that whatever we’re facing or we have faced in our lives, he loves us each as if there was only one of us to love.
Not only that, but God never wastes an experience, in a famous verse from the letter to the Romans, Paul tells us: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called together for his purpose.” (Romans 8:28) This means that if we have put our hope in Jesus, he will use whatever has happened in our lives for good.
But, Paul also tells us that we have been comforted so that we can be a comfort to other people. This means, that we can’t keep the blessings we’ve received to ourselves. You may never know how your experience in life may help other people, unless you’re willing to take the risk sometimes . . . Often when we’ve come through something we are just grateful to be out the other side . . . But God’s way of pulling us through probably involved the support of “someone else” who was there for us – and now we’re safely the other side of whatever obstacle we were facing, it’s our turn to be that “someone else” for “someone else”.
Sometimes it’s easy to imagine that our memories only have meaning and value for us… But who knows whose lives God wants to shape, guide, strengthen, and yes – comfort through the stories of His work in our lives! You may be able to be a support or an encouragement to somebody right now. Which I know is ironically, potentially quite an uncomfortable thought, but please be encouraged by the fact that God will use anyone who is willing to serve him, wherever they are in life, whatever age they are . . . .
Heavenly Father, thank you that you are the God of all comfort. Thank you for your beautiful promises that you are working all things for the good in our lives and that you will comfort us because you delight in us and care for us. Father, please help us to be people who can comfort others with the comfort we’ve been given. In Jesus’ precious name. Amen.