Receiving & giving comfort
Welcome back to our series on 8 keys to a happier life straight from Jesus. I know basketball and football are king in Indiana, but I wonder if you caught a wonderful story from pro tennis a while back that sets the stage for this week’s theme.
After 21-year-old sensation Naomi Osaka defeated 15-year-old Coco Gauss in their round of the US Open tennis tournament, Naomi did something that inspired fans and viewers around the world. Coco was heartbroken, and so Naomi walked over and hugged her. She consoled her and commended her for how well she played. And then she went beyond the norm. When ESPN’s courtside reporter went for the postgame interview, which is always with only the winner, Naomi brought Coco with her so that they could share the moment together.
She spoke highly of how well Coco played, and commended Coco’s parents at how amazing it was that their daughter was playing hard at such a high level—at so young an age!
It was a class act, a really beautiful moment as Naomi Osaka comforted her opponent in her loss.
But there’s more. There’s a back story to what Naomi did that day. Just one year earlier, it was Naomi who was in years, after winning over tennis legend Serena Williams. The crowd booed Naomi’s victory because they disagreed with court judges.
But in her loss, Serena Williams publicly consoled her much-younger victor and congratulated her for the win.
Source: D’Arcy Maine, “Naomi Osaka and Coco Gauff teach a lesson in humility and sportsmanship,” ESPN (8-31-19)
Comfort for the hurting
When people are mourning, they need someone to comfort them. And that’s the theme of Jesus’ beatitude or blessing that we come to this week. Here’s how Jesus said it:
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” – Matthew 5:4
It’s those who mourn their losses, Jesus says, who will be comforted. That isn’t a course any of us would sign up for, so let’s unpack what Jesus means here. If we were to come up with a set of beatitudes or blessings, they might go something like this:
- Blessed are the movers and shakers, for they shall make a name for themselves.
- Blessed are those born with good looks, for they will get the most attention.
- Blessed are those who are flush with cash, for they can afford the nicest restaurants.
- Blessed are the healthy and fit, because they shall feel comfortable in a bathing suit.
- Blessed are those with the latest tech, for they shall be envied.
- Blessed are those who make it to the top, because they get to look down on everyone else.
(adapted from Bryan Wilkerson, “The Heartbreak Gospel”) 2
But Jesus takes a good long look at the world as it is—and switches the price tags. In the beatitudes, he holds out the counterintuitive ways to find more joy in a broken world. Mourning your losses, he says, is part of it. Solomon says the same in the series we started shortly into the pandemic, from the unusual Old Testament book Ecclesiastes. In that ‘eyes wide open’ Bible book, wise old Solomon offers his observation that…
“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens… a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance…”
Ecclesiastes 3:1, 4
There’s a right time to mourn
Here’s the principle whether you’re ready to weep or have something to celebrate:
- If I don’t let it out, I’ll act it out.
Maybe you want to write that out. If I don’t let it out, I’ll act it out.
- If I don’t let grief out, it’s going to come out sideways and wound an innocent bystander.
- Or it will come out in self-destructive ways.
If I don’t let it out, I’ll act it out. It’s appropriate and healthy to mourn your losses. It’s unhealthy and unhelpful to minimize your griefs, to hide your grief, or to deny your griefs. When you appropriately express sadness or lament, you position yourself for God to comfort you, to bless you.
The Message paraphrase is so clear on this verse, saying, “You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.” MSG
Likewise Psalm 34:18 in The Message paraphrase says, “If your heart is broken, you’ll find God right there; if you’re kicked in the gut, he’ll help you catch your breath.” Just another way of saying what Jesus does, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”
But how? How does God bring comfort in your losses? That’s what I want to give to you this week. In this long season that’s marked with losses small and large, I want to give you three helps for handling life’s losses. If you want to take notes, here’s where we begin, with something eminently practical:
In our losses:
1. God sets us in a church family.
Several times in four different New Testament letters, the local church is described as being like the human body in how each part complements and supports one another. It’s a powerful picture of belonging. Paul writes to the church in Rome, for example…
“In Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others… Be devoted to one another in love… Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.”
Romans 12:5, 10, 15
There it is: In our losses, God sets us in a church family where we rejoice with one another when there’s an anniversary or a baby born or a job promotion. And we also mourn with one another when someone has lost a job or lost a parent or any of the losses that have come with this pandemic. 3
We can make it through anything so long as we stick together
Here’s the timeless principle: We can make it through anything…so long as we stick together. That has always been true in the past, is true today, and will be true moving ahead. We can make it through anything so long as we stick together. It’s a principle as old as Genesis chapter two that it’s not good for man to be alone.
This is why Christ gave us the church. He promised to be with us always, even to the end of the age. And the main way he is with us is through one another, through us being Spirit-filled, Spirit-led brothers and sisters who care for one another as a church family.
The Cambridge psychiatrist Dr. Richard S. Schwartz has studied the problem of loneliness in America, and notes that over four decades—a generation of studies—have shown the harmful consequences of loneliness. He concluded that the biggest threat facing middle-aged men isn’t smoking or diabetes. It’s loneliness.
Loneliness is linked to higher risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke, and Alzheimer’s deterioration. A huge study using data from 3.5 million people collected over 35 years found that those who are lonely see their risk of premature death rise 26 to 32 percent.
So what do you do with that? Here it is: call someone. Text a fellow member of yChurch. Don’t assume that you’re a bother or that you’re not worth it. Don’t assume everyone is too busy for you. You matter, as a part of this local church, this body of believers. When you’re feeling lonely or isolated, call on your local church, the fellow members of this body. This may be one of the most important things you do to get through these months. Let the local church be the body of Christ for you in your losses. If you need a phone number, reach out to me and I’ll get you connected. We can do this. We can make it through anything so long as we stick together!
There’s the first help for handling life’s losses: God has set you in a church family: call on the family when you’re hurting or frustrated.
Billy Baker, “The Biggest Threat Facing Middle-Aged Men Isn’t Smoking Or Obesity. It’s Loneliness.” Boston Globe (3/9/2017)
If you’re taking notes, here’s the second help for handling life’s losses.
In our losses:
- 1. God sets us in a church family.
- 2. God grows our longing for heaven.
Look with me at these two Scriptures that draw up our longing for heaven:
“Our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
2 Corinthians 4:17-18
“‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ (Isaiah 25:8)
4 or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
Don’t give up
They’re saying, “We’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside sometimes it looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without him outpouring grace on us.” Paul says, “These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for us. There’s far more here than meets the eye. The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can’t see now will last forever.”
John adds, “There’s a day coming—when the losses will be overcome, overwhelmed by the victory that Jesus has won for us. God himself will be with us, and with him will come comfort for all that’s in the past.”
This is why the New Testament elsewhere says we grieve, but not as those who have no hope. We can admit and voice loss and loneliness to one another, and know that this life is not all there is. It’s part of our story. And part two is going to be amazing!
Think of it like a treasure hunt. I love the stories of everyday people coming across treasure. One was a guy named Joel Ruth. A while back he was strolling along a Florida beach when he stumbled upon more than $40,000 worth of near-mint-condition Spanish silver coins that came from a shipwreck from 1715.
300 years later, it was another storm that revealed that treasure to Joel.
Isn’t that kind of like life? It’s the storms, not the calm, that grow our longing for heaven’s treasure. It’s the tough times that help us anticipate heaven, where things will be as they should be.
- It was a storm that revealed Christ’s authority over nature to the apostles—and grew their faith.
- It was Paul’s storms of persecution that inspired him to fix his gaze on heaven and press on.
It is life’s storms, our experiences of suffering, that grow our longing for heaven. There’s the second help for handling life’s losses.
“Man Finds $40,000 Worth of Old Coins, “Billingsgate Gazette (10-26-04)
If you’re taking notes, here’s the third:
In our losses:
- God sets us in a church family.
- God grows our longing for heaven.
- God empowers us to come alongside others.
Paul begins his second letter to the local church in the city of Corinth with the good that can come out of our losses, explaining…
“God 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 1:4
One of the greatest blessings that comes with belonging to a local church family is this one: God comforts you in your losses—almost always through fellow Christians. And then at some point He’s 5
going to bring you alongside someone who is hurting. And because you’ve gone through similar loss, you will be uniquely qualified to bring God’s comfort to them. This is the beatitude in action: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” How will they be comforted? Almost always, by a wounded healer—that is, someone who has walked a similar road.
We don’t choose our losses. But your losses can grow your empathy. They can birth in you a new level of compassion for others who are going through loss.
Your losses qualify you as a comforter
Julie talks about this. When two teenaged best friends were killed in a car accident in their small town, the visitation and funeral were held together for both teens. More than a thousand people attended, waiting as long as three hours at the visitation to express their sympathy to the families.
One man stood by himself in line and finally reached the front. He spoke to the bereaved family members, saying, “I didn’t know your children, and I have never met you. But I came here tonight because I had a son who died two years ago. I know how this feels. In the time ahead, you will go through every emotion you can imagine. I just want you to know I’m here for you, if you ever need to talk.” He pressed his phone number into into their hands and made his way out. He had given three hours of his time to people he didn’t even know, because he wanted to help them get through the hardest experience of their lives. That is God comforting those who mourn, by bringing alongside them someone who he has already comforted in their loss.
Whatever it is that you mourn from the past year and farther back, those losses actually qualify you to bring God’s comfort to someone who is going through something similar. Job loss or chronic illness, divorce or infertility, abuse or grief—any loss that you’ve experienced, God is willing to empower you to come alongside someone who’s going through the same thing. God almost always brings his comfort to hurting people through people. Henri Nouwen famously calls us wounded healers. It’s from our losses as well as our wins that we’re able to comfort and encourage one another in powerful ways.
Every day, you either need to receive comfort or offer comfort—sometimes both in the same day. Because almost always, the way God brings his comfort is through other Spirit-filled, Spirit-led followers of Jesus. In our losses, God comes alongside us, and he empowers us to come alongside others.
Thank God that in your losses, you’re not alone.
- God has set you in a church family. Call on the family of God when you’re hurting. In your losses…
- God grows your longing for heaven. You feel afresh that the way things are is not the way things should be, and your yearning for heaven expands. And finally, in your losses..
- God empowers you to come alongside others. He comforts you, and then he brings you alongside someone else who needs similar comfort.
He does not abandon us in our pain. Would you allow me to pray for you right now? Father God, because you have poured out your grace upon us, we cry out, “Abba, Father!” We thank you that we have a Father in heaven! We thank you that we have a Savior from sin. And we thank you for your Spirit who is with us whatever comes.
God, thank you for this church, yChurch. Move among us, we pray, to be the family of God for one another and for those who need your touch in their lives. 6
Grow in us, we pray, a deep and abiding longing for heaven, for when you will wipe every tear from our eyes, and there will be no more mourning or weeping or death, because of Jesus’ victory over the grave.
Finally, Lord, we ask you to empower us to come alongside those who are suffering loss. Grant us sensitivity to your leading. Guide our steps. Open doors of opportunity. And in those moments, fill us with your Spirit and with wisdom and courage, that we would bring the right word at the right time in ways that will carry the glory of God, the weight of your Spirit personally and powerfully speaking to that person in that time of need. Draw them, we pray, to saving faith and daily trust in Jesus. For your honor and our encouragement we pray, in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
God bless you this week, friends, and make you a blessing!