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The God of All Comfort

Comfort food?

When you crash into loss or conflict, pain or sadness, where do you turn for comfort? What’s your go-to place?

Some turn to distraction via video games or social media: you change what you’re looking at in order to try to change what you’re feeling.

Food is a favorite place to turn for others: food scientists talk about the trifecta of sugar, fat, and salt having a powerful pleasing effect in the human brain. That’s why we call it comfort food: salty fat fried chicken with a dipping sauce, a pint of scrumptious Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, maybe a favorite candy from your childhood.

Whatever the norm is for where you tend to turn for comfort, I want to bring you today to one of the greatest New Testament declarations about who God is when we are troubled, and the comfort that he stands ready to bring.

So grab a Bible or Bible app and open with me to 2 Corinthians chapter 1, the apostle Paul’s second letter to the church in ancient Corinth. I’m building on Bryan Wilkerson’s work on this passage and what it reveals about the intersection between God’s character and our troubles. 2 Corinthians chapter one.

When we need comfort

Paul wrote this letter following deep troubles of his own. For Paul as for Christians in many nations today, following Jesus and sharing the good news of Jesus carried a heavy cost. Paul suffered times of intense persecution, of personal betrayal, of abandonment. He was physically abused and was the victim of smear campaigns. More than once he was attacked and left for dead. He suffered seasons of deep emotional distress, of deep loneliness when friends ghosted him, leaving him to face his troubles alone. It got so bad that at one point Paul actually despaired of life itself.

But when Paul hit rock-bottom, he found comfort. Or more accurately, comfort found Paul. As difficult as his hardships were, Paul was given enough comfort. In fact, it proved to be more than enough comfort. And what Paul experienced, God wants you to experience in your troubles, in the things that trouble you.

What would you say are one or two of the hardest things you’re dealing with right now, or one or two of your greatest fears?

For the things that trouble you, the Holy Spirit led Paul to showcase an awesome attribute of God in the beginning of his letter to the church in Corinth. In 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 the apostle Paul writes:

“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

Hear that again: Who is God when we are troubled?

“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

The perfect character trait of God that carried Paul through his troubles, and that can carry you through, is that God is the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort. He is not an impersonal force in the universe. He is not a cosmic bully who couldn’t care less about the deep suffering that takes place on earth and at times in your life.

Rather, Paul sings, God is like a good father who cares for and comforts his kids when they are troubled.

Comfort, compassion, & courage

Let’s talk about comfort, let’s talk about compassion, and let’s talk this week about courage. The word “comfort” is found nine times in just the first eleven verses of this chapter, and twenty-nine times in second Corinthians as a whole: it’s a huge and repeated emphasis.

Why might that be? Because there are so many things that chew us up, that trouble people. I don’t have to name them. You know them. You feel them. You see them—the multitude of things that leave us reeling and longing for comfort, whether you are age six or sixty.

We tend to think of comfort as feeling better. Paul had something better in mind. Comfort in the Bible is more about being strengthened than merely being soothed.

As Wilkerson points out, God’s comfort doesn’t just relieve our pain; it stiffens our resolve. The Greek word means “to help by giving courage.” The English word points us in that direction, too. “Comfort” comes from the Latin root fortis, meaning “strength.” Think of our words fortify and fortress. The comfort that God brings isn’t merely about feeling better; it’s about feeling stronger, being strengthened.

More than feeling better

As I was working on this week’s sermon, Hurricane Ida slammed into Louisiana with dangerous winds and storm surge, all while the power was out. If you were in that kind of situation, you would need not just to feel better. You would need to be in a place that is strong, strong enough to take the winds and waves. That, Paul sings, is who God is for the believer: he brings strength in the face of trouble’s fierce winds, power to put one foot in front of the other rather than curl up and give up.

And the comfort that God brings, he usually brings by bringing someone alongside you. That’s implied in the New Testament Greek word Paul uses, parakaleo translated comfort literally meaning “to call alongside;” the comfort that God brings usually involves someone coming alongside you.

The same word is used in the New Testament the to describe the good work of the Holy Spirit as the Comforter, the One who comes alongside to strengthen you in the face of hardship.

Called alongside to bring comfort

Damien Spikereit experienced this. He was in high school when his father died suddenly, just two days before his high school graduation.

Damien found himself in a place he’d never been before. He wanted to hear God speak. He wanted to know what God had to say about this situation; how God was going to get him and his family through that horrific time. So he prayed. And he waited for God to speak. I’ll let Damien tell the story:

“Then came the day of the funeral” he writes. “The church was packed. I sat on the front pew with my mother and two younger sisters. The [pastor] spoke, but I don’t remember what he said. I continued to wait for God to say something. Then the service was over. It was the tradition of this church to have the family line up in the foyer. Everyone would file past us and offer words of condolence and encouragement. Tears were shed, hugs offered, and words were given. I don’t remember what anybody said to me in that time. But I continued to wait for God to speak.”

“Then I saw Kim O’Quinn. She was my age. We were in the youth group together. When she got to me, she didn’t say a word. She had tears in her eyes. And she simply hugged me and walked off. But I heard God speak. It dawned on me. Just months before, I had attended another funeral; the funeral for Kim O’Quinn’s father. In that moment she knew exactly what it meant to be me.”

In light of how God comforted him by calling alongside him someone else who really did know what he was going through, Damien says, “If you want to hear God’s voice in your life look no further than the one who knows exactly what it’s like to be you. He knows what it is to be human, he knows what it is to suffer, he knows what it is to be rejected, he knows what it is to be human. If you want to hear God’s voice speak, allow your soul to be quieted long enough so that you can hear the one who was in the beginning say to you, ‘draw near to me and I’ll draw near to you.’” He is the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort.

Source: Damien Spikereit in “The Story Before the Story,” preached at Lincoln Christian College, 11-25-03

The Father of compassion

We’ve talked about the comfort that God brings—usually by bringing another person alongside you when you’re troubled. Let’s talk about Paul calling God the Father of compassion, Father. For many of us, it was Mom who was the primary comforter. Dads are often the fixers and the disciplinarians among parents. Moms are the ones kids usually run to in order to kiss a boo-boo or hold them when they’re scared or sick.

And yet Paul zeroes in on God being “the Father of compassion.” He could have picked any of God’s other attributes—that God is holy, that he is righteous, that he is wise, that he is powerful, that he is creative, that he is the Judge of all the earth.

But here, thinking of his own troubles and writing as a pastor to this church who were facing their own troubles, Paul focuses on what we most need to know about God when troubled—which is that you can count on him to show compassion to you, to fill you with his strength to face that challenge. Remember, that’s what comfort is really about—finding strength. That’s what Dads do, and it’s what God does—he strengthens his kids.

A video worth looking up

We just had the Tokyo Olympics with amazing records set. One of the greatest Olympic stories comes from the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, Spain. I encourage you to look this up on YouTube for footage of a great father comforting moment.

Derek Redmond of Great Britain was favored to win the gold medal in the 400-meter race. He was leading the pack as the runners entered the backstretch, but suddenly he tore his hamstring and dropped to the track in agony.

As he lay on the track in pain, the other racers blew past him. He struggled to his feet and began hopping along the track, when someone bounded out of the stands and pushed away the security guards: it was Derek’s father. He ran onto the track and threw his arms around his son. Choking back his own tears, he whispered, “Come on, son, let’s finish this together.” The crowd cheered and wept as that father of compassion helped his injured son down the stretch and across the finish line. That, my friends, is comfort. That is what God does when you’re troubled: he comes alongside, giving strength enough to press on. In fact, he gives more than enough.

He is the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort. He cares, he comforts, and he strengthens. And the way he does so is usually by bringing someone else alongside the troubled one, someone to lean on, someone to help carry the load.

Stand close to fellow Christians

Listen: when the storms of life hit, you need to be standing close to fellow Christians. This is a key reason why we’re returning to in-person worship in the Fishers YMCA beginning next Sunday, September 12th—because we’re better together. We’re better when we stay close. The closer we stand, the more we’re able to hold up in the face of stresses and strains. And right now, we could all use a friend to lean on—and through such friends, finding God to be the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort for you.

Taking it full-circle

There’s one more timeless truth I want to drop into your heart and mind this week. Everything I’ve said so far is true. But it’s not enough. Because all we’ve focused on thus far is verse 3. Verse four brings you and me into God’s plan for comforting, for strengthening, those in any trouble. Listen again to both verses together, for God’s awesome plan for coming alongside us in our troubles:

“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

Paul praises God the genius of his plan—that the comforting strength God gave him enabled Paul in turn to come alongside others in their trouble, comforting them. And they in turn, having received God’s comfort through a fellow believer coming alongside them, could continue God’s awesome comforting, strengthening work. The Father of compassion and the God of all comfort comforts us, so that we can come alongside someone else facing trouble, bringing them the same comfort that has carried us through.

Whatever hardships you have gone through:

·       Illness

·       Divorce

·       Job loss

·       Infertility

·       Depression or anxiety

·       The death of close family or friends

Whatever trouble you have faced qualifies you to come alongside someone else who is hurting with understanding. This is God’s good and powerful plan, friend. He comforts you, so that you can bring his comfort to the next person. Genius.

When God gives you comfort, he doesn’t just give enough to get you through; he gives you enough to give away. That is what Paul praises God for! It’s what we can praise God for!

You are qualified to come alongside the troubled

Trained professional counselors are a wonderful gift to take advantage of. But never minimize the power of God also working through you, through the troubles you go through. You are uniquely qualified to come alongside someone else who runs smack into what you’ve gone through.

As I was wrestling with this week’s passage, I really wanted to bring you someone who can authentically say, “Yes, this is true; this is who God is—the God of all comfort, who comforts us with more than enough, enough to pass on to someone else.”

And I realized my own sister is right in the middle of this, right now. We talked, and she readily agreed to allow me to share a bit of her story.

Ellen’s husband became deathly ill with a neurological disorder, in Intensive Care, completely paralyzed and on a ventilator.

At the same time, she was the lead medical person caring for our Dad, who was in his 90s’. Ellen was working 14-hour hospital shifts yet not making enough money to cover the bills. The likelihood of having to sell her home loomed large.

Then after more than twenty years of marriage, Ellen’s husband left her for another woman.

The stress made Ellen physically ill day and night, no appetite and dropping weight in a way that was unhealthy. She could see no way out, and began to wish she would die. That’s what took hold in her mind and even in her prayers, that God would take her home, as a way out of the visceral pain she felt all the time.

Laying on her bedroom floor crying out to God in tears, she felt that she needed to go to her laptop and search for worship music. She didn’t feel like worshiping God, but she was desperate to meet God somehow, somewhere.I hit “play” on the first song that came up, and heard this prayer sung:

“You know when I rise and when I fall
When I come or go, You see it all
You hung the stars and You move the sea,
And still You know me.”

Those simply lyrics broke through in a powerful and personal way, as Ellen felt that the Lord comes down into our places of despair to be with us, alongside us, as the Comforter, the God of all comfort. Even in her pain, Ellen felt God’s compassion sweep over her. The image came to her mind of dark clouds that had been hovering over her, pulling back— not fully— but definitely pulling back, as she offered herself anew to the Lord.

Within a couple of years, one of Ellen’s closest friends had her husband walk out. Beth had been one of Ellen’s strongest supporters during her time of intense grief, and now she expressed through sobs that she had no will to live, and couldn’t go on anymore. She wanted to die.

In that moment, Ellen understood—viscerally—what Beth was feeling. She told Beth her own story and how the Lord had met her in the pain and loss. They cried and prayed together, and Beth was able to recommit her life to the Lord, however the circumstances would play out.

Beth led a volunteer ministry to prisoners in her state, and when she shared with some of the prisoners what she was going through, they ministered to her, rather than the other way around. They were encouraged that their own hardships qualified them to come alongside Beth in hers. They were able to comfort Beth, as they had been comforted in their troubles.

Catch that genius cycle: God comforted Ellen, giving her the comfort she needed and enough to share. That brought comfort to Beth in her time of deep trouble, and in turn the prisoners that she typically helped were honored to help her.

God’s genius plan for bringing comfort

Friends, this is an essential part of God’s good plan for you and me, for his Church. Most people coming through brutal experiences like that want to get as far away from the pain as possible. But when God brings you comfort—usually by bringing someone alongside you—it’s not just enough to get you through, it’s enough to give away.

So in this final week of our series on God’s attributes, his perfect character traits, know this: Who is God? He is the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort. He cares, and he comforts, so that you can offer others comfort in their troubles as well. God doesn’t bless us just to make us happy; He blesses us to make us a blessing. What a God! What a plan! What a purpose to pursue! This is what God has for you, for all who trust in his Son.

Getting to know the Comforter

So I have to ask: are you trusting in Jesus? Have you asked him to be your Savior and Lord, that is, the one who forgives your sin and who is leading your life? That’s the essential first step in experiencing God as the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort for you.

And this is what people around you need from you as well: that from the comfort you receive from God, you bring comfort to the hurting near you. Because when God gives you comfort, it’s not just enough—it’s more than enough. It’s enough to share, to pass on, enough to come alongside someone else.

I’m thinking of two groups of people right now. First is those of you who haven’t yet decided to trust in Jesus Christ. I’m going to lead in a prayer of trust: I invite you to agree, silently making this your words to God as well.

The second group I’m thinking of is those who already actively trust and follow Jesus, and you need a fresh experience of the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort now. Allow me to pray for you both. Let’s call on God right now.

Two prayers worth praying

If you’ve not yet trusted in Jesus, pray something like this:

God, I want to know you as my Father in heaven. I want to know you as the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort. I believe you sent Jesus to show us what you’re like. I believe he died on the cross and rose from the dead to forgive my sins. And I commit myself to following him now. Come into my life as Savior, Jesus, and cleanse my guilt. Come in as Lord, and lead me from this point on. I will follow you, as you give me strength, all the days of my life.

And now for those who are already trusting in you, Lord, I pray: Lord, grant us an understanding heart, that we may see into the hearts of others, and know their strengths and weaknesses, their hopes and their despairs, their efforts and their failures, their need of love and their need to love. Through our touch with them, grant comfort and hope—redeeming the past, sanctifying the present and brightening the future with the assurance of your unfailing love and comfort brought to us in Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord. Amen.