In Need of Comfort
The young woman sat slumped in her chair a few rows over from me. From where I sat I could almost feel the heaviness and pain that was written all over her face and held in the posture of her body. I knew because I have been there. In brokenness, and desperate need of comfort.
Even though I knew what I had to do, I sat stubbornly contemplating excuses to avoid what was welling up in my heart. But, the nudging of the Spirit trumped my selfishness and I found my way over to the chair next to her. I gently placed my hand on her shoulder. She looked up with tear-stained cheeks, her body rigid. Her body language spoke for itself and I didn’t press her with questions. I just told her I cared for her and wanted to pray over her. She closed her eyes as I silently pleaded with God for His words, not my own. Somewhere in the course of my prayer, the Spirit reached her heart and a softening spread over her entire being. I could more feel it than see it. Only God can comfort in that way. But, if we let Him, He will use His children as channels of comfort- when we are willing.
“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 affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4, ESV).
The Comforted turns into the Comforter
The comfort we receive from God for ourselves is not intended to stop there. Paul’s emphasis in this passage is that the result of this comfort would be to pass it to others experiencing affliction. At least one of the purposes of God comforting the afflicted is transforming the comforted into the comforters.
When we are in the midst of suffering it is the natural human instinct to pull inward and to withdraw from others. We can easily become self-focused in our pain. Paul here is telling a very different story. He proposes that affliction actually brings the opportunity to bless. When we receive comfort from God, we become equipped to comfort others in a very powerful way. Paul’s life was not all about Paul. He saw his suffering in the context of the greater purpose of building up God’s people.
The Jordan River vs. The Dead Sea
We see an example of this in the Jordan River and the Dead Sea. The Jordan river courses 156 miles, bringing life everywhere it flows. This river sources many other streams and rivers and eventually flows into the Dead Sea, where this life-giving water comes to a dead end. The Dead Sea is identified as a “terminal lake,” allowing no outflow to any other body of water.
When we receive comfort and extend it to others, the flow of God’s comfort continues to others through the Holy Spirit. When we receive and don’t extend this comfort, it sits as dormant and lifeless as the Dead Sea.
Comforting in Our Own Brokeness
But before we can be comforters, we need to acknowledge our own pain and face the vulnerabilities of brokenness. Often we try to hide our pain, wrongly thinking it nobler or more “Christian.” Or, we turn to other, more tangible means of comfort. But God patiently waits for us to turn to Him in our need. When we open ourselves to Him in our pain we allow Him to share comfort in the deepest places of our souls.
Receiving is not a passive act. It takes revealing our hearts, being vulnerable in the inmost part of our beings. We cannot receive a gift with tight fists. Receiving requires drawing near and facing the giver with an open stance. For many years I did not receive well, because I wanted to be strong enough myself. It wasn’t until I humbled myself in my need and opened my heart to God that I began to experience the fullness of God’s comfort. A comfort that could be passed on.
I parted with the young woman that morning with my heart overflowing. Not because I had received, but because I had given what I had received. Jesus said it is more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35), and this kind of giving does not disappoint. There is a peculiar transaction that takes place when we are able to extend comfort in our state of need. God will not permit our comfort to dry up if we are willing to take the risk of continuing to let it flow out into others. If the delight of receiving comfort from God is so great, how much more the abundance of joy in giving this comfort to others!