Comfort and hope

This week I've needed to review where I look for comfort when life gets me down.

I think that many of us look for comfort in a variety of ways – food (treating myself), TV (zoning out), computer games (opting out), books (entering another world) and shopping (retail therapy) might be the obvious examples. Or we take on more damaging pursuits – alcohol and other drugs (numbing the pain), porn or casual sex (a fantasy world), gambling (fake thrills), hedonism (making fun our god), materialism (making what we buy our god) and the like.

Or we might seek comfort in our relationships with family and friends. Obviously this is one part of God's design for us:

Genesis 2:18:

The LORD God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him."

Genesis 2:24-25:

For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.

The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12:

Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!

Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone?

Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

(the third strand in the cord being God)

 

Or Paul's command in Galations 6:2:

Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

(The 'law of Christ' presumably being that of loving God and your neighbour as retold in Matthew 22:34-40)

I think, however, there's a difference between receiving comfort from family and friends (which is clearly God's gift to us and our duty to others) and seeking this as our primary source of comfort.

Myself, I wanted to go to the bible for comfort last night (rather than watch television to zone out) and I found myself looking at Hebrews 11 – the roll call of faithful people who persevered in spite of "none of them [receiving] what was promised" – they died before seeing God's new kingdom being delivered by Christ. We are accordingly encouraged in chapter 12:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

This morning I read 1 Peter 1, starting with versus 3-9 which details our hope:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God's power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

From v13 onwards (the topic of this excellent sermon from Mark Driscoll), we are charged to set our hope in that grace given by Jesus:

"… prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed."

Also Jesus' words to his disciples in John 14:1-4:

"Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going."

And finally Paul's encouragement to the Corinthian church in 2 Corinthians 1:3-7:

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 have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.

This from a man who in the same letter details the extent to which he has suffered (2 Cor 11:24-30):

Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn? If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.

This, therefore, is my challenge to myself – that I am to:

  • avoid seeking comfort in things that do not provide it,
  • be thankful for the comfort given me by family and friends (and to actively seek to comfort and encourage others) as God's gift to us all, but to
  • seek comfort from and set my hope in Christ and the grace to be given us through him. 

And as this hope and God's unfailing love carried Paul and the roll call of the faithful through their incredible sufferings, they too will carry me.