Helping Us Serve
You, Lord have helped me and comforted me. (Psalm 86:17)
Another reason God. Rings adversity into our lives is to equip us for more effective service. All that we have considered so far- pruning, holiness, dependence, and perseverance- contributes to making us useful instruments in God’s service.
Paul writes of how God “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 1:4). Everyone faces times of adversity, and everyone needs a compassionate and caring friend who’ll come alongside and offer comfort and encouragement during those times. As we experience God’s comfort and encouragement in our adversities, we’re equipped to be His instrument of comfort and encouragement to others. We pass on to others what we’ve received from God ourselves. To the extent we’re able to lay hold of the great truths of God’s sovereignty, wisdom, and love and find comfort and encouragement from them in our adversities, we’ll be able to minister to others in those times of distress.
To do that, we must first of all show compassion, the deep feeling of sharing in the suffering of another and the desire to relieve that suffering. If we’re to really help others in their time of adversity, we must also bring encouragement- to fortify them with the spiritual and emotional strength to persevere in times of adversity. We do this by pointing them to the trustworthiness of God as revealed to us in Scripture. Only to the extent that we ourselves have been comforted and encouraged by the Holy Spirit through His Word will we be able to comfort and encourage others.
Adversity in our own lives, rightly responded to, enables us to be instruments of comfort and encouragement to others.
Most people know how to respond to adversity with fear, sadness, anger, or discouragement or depression. This is the normal response to life when things go wrong. Out of these come a myriad of self-destruct actions. It is in the human reaction to dull the pain of adversity and suffering that causes many to add to their suffering additional destructive behaviors. For those whom we see doing so, there ought to be great compassion rather than an attitude of judgement. Over the years of ministry I’ve noticed that we often try to treat the symptoms rather than the root cause. I remember working with a person who was a cocaine addict. Several times he had gone to rehabs to get clean only to find as soon as he was released, he went right back to the same way of living. I remember his words after he gave his life to Christ. He said that he realized that the reason he turned to the cocaine was that he was empty inside and even when he was clean that emptiness was still there. It was only when Christ filled the void that the power of the habit was broken.
God has provided for His children a source of comfort and help that goes far beyond mere words. The comfort of God in times of adversity is a reality to be experienced and the depths of that comfort is way beyond human knowledge and ability. I’ve learned in my own journey that even with all my experience in ministry and knowledge of the Bible, it is the work solely of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter that comes to bring comfort, encouragement and peace. The truth is until your world falls apart, you will never experience this comfort. I’ve found that it is in my adversity, that the presence of God is more real. I remember the upside-down-world surreal feeling when my dad died. All my life he had been an anchor, a man of faith and principle and strength. Trying to process why he would choose to end his life, pitting my knowledge of life and Christianity against the pain and agony of loss, and trying to keep from drowning while at the same time knowing that those around me were looking at me the pastor for answers and comfort that I did not have to give, I realized that unless God somehow gave me strength and comfort and encouragement, I had nothing to give. I remember crying out to God in desperation and feeling His tender love and comfort filling my soul. O the pain was still there, the questions were still there, but the blessed overwhelming peace that soothed my heart was beyond description. To this day I realize that all I have to give those who are in times of adversity is only what God gives me. What I have to offer those who are facing adversity is compassion. They don’t need my take on the matter, they don’t need my opinion nor view and they don’t need me to offer my “fix.” They just need my compassion, my listening ear, my encouragement- not the trite expressions- but just to know that I will commit to walk with them in their journey, and my prayers. One thing I learned as a hospice chaplain is that sometimes just sitting in silence is more helpful than words.
All of us experience adversity, but it is our response to it that defines the Christian from the unbeliever. Paul says to us in Thessalonians that “we do not sorrow as those who have no hope.” This means that as believers we will have sorrow. It doesn’t mean that life will always be good. But it does mean that even in the depths of despair, we find hope.
“But we have this precious treasure [the good news about salvation] in [unworthy] earthen vessels [of human frailty], so that the grandeur and surpassing greatness of ?the power will be [shown to be] from God [His sufficiency] and not from ourselves. We are pressured in every way [hedged in], but not crushed; perplexed [unsure of finding a way out], but not driven to despair; hunted down and persecuted, but not deserted [to stand alone]; struck down, but never destroyed; always carrying around in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the [resurrection] life of Jesus also may be shown in our body. For we who live are constantly [experiencing the threat of] being handed over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the [resurrection] life of Jesus also may be evidenced in our mortal body [which is subject to death]. So physical death is [actively] at work in us, but [spiritual] life [is actively at work] in you.”
2 Corinthians 4:7-12
Dr. John Thompson