Comfort and Compassion in a Time of Trouble
During the week of the terrorist attacks TACF was hosting a major week of crusade meetings with Rodney Howard-Browne. The atmosphere here on September 11th was initially one of shock, disbelief and urgent calling on God, those immediate emotions were tempered by a growing desire for revival to be carried to hurting world.
As I read the first few verses of 2 Corinthians 1 to our Friday night renewal meeting, God challenged me about my own security and my priorities. He reminded me that this is a time when many foundations have been shaken and God is challenging the focus of His children.
PEACE IN TROUBLE
God’s first challenge to me was to see the context of Paul’s prayer for “grace and peace” to his readers. When he wrote 2 Corinthians, he was in Ephesus, in the midst of a major commotion about following Jesus. You can read about it in Acts 19. Demetrius, the silversmith, had roused rabble to turn the whole city against the Christians. In the middle of this Paul writes to the Corinthians, “Grace and peace to you!” How can that be? Surely grace and peace imply quiet and safety? Is Paul mad or is he insensitive to the trouble around him? Neither, but he can write and send grace and peace because he knows his Father and is receiving His comfort. (2 Corinthians 1:3)
Secondly scripture tells us that times of trouble such as we have seen since September 11th will become more frequent as the return of Jesus draws near. This is clear from passages such as Luke 21:9 and Revelation 6:4. God has told us to expect them and they should not surprise us, but in the West we are not used to these troubles. Typically we see lack of trouble as a sign of God’s blessing and pray against troubles when they come. I believe we need to change that view and expect troubles around us, yet look for God’s protection upon us and through us.
The attacks on the United States and the other troubles in the world demonstrate the hatred of man against man. I do not believe they are God’s judgments. Rodney Howard-Browne pointed out that if God were judging New York, as in the case of Sodom and Gomorrah, we would not be able to find the city now. Whatever the source of troubles, God’s message to us is the same: the end is near and troubles will precede it.
God is not threatened by disasters; He is greater than all of them. He is the God of all comfort and the Father of mercies. (2 Corinthians 1:3) The word for “comfort” here is the same root as the word Jesus uses for Holy Spirit, when He promises us another Comforter. (John 16) The Holy Spirit is our comfort and our security. In Him we are safe because He will be with us forever. Much of our dislike of trouble is a fear of pain or death, yet He is with us before and after death. Jesus took our pain on the cross and death has lost its sting because it has no hold on you or me. That’s why Paul could write “for me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21)
The reason many Christians do not overcome the fear of death is that they have not received the Father’s love and the comfort of Holy Spirit. God our Father loves and protects us, just as He protected His people on the night of the first Passover. (Exodus 12) Each follower of Jesus has “the blood of a lamb on the doorposts” of his or her life and every plague passes over them, including eternal death. Not only does our Father protect them but, if we read more carefully in Exodus 12, we see that those who came out of Egypt had no sickness or disease. The lamb also healed every one of them. It is time to go deeper in receiving God’s comfort. We do that by being real with God, telling Him our fears as well as our hopes, our griefs as well as our joys. Then we discover that we truly “overcome by the blood of the Lamb.”
The third challenge God gives us from these verses is to comfort others. God blesses us, as we have already seen. The reason God blesses us is that He intends us to bless others with His blessing. Paul puts it this way: “He comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble.” (2 Corinthians 1:4) That is our calling, our commission. The Greek word for comfort, “paraklesis,” is more than simply alleviating grief, it also includes encouragement and giving hope. The root means “calling near or alongside.” So in giving comfort, we are coming alongside others and calling out “come here, I have the God you need. He is what you are seeking.”
These are days when we can put behind us our vain attempts to evangelize. Formerly we nervously tried to convince our friends they needed Jesus. Now their foundations have been shaken, and they know they need security. If we will offer hope, God’s comfort, to those who are afraid, they will respond. It is a time for renewed vigor in being visible for Jesus. Paul writes of comfort again at the end of his second letter to the Thessalonians where he links the giving of comfort with the believers being established in every good word and work and the word of the Lord running swiftly and being glorified. (2 Thessalonians 2:17) So this process of receiving and giving comfort is at the heart of spreading the kingdom message. The Thessalonians grew in both good words, speaking to others about Jesus, and works, miracles and social change. It is time for us to do the same!
A TIME OF CHANGE
The attacks of September 11th were a turning point for the United States and all her friends. I remember when the sudden death of Diana, Princess of Wales, brought the United Kingdom to recognize the uncertainty of life. In the same way, the destruction of the World Trade Center and the massive loss of life have caused whole nations to realize that comfort is not in the beauty of our homes or the size of our bank balances. There is the same sea change in North America today as we saw in Britain when the whole nation prayed the Lord’s prayer at Diana’s funeral. People are longing for secure reality, for true comfort. They are returning to God as the only true source of security. We have the comfort in Holy Spirit’s presence that everyone is seeking and our commission is to comfort others with His power and love.
THE LAST DAYS
In the last days God seeks wise virgins whose lamps are full of oil. (Matthew 25) He seeks those who know their authority and will make disciples. (Matthew 28:18-20) He looks for people equally captivated by His presence and His love for the lost who will walk in His love AND give it away.
God promises that we shall overcome by the blood of the Lamb, but not just the blood. The blood is our comfort, our safety, but we also need the word of our testimony to overcome. (Revelation 12:10-11) This “word of our testimony” is literally our expressions of our thoughts pointing to our experience of Jesus. Do you think about Jesus and what He means to you? Then the word of your testimony is letting others know what you think of Him.
PASSION AND COMPASSION
It is your passion for Jesus that generates your compassion for the lost. In Matthew 9:35-38, we see the compassion of Jesus for the lost, and His compassion is expressed by sending His disciples out to reap the harvest. We are in days of harvest now, as millions of people feel like sheep who don’t know their shepherd. They are weary and scattered and there are multitudes of them! The harvest is plentiful. Will you receive God’s comfort for your own fears and quickly go to comfort others?
Pray Isaiah 61 with me. “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good tidings to the poor. He has sent me to heal the broken hearted to proclaim liberty to the captives and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God: to comfort all who mourn.” Will you say “yes” and go?