In Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, he begins with one of the clearest explanations as to why God allows suffering in our lives. We read beginning in verse three, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ,” (2 Cor. 1:3-5 NKJV). Paul begins this section by listing several titles for our heavenly Father when he refers to God as the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort. As the God of all mercies, Paul reveals the compassionate heart of outreach of the God of the universe who cares to comfort His people. Through the Lord Jesus Christ, He can meet the deepest needs of our lives. I’m very thankful for the compassionate heart of God and His patience with me, not only before I knew the Lord Jesus Christ, but in the day-to-day refining process that is taking place in my life. The God of all comfort is an Old Testament description of God that is found repeatedly in the book of Isaiah. The Greek word for “comfort” is paraclete which means “one who comes alongside to help” and is another name for the Holy Spirit.
But one of the things I find most interesting in this passage is that one of the reasons that God allows suffering in our lives is so that we may minister and comfort others with the comfort and grace that we have found in the Lord Jesus Christ and in our loving heavenly Father. I have recently completed a 13-week grief share group that I started attending back in January. It has been most helpful for me in my grief journey (that is the result of my own personal losses and ministry losses in the last year) to have listened to other people’s experiences and connect their stories with my own journey. One of the things that must happen if we are to minister out of the brokenness in our own lives is that we must be willing to share our scars with others about the pain that we have experienced or are experiencing. If we deny the reality of our pain or minimize it, then not only are we going to miss the experience of God’s comfort and compassion, but we’re not going to be able to be an instrument in God’s hands in touching other people’s lives. Comfort from God is not the end in itself, but being comforted by God then becomes the source of comfort that should then flow out of our lives to minister to the brokenness in other people’s lives.
Over the last year, a number of us in the church have lost our moms. In fact, for both Debbie and I this will be our first Mother’s Day without our moms. This is true of other families in our church as well. The fact that we can mutually encourage one another with the hope that we have in Jesus Christ of eternal life is something that we can share together this Mother’s Day. As we go to visit our mom's gravesites on Sunday afternoon, we will use that as a format to minister and share with our children the importance of being in a right and loving relationship with our heavenly Father through His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. I think this will be a painful experience and yet I think it will be “good pain”, as it is part of the healing process. Grief involves deep emotions, if we fail to process these feelings they will show up in some other way with some other impact on our lives.
I had requested our church family this past Sunday to please pray for me to have pain on Monday when I had a lithotripsy procedure that I had hoped would break up the kidney stone in my left kidney. The fact that I have not had any pain since Monday would indicate to me that the procedure was unsuccessful in dislodging and breaking up the kidney stone. There is a screening process (that I will spare you the details of) which would also indicate that there has been no kidney stone passing through my body. As I shared on Sunday, “No pain, no gain”. This is also true in our own suffering experience, if we refuse to acknowledge the hurt and pain that we have experienced or if we rationalize it and minimize those situations, we won’t experience the growth and maturity that are part of God’s plan in our lives. Suffering is part of the pruning process that God uses to produce spiritual maturity in our lives (John 15).
When my sister Marianne passed away in November 2012, I was in India ministering. The week after her death I believe I spoke some 20-25 times in different places and to different audiences. When I came back my mom was in great pain, not only emotionally but physically, as she needed to have a knee replacement surgery the first week of December. When we had my sister’s memorial service here shortly before Christmas, I didn’t process at all her death, I had to hold it together and minister to others. It was in the summer of 2013 when Tracy Toths’ (church member) sister passed away. When I arrived at the funeral home to visit with the family, they had a video presentation playing; I was overwhelmed by my own personal grief and had to go out and weep in the car before I could restore my composure to go in and minister to Tracy’s family. It is very important that we have space for God to minister and care for us, but then also very important as well that we use the grace that we’ve experienced in the touch of God on our lives as a source of comfort and care in other people’s lives. Think about your story, what part of your story does God want you to process so that you could use that to touch other people’s hearts and lives? That’s what we see Paul describing for us in the first chapter of 2 Corinthians.
All for God’s Glory,
Pastor Rich Sivo