The God of All Comfort
In this series, “Promises of Scripture,” we asked Youth Ministers one simple question: “What is a scriptural promise that you burn to communicate to your students?” Read other articles in this series here.
Life is full of uncomfortable situations.
For instance, just about every seventh grader will deal with the discomfort of “the lunchroom dilemma”: Who will I sit with? What if there’s no room at the table?
In the moment, the lunchroom dilemma feels just about as bad as things get.
As students go on to experience more ups and downs of life though, they quickly realize discomfort is a very present reality. Some students experience a lack of comfort caused by a fractured family. They may experience the death of someone they know, or the brutal pain of failure academically, socially, athletically.
It’s even becoming increasingly more uncomfortable for our students to live out their Christian faith in our current spiritual climate. Let’s be honest, being “in the world but not of it” is uncomfortable. But upon a closer look, discomfort for Christians is nothing new. You can see it in the language all throughout the Old and New Testaments. As John Piper said in a message at the Bethlehem 2016 Conference for Pastors and Church Leaders, “Our mantra is: Life is hard, God is good, Glory’s coming.”
So the question for us (and for our students) is: When life is hard, where do I find comfort?
Both as a Student Minister, and now as a Pastor, the promise of God’s comfort in the midst of affliction is a definite “go-to” promise I share with hurting Christians. I’ve seen students deal with many hardships – some small, some great. And now as a Pastor, serving the church at which I was formerly the Student Minister for eight and a half years, I now see the hardships adult Christians face in their varying life stages.
Since becoming Pastor, I have shared this promise about once a month with church members who are hurting. The promise, from 2 Corinthians 1:3-7, is: God comforts us in all our afflictions.
“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. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-7)
Here are three reasons I turn to this promise to comfort hurting Christians.
1. It is all-inclusive
Notice how Paul describes God. God is “the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction” (emphasis mine). It almost goes without saying, but Paul was quite familiar with affliction. Just a few verses later he shared, “we felt that we had received the sentence of death” (v.9). Paul was mocked, imprisoned, beaten repeatedly, and even left for dead once. Yet despite his uncomfortable experiences, he opens 2 Corinthians with a blessing to the God “who comforts us in all our afflictions.”
All our afflictions.
That means there is no affliction we experience in which God is not able to comfort us. He is the God who possesses all the comfort we need. Therefore, we need not turn to anything else – drugs, alcohol, food, pornography, sex, mindless scrolling on Instagram, etc. – to ease our pain away. Instead, we need to turn to God, Who alone is able to comfort us in every single affliction and hardship we face, however great or small.
Students need to know God’s comfort is all-inclusive.
2. It gives my suffering a purpose
When we suffer, often times the biggest question we ask God is, “Why?!” “Why is this happening to me?” While that specific question may go unanswered this side of glory, our suffering is not in vain if we turn to God for comfort. Notice what Paul said next: God comforts us in all our afflictions “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.”
So if we turn to God for comfort, He not only comforts us in our moment of need, but He provides enough comfort for us so that (purpose) we may be able to share that comfort with others who need it down the road. It can be maddening to suffer for nothing. But if God can somehow use our suffering, and the comfort He provides us in the midst of it, to comfort others, then our present sufferings have a purpose.
A word of advice: Don’t open with this. No one wants to hear “God will use this one day” when they’re in the throes of affliction and heartache. What they need right then is the God of all comfort, period.
However, students planning to go in the mission field or into ministry do need to know that up front, because they will experience some form of suffering. So teach these students what Paul learned, as his own afflictions were brought on by sharing the gospel. He wrote, “If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation.”
Affliction so others might be saved is a great purpose for which to suffer.
3. It’s shared with Christ & His Church
Suffering was normative for early Christians because it was normative for Christ. He came to earth the first time to suffer. As we follow Him, we “share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings.” For Paul, this was a gain worth losing everything for.
“For [Jesus’] sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order … that I … may share his sufferings.” (Philippians 3:8, 10 ESV)
If your students suffer for being Christians, they are taking part in the life of Christ. Don’t paint Christianity with rainbows and Skittles (or pizza and Doritos). Be honest with your students that part of walking with Jesus means suffering with – and for – Him. But also remind them they’re not alone in doing so.
The Corinthians “patiently endure(d) the same sufferings” as Paul and Timothy. These are the same sufferings felt throughout the history of the church. They’re the sufferings Jesus told us about: “You will be hated by all for my name’s sake” (Luke 21:17).
Students need to know that to be a Christian is to suffer. So prepare your students to suffer, as Christians and as humans living in a fallen world, but remind them of the unshakeable hope we have in Christ: that immeasurable comfort will accompany our certain sufferings in this life.
“Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.” (2 Corinthians 1:7)
Join us for Rooted 2016, an intimate youth ministry conference, where we will explore the good news that God’s grace is sufficient for our relationships: with ourselves, with others, with the world, and with God. Jesus is our reconciliation yesterday, today, and forever.