Saturday, March 14, 2015

God of All Comfort

The other night I was reading and came across a passage that got me thinking about trials. We all go through trials in our lives, but it seems like in recent years my family has been through more than our normal amount of tribulation. We have been through scary times: a child that was very ill, a child that was stalked online, my husband was very ill and almost died. We have been through trying times: my husband went to college and completed an enormous amount of work in a relatively short period of time (great stress load with very little family time or rest), our family moved out of our home and into my grandparents' home to care for them through extended illness and dementia, we finally had to make the difficult decision to leave my grandmother and move back home as conditions there became unsafe for our baby, my husband got a job as a pastor with new responsibilities, we have had many financial burdens, and numerous car and house repair issues. We have been through times of grief: my grandfather passed away, my grandmother is not "there" anymore as Alzheimer's has stripped away her mind, our beloved dog passed away, my husband had to part with his pet birds as he was deathly allergic to them, my mother in law passed away, a family friend passed away. Many would look at all we have been through and think that we have had a rough life in the last four years.

I would like to say that I held on to peace and joy while grabbing on to faith that the Lord would get us through each trial. However, I would be lying if I didn't admit there were times when I fell apart. Sometimes I would just weep and cry out to God in desperation. When I would start to calm down, I would hear His still, small voice in my gut, reminding me that He was there. He was going through the trial with me. At times I would feel His presence so strong that I would have an instantaneous calm come over me. A peace that surpassed all understanding would rise within me, and I would be comforted.

Over the last several years I have had many occasions to consider why we must go through tough experiences. Many believers feel that being children of God means that we don't have to be sick, financially poor (really, who defines what poor is, anyway), taken advantage of, or persecuted. They believe that they have the power to just command the illness to leave, the mountains to move, the money to flow in, etc. When some of these believers observe their brothers and sisters in the Lord going through rough times, they point out that if they just had enough faith or would just take command of the situation they could just get out of it. To a point I do agree that we have the privilege of being "King's Kids." With the Holy Spirit we have the power to change circumstances when we are speaking and moving within the will of God. There are times, though, when I believe that God would have us go through the trial instead of removing the trial.

We live in a fallen world. Human beings get sick. Many times health issues are directly related to lifestyle choices. Sometimes not. Loved ones pass away. Cars break down. People do evil things that hurt others. Accidents happen. Natural disasters happen. These are facts. Just because we are children of God, does that mean that we should never have to live with the consequences of our own or others' decisions? Does being a believer mean that I shouldn't have to experience and deal with the same issues that non-believers experience? Maybe sometimes. I have experienced divine healing and intervention many times. I have seen others healed and delivered, too. However, I have also had experiences when I had to be patient and rely on God to get me through the trials.

I believe that Scripture demonstrates there are times we have to go through rough times, just like everyone living the human experience does. Jesus went through trials. Paul points out that his own tribulation would be used by God to bring comfort to other believers. He makes it quite clear that believers will go through sufferings, just as Christ suffered. He also points out that God shows mercy and comforts the afflicted:

II Corinthians 1:3-7-- "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 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. Now if we are afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effective for enduring the same sufferings which we also suffer. Or if we are comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation. And our hope for you is steadfast, because we know that as you are partakers of the sufferings, so also you will partake of the consolation.

Paul doesn't say that God caused the tribulation, only that He comforts through it. God is always concerned with the sufferings of man, but His focus is different than ours many times is. His command to us is to love. Love God and love our neighbor. God showed love to us through Christ. How do we love our neighbor? Put others above ourselves. Consider others first. Note that Paul's focus was not on his sufferings, but on how he was able to relate to his fellow man through his trials and comfort others. I believe that if we stop looking at trials through a "poor me" attitude and start looking at them with the attitude that Paul demonstrated (and Christ demonstrated by going to the cross), we will find them more bearable and will more easily get through with our faith, peace, and joy intact, knowing that others are going through similar things and that Jesus also experienced great suffering on our behalf.

Also check out Romans 8. It starts out explaining the difference between those who are in the world and those who are in the Spirit. There is a difference in mindset and spirit. Paul explains that those who are in Christ will experience tribulation and suffering. He goes on to say that the sufferings of this world are nothing compared to the glory that will be revealed in us, referring to the transformation we will undergo, the image of God being made evident in us as we realize we truly are His children. Paul then says in verses 28-29, "And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren." We all have to go through trials. God doesn't promise to take us out. He does promise to use the trials for our good, meaning to transform our minds and conform our character into the image of Christ.

After going through all that I have been through I have to say that I would not trade the trials for a nice, cushy life. I have experienced a side of God's character that I would not have otherwise experienced. My faith has been renewed and strengthened time and time again. I have learned to express my feelings and be completely vulnerable before the throne of God, resting in His comfort in a way that I never would have known had I not gone through tribulation. My Father has demonstrated to me an understanding and tenderness that I can now more easily demonstrate to others around me who are going through tough times. I have learned to be more patient, loving, and kind as I have observed His patience, love, and kindness toward me. I can better relate to others and help them. Overall I can say that we can choose how tribulation will affect us. Will we allow ourselves to grow and learn through the rough times, or will we become bitter, angry, and resentful?

James 1:2-4--"My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing."

What about you? How have you been affected by the trials you are facing? Are you allowing your character to be developed through the process? Are you being conformed to the image of Christ, or are you fighting it? Is there a burden you need prayer for? Feel free to share in the comments.

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