So let us comfort

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. ~2 Cor. 1:3-4

Often we face seasons filled with hardship, chaos, pain, and even affliction. In the last few years, Troy and I have faced a lot of unknowns – God has walked us through some scary seasons filled with new babies, cancer diagnoses, a new job and city, children with serious medical illnesses, parents with cancer, and the loss of loved ones. We have wept tears of pain, joy, and relief. We have felt alone in a new city and experienced new friends feed us, care for our other children, encourage and pray for us. We have had seasons so weary of bad news that we have cried out to God wondering why. Why us? Why now?

This has been a week of threshing. Not because of some great spiritual dilemma; no, this is the threshing that can only come from the stomach bug. It is one thing that can completely wreck me – 10 people who can get sick, violently ill, unpredictably, anywhere, on anything. Ugh, it’s one of the worst! And it has come to our home this week. Our 2 year old was the first (probably patient zero) and of course by caring for him, I fell next. My big kids have been amazing! So helpful, kind, willing to support one another – School was done, meals prepared, rooms cleaned, really amazing. But still I lay in the bed unable to move or breathe deeply, fearing the pukes and mildly wanting to die. I wonder why me? Why now? Couldn’t I have just skipped this? God, if I were last to get this, all of this would be a lot easier given the laundry, food, and cleaning issues mounting.

And then it hits another preschooler and immediately I jump into action, weakly staggering down the hall to get cleaning supplies and shooing healthy teens back in order to hopefully protect them from actually getting this dreaded thing. As I comfort the upset, fearful little one with words that reassure, I quickly get her bathed, redressed, tucked into a new bed, and quarantined beside me and the baby in the sick bay. I lay back down, fearful of who will fall next. The one thought that begins to crystallize is that maybe it is fortunate I wasn’t the last hold out, that instead I was 2nd man down. Why? Because now I am free to comfort, nurture, and care for all my little ones without residual fear of catching it.

Typically fear mounts during these onslaughts and begins to whisper at me every time another child falls prey to this kind of virus. I’m not always the most nurturing if you’re over the age of 10 (mainly because I guess you’ve hit the age of accountability with getting the pukes in the toilet) so you may not get all the loving care you were used to prior to that birthday, especially if you are later in the game to get sick. My tank seems to run out because now the contagious factor has so mounted that I know it’s just a matter of time for me, and I want to limit all contact!

And while I know there is no one who would welcome the stomach virus just to be able to identify with another, God has been highlighting this truth to me in this week. My ability to comfort another is linked to the comfort I have received from Him. We comfort because we have been brought through adversity, not because we have just heard about the hardship or difficulty. No, we comfort because God has faithfully walked us through, and we can point to Him for the ones caught in the struggle. We become His ambassadors, His hands and feet to offer comfort, rest, help, and truth to the ones wracked by hardship that feels overwhelming and never-ending.

So I wonder, what do I know of this comfort? I love what Spurgeon said about the beginning of this verse – by blessing God, we “destroy distress by bringing God upon the scene.” How many times do I stew in my distress whether it be little like a virus or seemingly insurmountable like cancer, job loss, family stress, or death? Do I spend time first in my whining and wondering, succumbing to all the what ifs and fears of what may come? or do I rise and bless God? Comfort blossoms out of the truth of who God is. He is sovereign, constant, unchanging, and faithful. His sovereignty declares that He hasn’t lost control of one single thing that seems to be spiraling out of control. His constancy promises His presence right with me in the struggle. His unchanging nature means that comfort will be given in an ongoing, meaningful way because He is the Father of all mercies. And He is faithful to supply all the comfort needed. He is the Source of all I need in my time of need.

His comfort is unlike any other. Comfort comes from the Greek word parakaleo meaning to call for, exhort, encourage, strengthen and console. It is the steady truth of the Scripture coming alive on the page as I seek Him. His words actively slicing through my layers of fear, panic, numbness, or pain. It is the faithful allegiance, service, and prayers of the Tychicus, Titus, and Epaphrus friends in life – the warriors who will stand in the gap and bring encouragement on the dark days. It is the miraculous moment when something shifts that seemed immovable, and you instantly know the hand of God was involved. But most importantly, His comfort comes through the Comforter, the great Paraclete. The Holy Spirit indwelling you and me as believers. Ephesians 1:13-14 declares this truth that when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit. Jesus declared that the best thing for us would be the Comforter or Helper who would come. He guides us into truth, causes us to abound in hope, grants us unity, regenerates, and renews us.

But if I resist or resent my struggle, how can I comfort another? If I redefine it so that I don’t have to walk through the struggle or if I refuse the difficult road God calls me to, there is no ground for comforting another. When I run to quick fixes or hide in holes of denial, I declare that He is not my comforter. And I am empty when faced with another who desperately needs to hear the truth of Who He is. The spread of the Gospel is rapid and fierce when we, having walked through the fires, can testify to not being burned. Hope is offered to the world when we can point to the waters that seemed to overwhelm us and then share the peace of God which restrained the despair so that we did not drown. The world is desperate for comfort. The body of believers is desperate for comfort. Let us walk as comforters because we know and have been comforted by Him.

Weighed Down

Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad. ~ Proverbs 12:25

Anxiety – Merriam Webster defines it as a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome. Biblically the word in Hebrew has heaviness, fear, sorrow, or carefulness associated with it. Until a few years ago, I would not have said that anxiety characterized my life or was a big struggle for me. Now I may have been wrong or unaware, but certainly God has been faithful to reveal what I feel is a new struggle with anxiety to me in these last few years.

Several years ago we made a move, following steps the Lord made clear to us but still painful in the leaving of friends, familiarity, comfort, and ease. Following that move I would say that our lives entered a 3 year period where anything that could go wrong did. Medical crises, difficulty with a pregnancy and new birth, upheaval with work, uncertainty with income walked hand in hand with a new city, new friends, new routine for school. We began to hurtle from one major event to another, putting out the fires or seeking to moderate the issue, and I began to feel like the ball in a pinball machine bouncing back and forth between high stress issues without any respite. My friends who know me will probably agree that I tend to be more dramatic or animated than some, but I began to retreat into a place where I watched myself handle everything without actually engaging a whole lot emotionally. In my mind racing thoughts of what’s next, what should I do to prevent that, how can I set this up to not have repercussions seesawed along with thoughts of retreat, panic, and anger. My family was “treated” to either a high task manager or emotional mine field.

Proverbs warns that anxiety weighs a man down. To weigh down in this verse means to bow down, as in worship, to stoop. Anxiety will cause me to worship at the altar of fear, worry, control/organization, self reliance or inactivity. I will bow down, and it will not be to the only One who can help me in my need.  So how do I release or walk away from anxiety?

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand. Do not be anxious about anything but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God and the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Reasonableness in Philippians 4 is gentleness. When I am anxious, often gentleness is the first thing to go. Anxious people aren’t often gentle or patient.  They are protective, grabby, impatient, and irritable. The posture of rejoicing despite the circumstances, pleading before the throne with thanksgiving, is hard. But as we look to the Word and worship Him, His peace is our guard, a military term for keeping watch and engaging all offensive and defensive actions necessary as a military sentinel would.

1 Peter 5:6-7 – Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. As much as I don’t want to see it, anxiety links up with pride. Pride is the root cause of so many symptoms of sin, and it is the base of this one as well for me. Since the garden we have been seeking to be like God, and I am no exception. My anxiety was wrapped in the complete lack of ability to control anything going on and the deep pride within me that screamed that I should be able to handle this, that I should be able to walk this out calmly, that if I could just organize better or return to some way that had worked in the past, that I could turn this around and be the savior in these circumstances. I could not control the way my life was spinning, and it was an affront to me.  There is One who has conquered all, and He desires for me to choose the good portion as he told Martha in Luke 10. Inherent in this scripture is the link that humbling myself requires giving all my anxieties to Him, acknowledging His care for me, and allowing His timing for my life. And He will exalt, at the proper time. He will carve ways out of rock, make rough places smooth, comfort your fears, heal, lead, organize, and guide.

Many times I have quoted or heard someone quote Matthew 6:34, “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” And it seems like a pull up your bootstraps kind of verse, meant to exhort and make you just put all your worries down and walk well. But it’s so important to have context of what Jesus is saying when he exhorts us with this verse. Yes, this is the passage where Jesus is referencing the birds and flowers that don’t worry about their food or clothes, and he then says how much more does your Father love and care for you, the ones who are in His image. But verse 33 should be the emphasis, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” When my thinking is aligned with kingdom work, anxiety can be nailed to the cross. The ability to peel off the anxiety that envelopes is related to my pursuit of Him. He will increase my understanding of what occurred at the cross, that Jesus’ death crucified my body of sin that I would not be enslaved to it but set free from it.

I want to worship Christ, the One who has made me alive and will make me more and more in His image until the day I stand before Him. No more bowing to what I fear or what I cannot control.


Just swing

And he awoke and rebuked the wind and the raging waves, and they ceased, and there was a calm. He said to them, “Where is your faith?” ~Luke 8:24-25

“Stop panicking and trust, Momma. God knows. Your job is to trust Him. He’s got this.” Those words from my daughter. They draw me up sharp and take my breath away.

We have one child who has a serious aversion to movement, just cannot take the swinging motion of being thrown up by her daddy. You can forget any bikes, swings, or roller coasters. She will completely panic if she feels movement-wise out of control, and you cannot convince her that you have her and will hold her safe. She’s in full out panic mode protecting herself in that moment, wildly flailing about, screaming, crying. Inconsolable if she feels as if someone bigger just took advantage of her and threw her around.

And this is me so often with God. In the last 3-4 years of life, we have had alot of crazy – illnesses, deaths, changes, births, new cities, new schools, injuries. And I feel like I have somehow gotten on a roller coaster that I never wanted to ride, and I can’t get off. I may swing high and enjoy a moment of exhilaration but the plummeting back down can fill me with such panic or fear, wondering if I will crash.

We see it in the story of the disciples out on the lake with Jesus. The storm comes that pounds and rocks the boat with such ferocity that the disciples panic. Several of these men are well seasoned fishermen who have seen storms like this before, yet they see the waters flowing into the boat, recognize the power of the storm, and are scared. The Bible recounts this story in 3 different places (Matthew 8:23-27, Mark 4:35-41 and Luke 8:22-25) and in each recounting Jesus is asleep. The disciples begin to realize the boat could sink or capsize, and they wake him frantically asking him to save them. In Mark 4:38, they say, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” and in the other two passages they cry out that they are perishing and ask for salvation. They are panicking!

Yet they have just spent days with Jesus watching him heal the sick, cast out demons, and raise the dead. They have listened to his teaching and marveled at the truths he taught. They have seen evidence of his power, authority, and might. But in the storm that night, I think these men absolutely thought they were going to die and then looked over and saw the peace Jesus had in his sleep and it may have just bugged them completely. They desperately wanted safety and knew the power they had seen displayed earlier was their only hope. Often when I am in full freak out mode, not trusting or believing, I want everyone else with me to feel my panic and join me in despair. But the wisdom my child offered parallels what Jesus asked his disciples. “Where is your faith?” Now my daughter can’t change anything but what she is able to do is speak words of life, reminders to redirect thought patterns to the One who is able to handle all storms, obstacles, and catastrophes. I love that Jesus in His great mercy and grace calms the storm with a word. Then He challenges the disciples’ degree of faith.

Trust – to be confident, sure or bold; refuge. Psalm 9:9-10 declares, “The Lord is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. And those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you.” and Psalm 13:5, “But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord because he has dealt bountifully with me.” David wasn’t confused – his heart in Ps 13 was aching, throbbing with the longing of being somewhere other than where he was. He wanted the sorrow and pain to end and joyful communion with God to be his daily walk. But then he actually stops and sees God.

I think that is the key posture I forget. In the midst of my freakout, can I calm enough to consider the One who can calm this storm, stop the madness, or do I just keep spinning? Inherent to any mother is the understanding that when your child is completely unglued, if you can just get them to look at you and listen to your quiet, calm voice, they can focus, stabilize. What do we often say to a child in tremendous angst? Sshh, listen to me, quiet, calm down, focus.  Isn’t that what our Father in heaven says to us over and over? “Abide in me,” “Take my yoke and learn from me, for I am gently and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls,” “Set your minds on things above and not on earthly things” Scripture tells us over and over that our God cares for us like a bird cares for her young, compassionately loves us, remembers our frailties, delights in our seeking Him. And even in the boat, Jesus doesn’t give a lecture to the disciples first while they are so frightened. He calms the storm first.

The truth for David and for me is that His steadfast love offers salvation, intimacy and relationship, and hope for eternity. He has declared Himself Lord over every circumstance of my life. The question becomes do I allow Him the rightful place as Lord? Or do I seek to self-protect, denying His perfect protection? Am I like my flailing, panicked child, so fearful of the movements and changes that life brings that I lose sight of the Great Almighty, the One in whose shelter I am invited to abide? Or do I swing, trusting that He is able to control the movement? Do I remember that He has dealt bountifully with me?