Difficult Life Saturated With Encouragement
Life is not always filled with smooth sailing.
Most of us have learned that life brings its share of stormy weather. Rarely
can we avoid the storms of life. Avoidance of life's storms is seldom and
option. However, there are strategies that will enable us to ride out the
storms until the storms calm. In the first few verses of 2 Corinthians
we get an in depth glimpse of Paul's strategies for riding out the life
There are a variety of trials Christians face.
It may be adversity, or solicitation to evil, or temptations. All are seen
in the life of believers. God's purpose for these trials is to build character
by revealing our strengths and weaknesses. Satan's purpose is to discourage
us from a correct response in difficult times.
The stormy trials of life can affect our lives
in different ways. We may try to escape the storms. Spending our
lives trying to avoid troubles will lead us through barren lands. We cannot
isolate ourselves from troubles. We may decide that the load is too
heavy and sink under its load. This happens when we focus on our difficulties
rather than God. When this happens we may end up bitter and resentful.
This response makes us victims rather than victors. We may choose
the option of growing spiritually so as to bless others during the storms.
The Christian response to the storms of life is to bear them in such a
way as to become a blessing to others. ("Trial and Temptation" by Andre
Bustanoby. Decision, Mar 1988. Page 24.)
It is in Paul's second letter to the Corinthians
that we discover how to maneuver during the storms of life.
2 Corinthians 1:1-11
Paul, an apostle of Christ
Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, To the church of God
in Corinth, together with all the saints throughout Achaia: Grace and peace
to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Praise be to the
God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the
God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can
comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received
from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives,
so also through Christ our comfort overflows. If we are distressed, it
is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your
comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings
we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you
share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort. We do not want
you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the
province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability
to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we
felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on
ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such
a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that
he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many
will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer
to the prayers of many. (NIV)
Two words are intertwined throughout this
passage, "comfort" and "affliction." The apostle Paul wrote this letter
when he was "under great pressure, far beyond his ability to endure
. . . " In fact, his troubles were so great that he was in despair
of his life, so much so that in his heart he "felt the sentence of
death." Despite Paul's greatness he was just as human as each of
us. Affliction is no respecter of persons.
Paul wrote this letter to a troubled church.
He had made a "painful visit" to Corinth to confront the
troublemakers (2 Corinthians 2:1). He had written a "severe letter"
to address the problem (2:4-9). After much distress over the church at
Corinth, Titus visited Paul revealing that the troubled church was addressing
and solving her problems (7:8-12).
How to Find Comfort and Encouragement
The key words in 2 Corinthians are "comfort"
and "encouragement." The original Greek word means "called to one's side
to help." Second Corinthians is a letter about how to become a comforter
and encourager when you are stretched beyond your limits. It is a letter
about how to be "called to one's side to help" in difficult times.
Through Paul's trials we discover the
apostle's secret to maneuvering the storms of life. Paul reveals
how he found comfort and encouragement in these difficult times. Paul found
his encouragement in seeking to understand God's purpose for his trials
and tribulations. His encouragement came through recognizing what God was
accomplishing through him. When you understand what God is seeking to accomplish
through you, then you can stand with others as an encourager.
Paul had the ability to see God's immediate
presence in his personal life. Seeing God at your side in difficult
times is a great source of comfort and encouragement. You can see
God at your side when your life is being lived out within the will of God.
Paul writes, "Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God .
. . " (1:1). Paul not only saw God in general control of the events
of his life; he saw God's personal intervention in his personal life. Paul
knew that whatever he was suffering he it was within the will of God. He
was able to see what God was accomplishing then and there. He was able
to see what many only see from hindsight after long contemplation.
What is God doing in your life at this very
moment? When we endeavor to learn what God is doing in our lives today,
we will find our greatest source of comfort. Paul was experiencing a severe
crisis, but he was able to see God's will in his life and receive God's
comfort in each affliction.
Paul conceived of fellowshipping with
Christ as an opportunity to fellowship in Christ's suffering. Sharing
in Christ's sufferings (1:5) "completes . . .what is lacking in Christ's
affliction for the sake of his body, that is, the church" (Colossians
1:24). Sharing in Christ's suffering for others allows them to get a firsthand
view of the significance and reality of Christ's suffering for them. It
is encouraging to know that when you die with Christ for others, it allows
others to experience the meaning of Christ’s death through your suffering.
2 Corinthians 1:3-7
Praise be to the God and Father
of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort,
who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any
trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For
just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through
Christ our comfort overflows. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort
and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces
in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And
our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our
sufferings, so also you share in our comfort. (NIV)
Taking up our crosses to experience Christ's
death is at the heart of the gospel (Matthew 16:24). Christ sufferings
were unique in that he was God, but his disciples understood the need to
share his experience. When Paul shared in Christ's sufferings he realize
that his suffering was not meaningless. As Paul followed the path of the
Lord, he realized Christ's victory in his personal life.
Paul understood that his personal affliction
was resulting in the salvation of the Corinthians.
Not that he was the substitute for their sins, but they were brought to
Christ through Paul's willingness to undergo hardship for them. His willingness
to suffer great hardship for them encouraged them to endure the same hardships.
2 Corinthians 1:8-11
We do not want you to be uninformed,
brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were
under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired
even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But
this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises
the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver
us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as
you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for
the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many. (NIV)
The Sequoia trees of California tower as much
as 300 feet above the ground. Strangely, these giants have unusually shallow
root systems that reach out in all directions to capture the greatest amount
of surface moisture. Seldom will you see a redwood standing alone, because
high winds would quickly uproot it. That's why they grow in clusters. Their
intertwining roots provide support for one another against the storms.
Suffering comes to all of us, and no one can suffer for us. Even so, just
like those giant Sequoia trees, we can be supported in those difficult
times by the prayers and understanding of loved ones and friends. It's
when we are too proud to admit our needs to others that we are in the greatest
2 Corinthians 7:4-7
I have great confidence in
you; I take great pride in you. I am greatly encouraged; in all our troubles
my joy knows no bounds.
For when we came into Macedonia,
this body of ours had no rest, but we were harassed at every turn-conflicts
on the outside, fears within. But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted
us by the coming of Titus, and not only by his coming but also by the comfort
you had given him. He told us about your longing for me, your deep sorrow,
your ardent concern for me, so that my joy was greater than ever. (NIV)
Sometimes we say, "Misery enjoys company."
In Paul's case, those being comforted in their misery comforted Paul in
his misery. Solomon said, "Like cold water to a weary soul is good news
from a distant land." (Proverbs 25:25 NIV)
It was when Paul felt the sentence of
death in his own heart that he experienced God's power to endure.
Paul's suffering enabled him to experience Christ's resurrection power
in each difficulty he faced (Philippians 3:10). The realization of God's
power became real when his suffering convinced him that he was as good
as dead. It was then that he realized the Father of our Lord was his Father.
Christ experienced resurrection from the dead because he willingly submitted
his life to God the Father. So it was with Paul.
Paul's suffering taught him to rely on
God. He understood that it was God's power that made his message in
2 Corinthians 4:7-18
But we have this treasure in
jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not
from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed,
but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not
destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that
the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive
are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that his life
may be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but
life is at work in you. It is written: "I believed; therefore I have spoken."
With that same spirit of faith we also believe and therefore speak, because
we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also
raise us with Jesus and present us with you in his presence. All this is
for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people
may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God. Therefore we do
not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are
being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving
for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes
not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary,
but what is unseen is eternal. (NIV)
We must remember who is in control and whose
strength we must rely upon. Paul writes, "For to be sure, he was crucified
in weakness, yet he lives by God's power. Likewise, we are weak in him,
yet by God's power we will live with him to serve you. (2 Corinthians
13:4 NIV) It is through God's power that we serve others. This makes us
dependent upon what God can do. I think also that we will only realize
Gods power as we endeavor to serve Christ's body, which is the church.
The God of All Comfort
Paul describes God as the God of all
comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3). Some people find comfort thinking
their problems are no worse than others. Some find hope in thinking things
will improve. Some find comfort in thinking what they suffer can't be helped.
Some seek comfort in trying to forget their troubles. Some seek comfort
in exciting and dissipating pleasures of the flesh. Others seek comfort
in complaining and repining as they long for the good old days. But true
comfort comes from God because he is a God of comfort and compassion. He
is the Father of mercies.
The Father of mercies permits trials
to come. It is comforting to know that God is in charge and there
is a reason. Some suffering comes because we live in a sinful world. Death
and decay are a reality. We suffer human frailties like everyone else.
Some suffering is a divine appointment. Whether we are suffering from living
in an evil world or by divine appointment it is encouraging to know the
God of all comfort is present in all of our tribulations. If our suffering
were only fate or chance then our only recourse would be to give up.
God's presence enables us to bear our trials.
Trials are designed to show us how weak we are so that our hope might be
placed in God. It is comforting to know that when we are crushed beyond
measured that God measures up.
God's comfort comes when we learn to trust
Him and not our gifts, abilities, or our experience. Just when we feel
self-confident to meet the enemy we always fail miserably. When you die
to yourself, then God's resurrection power can go to work in you. What
a comfort to know that when we are hemmed by circumstances, we can look
up to the God of all comfort.
God comforts us as he delivers us from
our trials. Paul writes, "He has delivered us from such a deadly
peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will
continue to deliver us" (2 Corinthians 1:10 NIV). Paul saw God's hand
of deliverance whether he looked back, around or ahead. Sometimes God delivers
us from our trials. At other times he delivers us in our trials. In Acts
12 Peter was delivered from prison. In the same chapter we read of James
being beheaded. Both were delivered.
The God of all comfort becomes a reality
to us individually through the prayers of the church in difficult times.
"On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as
you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for
the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many" (2
Corinthians 1:10b-11 NIV). Paul believes God will help him; but through
prayer the Corinthians must share in Paul's support. When the brethren
were earnestly praying for Peter's deliverance their prayers resulted in
his release from prison (Acts 12:5). They were helping Peter through their
prayers and it resulted in many giving thanks to God for his deliverance.
You can't thank God for his deliverance without enjoying the comfort of
knowing about his presence in your life.
God comforts us as he is glorified through
our trials. It is through his deliverance that we see his glory.
Our trials reveal God's glory and presence to us individually and collectively
giving us reason to worship and praise him. The greatest way that God glorifies
himself is through the deliverance of the weak and helpless. It is then
that we see his "gracious favor granted to us."
It was through God's deliverance of the Hebrews
in Egypt that he revealed his glory to the world. Notice what a harlot
in Canaan learned about God as he delivered the Hebrews.
"I know that the LORD has given
this land to you and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that
all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you. We have
heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came
out of Egypt, and what you did to Sihon and Og, the two kings of the Amorites
east of the Jordan, whom you completely destroyed. When we heard of it,
our hearts melted and everyone's courage failed because of you, for the
LORD your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below. Now then,
please swear to me by the LORD that you will show kindness to my family,
because I have shown kindness to you. Give me a sure sign that you will
spare the lives of my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all
who belong to them, and that you will save us from death." (NIV)
Seeking deliverance in difficult times gives
those around us a chance to witness the glory of God as he brings deliverance
to us. This will result in thanksgiving and praise to the glory of God.
God is glorified in our deliverance when:
(1) We share in the afflictions of others.
(2) We enter into the sufferings of Christ.
(3) We suffer for the comfort of others.
(4) We suffer for the salvation of others.
(5) We suffer and are afflicted to the point
that we no longer trust ourselves, but the God who raises the dead.
(6) We share in the suffering of others through
(7) We rejoice together in our suffering
because of our deliverance.
Warren Wiersbe says, "The important thing
is to fix your attention on God and not on yourself. Remember what
God is to you ---'the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father
of mercies, and the God of all comfort' (2 Corinthians 1:3). Remember
what God does for you---that He is able to handle your trials and
make them work out for your good and His glory. Finally, remember
what God does through you---and let Him use you to be an encouragement