Comfort ye, comfort ye
“Comfort, O comfort My people,” says your God Isaiah 40:1
2 Corinthians 1:3-7
3 All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort.
4 He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.
5 For the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ.
6 Even when we are weighed down with troubles, it is for your comfort and salvation! For when we ourselves are comforted, we will certainly comfort you. Then you can patiently endure the same things we suffer.
7 We are confident that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in the comfort God gives us.
One of the least attractive areas of Los Angeles is Skid Row. No one knows for sure how many people live on these streets. But what is known is that this 54-block area of downtown Los Angeles is home to the largest number of homeless individuals in the United States.
In December 2015, for the first time in its almost 300 year history, Handel’s masterpiece, the Messiah was performed in the homeless capital of the U.S. It took place at Skid Row’s Midnight Mission and featured musicians from the Los Angeles Philharmonic and other local orchestras plus chorus members, some of whom were formerly homeless individuals themselves.
That is exactly how George Frideric Handel intended it. Charles Jennens sent Handel a libretto for a new oratorio, entitled the Messiah. The text was taken from the King James Bible and the Book of Common Prayer. It took Handel only 24 days to set the entire text to music. It took Handel only six days to compose the music for the famous Christmas section. The very first performance of Handel’s Messiah was performed in April 1742 as a benefit concert for charity.
Later, beginning in 1750, Handel instituted an annual performance of The Messiah at the Foundling Hospital in London, set-up to provide health care for abandoned children of London. The chorus at the performances that Handel led there consisted of these children, many of whom were blind. In this context, the phrase “Comfort ye, my people,” is more than just words. “Then shall the eyes of the blind be opened” must have had a powerful and profound impact when sung by the blind children of the Foundling Hospital.
These are the incredible circumstances surrounding the earliest performances of Handel’s Messiah. Perhaps therefore the perfect setting for a performance of this great oratorio is not a concert hall, a school auditorium, or even a church. The perfect setting for a performance of Handel’s Messiah is a gymnasium in the heart of Skid Row (Brian Lauritzen, Spectrummagazine.org).
Providing comfort to others is exactly what the Father intends all of His children to do. He views us as His personal under shepherds, caretakers, loyal and devoted coworkers. But what prepares and qualifies us to comfort other people? The answer is a single word: suffering!
When we are undergoing affliction and difficulty, too often we ask, “Why is this happening to me?” Certainly, preparation for the comfort of others is part of the answer.
The Father is in the comfort business. He is continually offering each of His children their own franchise at no financial cost. Too often for many children of the King, when it comes to this part of the family business, we react as very reluctant participants. When we resist, the Father often holds off a bit for a while. But eventually He will repeat the offer.
All the while, the Father is training each of us to participate in and run our portion of the family business as His representative.
Here there is a remarkable truth that is so often overlooked. When we suffer, we experience direct, personal comfort from the Father. It is through our suffering and the comfort which the Father provides, that we learn to serve and comfort others. As He gives us deliverance from our burdens, He qualifies us to share the burdens of others.
We are self-protective and seek security and safety. This can make us critical, hard, judgmental, and even self-righteous. The Father knows exactly how to knock off the rough edges and make us tender and genuinely concerned for the needs of others. He breaks us down on every side. As a result, we might lose the hardness that is ours in dealing with our fellow-men. No faithful servant of God has ever yet escaped the fiery trial (Stanford).
REFLECT & PRAY
How many times has my Father seen my struggles and pain and comforted me? Without number. He was preparing me to comfort others.
Father in heaven, merciful Father, You are indeed the God of all comfort. You have strengthened me to get through the difficult trials I faced. Thank you for wrapping Your loving arms around me and softly whispering, “I am here for you and it will be okay.”
When trials hit, we can always be sure that God will come to our aid. Why? It is His nature, He is “the Father of mercies” and the “God of all comfort.” He is training us to comfort others (Stanley).
Through suffering and the comfort that the Father provides, we gain the ability, wisdom, and strength to comfort others.
Is it worth it to go through suffering and sorrow if the experience enables us to help others struggling with the storms of life?
Paul is writing of his own experiences, but in so doing he remarkably “reads us in.” He includes every child of the King. This is very personal, even intimate. Paul uses plural first-person pronouns (we, us, and our) in 2 Corinthians 1:3-7. Putting it another way, visualize Paul sitting with you, speaking with you. Paul does not pat us on the head or offer a treat or toy to distract us. Paul has been in the vortex of suffering and anguish. He did not merely survive his hardships and trials, he crushed them. He understands where we are, identifies with us, and offers wise counsel and a way to work through it.
The words comfort or consolation (same root word in the Greek) are repeated ten times in 2 Corinthians 1:1–11. We must not think of comfort in terms of “sympathy,” because sympathy can weaken us rather than strengthen us. When The Father comforts us, He puts strength into our hearts so we can face our trials and triumph over them. Our English word comfort comes from two Latin words meaning “with strength.” The Greek word means “to come alongside and help” (Wiersbe).
Suffering is not without purpose. When we suffer, we experience the Father’s direct, personal comfort. Then from that experience, we are able to care and comfort others, as the Father has comforted us.
J. M. Barrie tells how his mother lost her dearest son, and then he says: “That is where my mother got her soft eyes and why other mothers ran to her when they had lost a child” (Barclay).