Those the Lord has rescued will return. They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.
'Shout for joy, you heavens; rejoice, you earth; burst into song, you mountains! For the Lord comforts his people and will have compassion on his afflicted ones. '
|Photo by Mohamed Nohassi on Unsplash|
Gladness and joy will overtake them... whew... this phrase took me by surprise. Can you imagine what it would be like to be under a waterfall of joy and gladness? I want that!
...the Lord comforts his people... this tender image also arrested me a few days ago when I read it. Imagine a personal, all-loving, all-knowing being wanting to be kind and tender. A God who wants to build up my strength by being strong by my side? Tell me more!
Comfort (com [with] +fort [strength]) means "strong with". It does also have connotations of a warm blanket that feels good, but the word's root is in finding or restoring strength by being with. That is what I'd like to offer in this blog today. And it is what the Advent season is about, in large part: God sending Immanuel, God with us. Comfort. Strong with us.
Who is strong with you? Who is reassuring to you by simply being with you?
|Photo by Greg Rosenke on Unsplash|
I try to find comfort in being still with God every morning. I seek to spend 20 minutes per day alone with God in centering prayer. I'm working on the twenty minutes at night, too, but not yet consistent with that.
I often pray, "God, you are all loving, all knowing, all good and everywhere." And, I have to admit, it feels good to speak truth, all alone in my spare bedroom in the basement each morning. No one else can hear it, but it's true. God is all those things and more. Goodness, truth and beauty. They are powerful simply by being. So too, God is powerful by nature. When I recognize that and say it out loud, I declare goodness truth and beauty to myself, my soul, and my creator. I often pray this when I think about evil, darkeness, and other ugly things that seem to be coming my way (or coming against those I love). I make time in my prayers to name, out loud, the darkness I feel and sense. I do this when I've let myself think about impending doom, worry, or doubt for too long. And naming the ugly forces--the mistakes, the agreements I've made, and the darkness--is both comforting and an act of protecting my family. I reject everything ugly and foul and untrue. Anything opposite of goodness, truth, and beauty I reject out loud in Jesus' name.
And this, dear reader, is literally comfort. This is strength with me. I'm not the strong one, in fact, quite the opposite, I am declaring that I do fear. I regularly declare what I fear, the condemnation I hear and feel in my heart and any accusation that has been in my world but hasn't yet been spoken. This is comforting. To name your worst fear and reject it is strength with me.
Comfort against Three Enemies
Years ago, when I discovered John Eldredge's Daily Prayer, it felt very awkward, like crashing a birthday for someone I didn't know. Now, a decade later, I'm habituated to thinking about good AND evil. I'm used to thinking about the world, my own sinful nature and the Enemy. Each of these fronts of battle require different weapons, strategies and armor. I refuse to be gullible and say horrible things like,
"I guess that cancer is just God's will," or "I wonder what God wants to teach through that tragedy"
"I wish life were easier" or
"I deserve a little guilty pleasure". No, no and NO! I'd like to offer you my perspective on these three forces working against our comfort.
Cancer and Other Things God Never Intended
|Photo by Luis Galvez on Unsplash|
Cancer is a result of evil in the world, and it is NOT god's will that people die of cancer, COVID, or any other disease. God's desire is eternal life, without sin, and without evil. His desire is that we choose Him over and over. He wants to comfort us in the cancer or whatever life is dishing out. God is not sick and twisted. He is close to the brokenhearted because the world is broken and far from his will. Although, there are some who move against the tide of the world and hold out light and hope. They teach others to choose God and walk with God in pain rather than expect God to remove all pain. These souls remind others that God will restore all things soon. Tragedy is a result of several milennia of choosing away from God's heart. Jesus is a healer and bringer of life, not a bully or sadist. The destination of a restored earth is compelling and will outweigh the pain. What was lost will be returned with lots of interest. Jesus' followers relish this comfort. They do not "get saved" and then act as if this is their only life to live.
The Way of the World
I don't wish life was easy anymore, although I sense forces in the world would love me to. Work is good, toil is suffering, and the question is: For whom and for what do I toil? We will work, no doubt about it, for self, for others, or for God. We choose. I am learning to choose to work for God and with God. I am learning to invest in myself as a son of God. I'm seeing he's made me wonderfully. So if that is working for self, than I am. But if working for self means answering to no one, and doing "what comes naturally," than I am working to deny self. I will work with others: my wife, sons, and co-workers, my friends and brothers and sisters in Christ, sure. But I will not work for them. I will support my sons and wife, but I do not serve them out of need. I love them, and loving means serving, giving until it hurts, forgiving, and being honest. More goodness, truth and beauty, but not ease nor freedom from suffering. The world wants to get in our accounts, take our money and entertain us or at least distract us into oblivion. The world would like to cast ease as the goal. All I have to do is enter my email address, turn on location services, and enter my credit card and the world will be happy to sell me thousands of distractions. Ease is a lie. There are some easy moments, but it is not the goal. It is a comfort to see the mirage of ease for what it is. God wants to work with me, not take the work from me. The world is less and less dazzling the more I meditate on this and it is comforting to see God as the hero, not me. It is comforting to hear Jesus say, "Take heart; for I have overcome the world." He is the hero. He is the solution. I am a follower, and that is comforting. I am not a passive follower, but I am a follower. Jesus took the hits, built and lived out the template. I'm trying to imitate him. He has a backup plan for my failures. And that is comfort. Jesus is comfort incarnate.
Some of the Problem is Me. My Sin.
Finally, I do NOT deserve a guilty pleasure. Laziness is opposite God's will, it is missing the point and it is sin. Jesus came to earth to recast that whole mindset of "My rights, by God!" into "God's right, my God!" It's not about me, and it's not about family, and it's not about being morally good enough. All of that is too subjective, to unreliable and to unrealistic to work. Jesus came to hold our attention. He did not come so we could tell our children that we won't take them to church so that they can "develop their own convictions" or so that we don't "force our faith on them." Anyone who says that is unfamiliar with Jesus of Nazareth. They are disenchanted, disillusioned or disappointed. They have not distilled their faith down to Jesus' life, death on the cross, and resurrection. They are focused on Sundays rather than everyday. They are focused on everybody rather than Jesus' body. They are are distracted and missing out. That's all sin is... missing out. Sin is a cheap thrill, a counterfeit, a mouthful of sand. Life to the full, life with Jesus is an adventure, authentic and savory to the last drop. Living with Jesus is simply better, as I experience freedom from sin rather than explore my freedom to sin. That is what I want to comfort, even strengthen my sons with.
What is comforting you in what you just read? What is stirring or shifting?
Drop me a line or comment publicly I'll be happy to offer you a little more of my faith or help you get connected with a community of faith, if at all possible. Talk with a friend about this, but don't just click off this page and do nothing. Change something. Pursue Jesus differently. Be still and know that God is your comfort. Jesus came to comfort you.