Have you faced something distressing recently? I know many in our church family have faced some extremely difficult life circumstances. Some have lost a close family member or found out about cancer. Most of us have been enduring this difficult period of time for an extended period of time as a church community, city and as a Country.
    I realize these sentences are not news to you. And yet, I bring them up because I’ve been encouraged lately by similar sentences penned by the Apostle Paul in the Bible. I’ve been reading 2 Corinthians in my time with the Lord and wanted to share with you some of Paul’s difficulties as well as how he found comfort and “did not lose heart.”

    Paul describes difficulties that outweigh most of our life’s weights. Listen to these words, and perhaps you will identify with a handful of them:

  • He faced affliction (1:4, 6, 8).
  • He faced sufferings (1:5, 6, 7)
  • He was burdened excessively, beyond our strength (1:8).
  • He despaired even of life (1:8).
  • He faced the peril of death (1:10)
  • He had no rest in his spirit, not finding Titus his brother (2:13).
  • He was afflicted in every way (4:8)
  • He was perplexed (4:8)
  • He was persecuted (4:9)
  • He was struck down (4:9)
  • He existed in much endurance, afflictions, hardships, distresses, beatings imprisonments, tumults, labors, sleeplessness, hunger (6:4-5)
  • He had been regarded as a deceiver, as unknown, as sorrowful, poor, having nothing (6:10).
  • He possessed a thorn in the flesh from Satan to torment him (12:7).

That’s a super-long list of distressing circumstances. And yet, Paul was able to find “comfort.” That word is repeated throughout the book as well as the phrase, “we do not lose heart.” Let me encourage you as you close this year to follow Paul’s example to keep heart. Keep courage and press forward.
How? We can find helpful advice in this book of 2 Corinthians. Consider five ways to keep heart and find comfort in times of great distress:

Keep heart through the comfort of others.

Paul both received comfort from others and comforted others during his distress. These combat two great mistakes when we face times of distress in life.
First, we may be tempted to insulate ourselves from others. Difficulties bring out the possum in us so that we act dead to all others, and cut ourselves off from others. And yet you need others to lean upon. You need to speak with others, pray with others, and receive physical or financial help from others.
The second temptation is to turn entirely introspective. When distressed, you may only focus on your own problems. A constant meditation on all the problems you face may cause a spiral as you only see only your own difficulties and are oblivious to the needs of others around you. Instead, it may lift your spirit to encourage or pray with another person who is also facing trials.
Listen to the testimony of Paul’s as he gives and receives comfort from others even when he was “burdened excessively, beyond his strength”:

“But if we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; or if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which is effective in the patient enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer; and our hope for you is firmly grounded, knowing that as you are sharers of our sufferings, so also you are sharers of our comfort” (2 Corinthians 1:6-7).

Keep heart through the comfort of the Lord.

The greatest source of comfort comes from God. He is walking in us and among us in the distressing circumstance. Knowing that He is with us in the storm of life, or the fiery furnace will keep us stable in the fire or storm. Listen again to Paul’s example:

“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 will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).
    In this testimony, Paul focuses his attention on the character of God. God is a Comforter. He will encourage me. God is merciful, the word refers to pity or compassion. Yes, I’m distressed and weighted down, but God is with me and I know He is compassionate. He feels with my infirmity and will not allow me to endure beyond what He gives me.
Notice that this supernatural comfort that God gives us during our affliction (remember again Paul is distressed beyond measure) is the very comfort that will spill out to help others. I’m amazed at the times I visit Christians who are in affliction and leave encouraged by their strong faith and positive outlook in the sovereignty of God. This is the comfort that God is supernaturally giving them that spills over into my heart and comforts me. It is from God, there is no other explanation.
And so, in this time of nation-wide (world-wide?) distress, we can stick out as Christians as we exhibit this comfort that is from God which spills over to others. Let’s focus on carrying out these practical ways to find and minister God’s supernatural comfort:

  1. Ask God for His supernatural comfort in affliction.
  2. Focus your eyes upon the character and works of God by reading and meditating on Him through His Word.
  3. Speak about God and His nature with others.

Keep heart through an eternal focus.

Life’s difficulties and distresses encourage us to look forward to the future eternity with no difficulty and distress. This is why Paul did not lose heart:

“Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day…while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal … For indeed while we are in this tent, we groan, being burdened, because we do not want to be unclothed but to be clothed, so that what is mortal will be swallowed up by life. Now He who prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave to us the Spirit as a pledge. Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord—or we walk by faith, not by sight—(4:16-5:8)
    Paul walked by faith in the eternal rather than the sight of the temporal. Hel saw in his own life a decaying of the tent that was his body. But he realized that this tent that was torn, ragged and ready to throw out was ditched to enjoy a much greater existence in God’s presence. So he was not left in a spirit of distress. In fact, he was always “of good courage.” For his hope was not in the seen life, but in the unseen life.
This is a great antidote to distressing circumstances – we find them a temporary distress breaking into a beautifully un-distressing existence. This is one reason that the Spirituals from the slaves of the 17-1800’s were packed with references to heaven. For the one who knew Jesus, the life’s difficulties were but a storm to endure with Christ sailing to His eternal island of pleasure.

Steal Away.
Steal Away.
Steal Away.
Steal Away to Jesus.
Steal Away. (steal home)
Steal Away home.
I haven’t got long to stay here.
My lord, my lord, he calls me. 
He calls me by the thunder.
The trumpet sounds way down in my sanctified soul.
I haven’t got long to stay here.
Green trees are bending. 
Sinners stand a-tembling.
The trumpet sounds within my soul.
I haven’t got long to stay here.
Steal Away. (in the midnight hour)
Steal Away. (when you need some power)
Steal Away.(when you heart is heavy)
Steal Away to Jesus. (steal away to Jesus)
Steal Away. (steal away home)
Steal Away home. (haven’t got long)
I haven’t got long to stay here.

Continue to steal away to Jesus, and find comfort with Him as we wait for the time when He comes to set all wrongs right and bring His children home.

Keep heart through Gospel focus.

The first time Paul mentions “keeping heart” he is focused on the joy that is found in others finding the Gospel even when his life faced pain because he was living for others finding the Gospel message. For him, seeing the eternal benefit of others and eternal worship of Christ, in contrast with momentary suffering that he endured to share the Gospel was insignificant.

“Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we received mercy, we do not lose heart, but we have renounced the things hidden because of shame, not walking in craftiness or adulterating the word of God, but by the manifestation of truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God” (4:1-2).
    I’ve seen this most starkly as I’ve read of the example of persecuted Christians who pour out with comfort and compassion for their persecutors. I’m amazed reading the accounts of this supernatural compassion pouring out of normal human hearts like yours and mine. They long for their persecutors’ eyes to open in salvation. They look beyond the chains that cut into their flesh, and hurt in their heart instead for the spiritual chains that are upon their persecutors.

Keep heart through God’s focus.

A final reason not to lose heart from this section of Scripture (so many others could be added from others!) is to see that God brings good even out of affliction. Paul mentions that his affliction allowed him to better comfort those in affliction. We are best fitted to help others after facing affliction. This affliction fits us to be more useful on earth.

    Additionally, when Paul focuses our attention on eternal truths (3-4), he reminds us that our temporal affliction is working a greater weight of heavenly glory. There is something of a “fitting us for heaven” in our earthly trials that not only makes us long for heaven, but keeps us set for heaven. We follow more closely to the Shepherd’s side when we walk through the “valley of the shadow.”
    I’m reminded of the often quoted poem “Footprints in the Sand” where a person recalls the journey of their life and finds that only one set of prints was made in the difficult stretches of walk. The Lord reminds the author that He carried them through the seasons of trial rather than leaving them during the rocky road. That is a beautiful scene. But it is not just because He carries us through the difficult seasons. Comforting, yes! But more comforting still is the fact that our trials make us rest patiently, calmly in His arms. I know that my rockiest roads are the roads of life that I’ve begun to walk closest with the Lord. And that is the greatest gift of affliction. Knowing full trust in the good Shepherd.
    And so, there are many reasons to lose heart. There are distresses today. But we find in these four ways that Paul was able to keep heart as he focused on God more than his trials.
    May the Lord give you grace today to find comfort in Him and live by faith rather than by sight. If can spend some time praying with you, and asking the Lord to give you comfort, please give me a call from our church phone – 888-517-1110.

Photo 1 by Alec Douglas – unsplash.com

Photo 2 by Biegun Wschodni – unsplash.com
Song – Traditional African American Spiritual
Scripture – NASB 1995