- 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).
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:
- Ask God for His supernatural comfort in affliction.
- Focus your eyes upon the character and works of God by reading and meditating on Him through His Word.
- 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)
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.
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).
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.
Photo 1 by Alec Douglas – unsplash.com
Song – Traditional African American Spiritual
Scripture – NASB 1995