When you’re walking, pizza bags in hand, through the hallways of a scuzzy motel echoing with muffled yells and odd wafts of broccoli, it’s plain to see that people don’t have a lot of optimism.
I found myself joining them that day. Weighing on my heart were several battles and dreams that seemed no closer to breakthrough than they were a decade ago. Heaven seemed a distant abstract, with the perpetual winter clouds and muddy roads my reality. (I’m sorry, but this city is ugly in winter like few others. It just is.)
The many blessings I’ve received in the last few months didn’t mute the knowledge that others I love are dying without the gospel. In fact, those blessings seemed like my backhanded enemy. They taunted, You’ve gotten a lot from God. You’re being ungrateful by wanting more. Jesus never said you’ll win every battle in this life. Truth on the face of it, but deadly despair in practice. Where to turn?
I could either let despair have me that day, or I could seek God’s take on the matter.
Spoiler alert: This is one of those many stories where God has the perfect Scripture waiting on your Bible app.
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 receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.
…we were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received 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 again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us. 2 Corinthians 1:3-5, 8-10
You must understand – I’ve never liked the word “comfort”. To me, it means the game’s over, the battle’s lost, and it’s time to accept the consolation speech that changes nothing. A fighter by nature, I’m loath to move on.
There have been times where it’s left me at odds with God. We must learn to move on when God leads. There’s no life to be found in God’s wake – only beside him.
But the opening of 2 Corinthians jumped out at me in a way it never had before. First, it spoke of God’s comfort. This was reassuring even in the face of an uncertain future. God is near.
But then it attached an example of comfort that bore no trace of resignation. Paul and his comrades had been pushed beyond their limits and capacities (evidence that God will give you more than you can handle, no matter how often you hear otherwise), and God’s comfort took the form of victory. “It’s not over until I say it is,” God told Paul, encouraging the hoper/fighter in he and I, the hoper/fighter he himself had instilled. “Set your hope on me. I will deliver you again.”
What a wonderful rescue. A perfectly timed and brilliantly worded deliverance from the subtle lie that I had “reached my quota” of God’s blessings and answers to prayer for the year, or whatever form the lie was trying to take.
His comfort this time was not consolation; it was a promise of deliverance.
Even the dead are not beyond God’s reach. Though every one of us will lose the earthly battle, there is a higher battle beyond this life that, as C.S. Lewis often wrote, is more real than what we see here.
It’s true that we will all hit our deathbed with some defeat. Nobody crosses through this country without it. But don’t simply pick that up and carry it until and unless God specifically tells you. And circumstances and appearances are not his way of doing so. His voice is his way of doing so.
When you fight for the things God has instructed, he makes a way. He does not deliver you in January just so you can fear “regression to the mean” in February. When your resources run out, he will deliver, time and again. His storehouses are as unbounded as his love.
I like this new definition of comfort.