I’ve struggled in writing this letter to you because my plan has been to write you about pain, and it’s something I don’t like to deal with. I know that some of you are in the middle of a lot of personal pain right now, so I don’t want this letter to sound trite or dismissive, as if I were saying, “Just look on the bright side.”
Still—there can be glimmers of God’s brightness even in the midst of pain, and I do want to talk about that.
When I face suffering, I find it hard to focus on much else. And it doesn’t help when it feels like troubles travel in a pack. One follows another, and it’s hard to catch a break. I can grit my teeth and push through short bouts of trouble. But sometimes pain lingers. Day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year. When there’s no end in sight, I’ve even wondered if I have done something to deserve all this calamity.
Of course I know that affliction is not exclusive to me. It’s common to all of humanity. The book of Job affirms this when it says "man is born to trouble as the sparks and the flames fly upward." (ESV) Affliction is a commonality we share, but there is also a personal and unique nature to it that is ours alone.
Somewhere along the way I got it in my head that as a Christian I was to like being afflicted, that suffering itself was good—but that’s not the case. Scripture teaches that affliction is not an end in itself—but that it can be a means to an end.
In 2 Corinthians 1:8-9, Paul shares candidly how he felt about the affliction he experienced in Asia. "It was so bad we didn’t think we were going to make it. We felt like we’d been sent to death row, that it was all over for us." (The Message) I appreciate Paul writing that it was miserable and he felt like he was going to die. He reminds me that it’s okay to feel that way.
Next, he writes these stunning words: "As it turned out, it was the best thing that could have happened. Instead of trusting in our own strength or wits to get out of it, we were forced to trust God totally." What? Is he now saying he likes the affliction? That affliction itself is good? No! But he is thankful that it was used to properly orient where his trust should be placed.
To understand these later verses, we must look back to verses 3-5 where Paul lays out the relationship between affliction and comfort.
"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 may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too." (ESV)
I like the thought that God is the Father, the originator, of mercies and He is the God, not only of certain types of comfort, but of all comfort! When we are afflicted, it can be easy to think of God as our enemy. But Paul wants us to know that God is our comforter and that He "comforts us in all our affliction." Not in some but in all…every one unique to us and our situation.
Also, take a look at the word "abundantly" in the passage above. Our suffering may be abundant, but, through Christ, so is God’s comfort. We can be reassured that our suffering will never be too great for God’s comfort.
We may be excessively afflicted and not like it one bit. But through the pain, we can focus our trust on God. In our trouble we can turn to Him for comfort. And we can extend that comfort to others who are being afflicted.
Next month Lee LeFebre, Exchanged Life Ministries founder, will be writing to you. His letter will be going to our complete mailing list. For many on the list this will be their first letter they have received from us. Would you please join us in prayer for these new individuals. You’ll hear from me again in November. Between now and then, if I can do anything to encourage you, please don’t hesitate to contact me.
And know that I am praying for you: that you will feel God’s love and abundant comfort in the middle of whatever you are going through.
God’s blessing to you.
Mike Roncaglia, Executive Director