We are wrapping up our series entitled “The Waiting Room” and throughout this series we have been asking the question . . . What do you do when there’s nothing you can do?
For all of us, there’s going to be . . . a season of life that you didn’t want, you didn’t expect, you never wished for, you weren’t prepared for, and you’re not sure if it’s every going to get better.
The question is . . . what do you do with that?
Sure, there are options . . . you can run, you can quit, you can throw in the towel but if you do, you might miss what God is doing in and through your life during those hard seasons.
And so, we wait!
But it’s not easy in the waiting room . . . sometimes while we wait, we ask some really tough questions and draw some really-bad conclusions; “I’ll never be happy again”, “nothing good can come from this”, “I’ll never survive this”
One of the most difficult and challenging things about being a pastor is being invited into someone’s waiting room; into their deepest, darkest, most painful moment . . . and not knowing what to say.
- I feel like I should know the answers but the truth is, I often have the same questions.
- I feel like I should know what to do but there’s really nothing I can do.
- I feel like I want to help them quickly navigate out of that place but there’s just no quick fix.
And so, we wait . . . together.
Over the years of waiting with people there’s something I’ve observed . . . it’s what some theologians have referred to as the fellowship of suffering. It’s this natural bond that occurs when someone who’s been there walks in the room to comfort someone who is still there.
When that happens something very powerful takes place and it goes beyond education, beyond pastoring, and even beyond friendship. There’s just an energy to their presence that is life giving and it communicates to the person who is suffering “You can survive this, because I survived it”.
Some of you know exactly what I’m talking about. Some of you have been that for our family.
But here’s the surprise . . . when there is a fellowship of suffering, it is not only life giving to the one being comforted but it is also life giving to the one who brings comfort.
Because when someone who has been in a dark place and has survived is given the opportunity to engage with someone who is facing exactly what they faced, they begin to see and understand the value of their own pain and suffering.
And today, as we wrap up this series, this is where I want us to land
To help us understand this idea of a fellowship of suffering, we’re going to revisit a letter we explored earlier in this series written by a guy named Paul.
As you know, Paul steps on to the pages of history as a one-man wrecking machine and his mission in life was to destroy the Christian church because he saw them as a knock-off of Judaism that distorted the law.
Then God got his attention and he becomes the greatest evangelist of his day and he went around all the major cities telling everyone about Jesus and planting churches; just like ours.
But just as he was getting right with God, just as he got in to the center of God’s will and began doing the things he ought to do . . . he was stricken with a physical ailment. We don’t know exactly what it was but it was keeping him from doing the very thing that he felt God had called him to do.
And so, in his turmoil and in his inner wrestling with God, we get this insight, a unique perspective about a fellowship of suffering and comfort, for those of us who find ourselves in a waiting room season of life.
Let’s listen to our text this morning: READ 2 Corinthians 1:3-7
We are going to walk through this passage together because Paul, like James did last week, writes something that I would not be naturally inclined to say.
Much like some of the things Jesus said, like, “don’t worry about tomorrow” . . . well, some of you might invite me in to your waiting room and my first thought would be, “You should probably worry about tomorrow” . . . well that’s Peter and what he says in this text is not what I would intuitively say and so we’ll walk through this . . . together.
He begins by saying “Praise be to God . . . the father of compassion and the God of comfort.”
Now if you remember, this is the guy who later in this letter talks about God giving him a thorn in his flesh. A thorn so debilitating that he begged God to remove it but he refused to do it.
To which, we say, “well, that doesn’t sound very compassionate. In fact, you have just illustrated one of my problems with God. My problem is trying to have faith in a God that allows bad-things to happen.
How can I trust that God is the Father of compassion when I experience things that are so far from compassionate?”
Paul completely understands this dilemma . . . he gets it and he wants to address it right up front because he has experienced things that would cause some of us to give up, throw in the towel, and walk away from God.
And yet, Paul continues to trust that God is the God of compassion and the source of comfort.
Who comforts us in all our troubles.
The word comfort that he uses thought-out this passage is not just sympathy. It’s not just a pat on the back or “Here’s a hallmark card”. This is like an empowering empathy. It’s comfort that brings courage.
Paul is saying, that in the midst of all the things I face, the pain, the suffering, even the thorn in my flesh that God refuses to remove, I continue to believe that God is a God of compassion who comforts us in all of our troubles.
And he goes on to say that the reason God brings us comfort in all of our troubles is “so that” we can do something . . . in other words, there’s a purpose to God’s comfort.
Most of us are naturally inclined to think that God comforts us in all our troubles “so that” we can survive or get out of this trouble, right?
But Paul says, God comforts us in all our troubles, in our deepest, darkest places, “so that” we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.
So that we can bring the same comfort to those who are in a deep dark place themselves.
God comforts us, to equip us, so that we can comfort others.
He goes on . . . “For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ”
Let me explain what this means. The phrase, “sufferings of Christ” is a theological understanding that Jesus experienced the same stuff we experience; He got hot, he got cold, he got tired, he got sick, he laughed, he cried, he might have even had a good sense of humor.
Everything you have experienced in life, he has experienced.
In the same way, everything that you have suffered in life, to some extent, Jesus suffered in life; he felt alienated, he got betrayed, he spent the night alone, he worried about the future, he faced a dark night with something ahead of him that he wished he could get out of.
Whatever it is that you have suffered, he suffered too.
Paul says, “For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ” . . . In other words, as there is a parallel, a relationship between what we have suffered and the fact that Jesus has suffered, “in the same way, our comfort abounds through Christ.”
What that practically means is this, this is the big idea here . . . our capacity to comfort is determined by the degree to which we have suffered.
This is why if you’ve ever been stuck in a waiting room season of life, in a dark place, and people have sent you texts, letters, flowers and they’ve said some comforting, even compassionate words, they’ve given you big hugs and prayed for you but you’re thinking to yourself, “You just don’t understand.”
But then you meet someone who has been there . . . they’ve been in that very place you now find yourself . . . It’s different.
When you are face to face with some who has been where you are, there is strength, there’s a level of comfort, a level of understanding, a level of support that you won’t get any other way.
This is what Paul is pointing to. “God is the God of all comfort, and God is going to comfort you directly, or God is going to bring you comfort through other people.”
But the purpose of that comfort isn’t simply so that you can be comforted. The purpose is so that you could take that comfort and comfort others with it.
You can walk in a room, and say “I know what you feel. I know what you’re going through. I know your fear. But here’s what else I know, there’s life on the other side. Don’t give up hope. I say this because I’ve been there. I have received the comfort of God and I’m here to bring that very comfort to you.”
But your capacity and my capacity for comfort is limited to the degree to which we have suffered.
He continues, “If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation.”
He’s saying, “Look, me and my team have been going through all kinds of difficult stuff and all those times that we’ve fallen on our knees and cried out to God, ‘God give us strength, give us endurance’, all of that is for your benefit. All of that is so that we can say to you, ‘You can make it. You can do this. Don’t give up hope. Don’t give up faith.’”
He continues, “if we are comforted by God, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance”
In other words, the reason we’re receiving comfort from God is not simply so that we’ll be comfortable. We’re receiving comfort from God so that we can then stand in front of you and say. ‘You can be comforted as well. If we’re comforted, it is for your comfort which produces patience and endurance.
This is powerful stuff . . . because for some of us this is a baby step toward discovering why God didn’t bail you out of your suffering. Why God didn’t answer the prayer . . . it’s because God has designed comfort as something to be received and then passed along.
So, if you have been there, if you have been in the waiting room and experienced the comfort of God . . . either directly or from other people . . . you are uniquely qualified to comfort those who are still there.
The most surprising part is that this will help bring purpose to your pain and it will instill life in your soul.