Lesson Three • Devotion #3: Our Comfort

I have been addicted to some form of carbonated beverage since college (several decades now). If I had a dime for every time someone asked me, “How many of those do you drink a day?” or “Doesn’t that keep you awake?”, I would be a wealthy woman. Some have sent me articles describing the adverse effects on my health and its contribution to weight issues. Truth be told, I did not read them. Nothing had an impact on me until about 15 years ago. Circumstances were hard. I was dealing with financial issues, marital issues, and trying to navigate my son’s struggles with Autism. I went to the drive-through window at McDonald’s to get my morning Diet Coke. As the young lady handed it to me, I was shocked to “hear” my thoughts, “I have got my pop. It is a good day.” At that moment, I realized I depended on pop the way I should depend on God.

Dawson McAllister, with The Hope Line, states that between 60% and 70% of Americans have some form of addiction, costing 500 billion dollars a year. He cites four main reasons for addictions from his research. Number one on the list is to fill the void, satisfy, or comfort. Believer, what comforts you? For many, it is alcohol, drugs, gambling, or pornography. For some, it is a more socially acceptable addiction, such as caffeine, comfort food, retail therapy, or a relationship. Some Christians find comfort in more spiritual things like a thriving ministry, a successful church event, or a well-delivered sermon. The continuum is long, but they all have one thing in common: they are substitutes for God. 

In 2 Corinthians 1:3, Paul refers to our Lord as “God of all comfort.” It is not some, not most, but all comfort. The God we serve promises us eternal comfort (2 Thessalonians 2:16), through His ever-presence (Hebrews 13:5), His complete provision (Philippians 4:19), and His unconditional love (Romans 5:8). We settle for poor, temporary substitutes when complete comfort can be found in intimate conversations with Christ and time spent clinging to His promises of the Bible.

The second reason for addiction, according to McAllister, is the need to escape the struggles of this life. Believer, how do you escape? Some turn to the self-destructive options of alcohol and drugs, while others choose a more culturally acceptable means. When I come home and hear, “Don’t Look Back” by Boston(ironic) or “Here Comes the Sun” by The Beach Boys pouring through the windows, I know my husband has escaped. I am known to escape via an episode of “Andy Griffith” before going to bed. It offers simpler times and simpler problems that are solved in a half-hour (less without commercials). Others take a more spiritual approach; they pray and beg God to change their circumstances. We request relief or escape instead of comfort and strength as we persevere. 

Years ago, I had a mentor who was walking the agonizing road of end-stage breast cancer. I will never forget one of her posts on her blog, “I realized the very thing I was asking the Lord to remove was the very thing he was using to transform me into his likeness.” In 2 Corinthians 1:4, Paul continues to describe our God of all comfort as the One who “comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction.”

We all need to escape now and then. However, perpetual escape from God-ordained struggles robs us of experiencing complete comfort. We are meant to experience divine comfort so that we can then comfort others. My mentor grew spiritually from the battle of her life. Remembering her words and the truth God revealed to her has comforted me in my own struggles. I am reminded that there is purpose in our pain. Do not avoid it. Embrace it. Grow from it. Share it.

Full disclosure: Those who know me will tell you I continue to battle my addiction to (now) Diet Dr. Pepper. I can honestly say that I first reach for God when things get tough, but the bubbles are a close second. One day I will have complete victory! 

Lesson Three • Devotion #2: Pray for Us

In the first chapter of 2 Corinthians, we find that Paul has endured trials of a severe nature. Through a riot in Asia, to other travel encounters, Paul would risk his life on a daily basis for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. With the likes of Demetrius, the silversmith, and others in Ephesus, we see Paul being persecuted continually. Having already seized his traveling companions Gaius and Aristarchus, Paul was in a dangerous time.

Yet, as he is pressed on all sides, Paul finds comfort in the Lord. Experiencing solace and strength through prayer and supplication, Paul is able to endure. Finally, using his own experiences to bring comfort and understanding to others through the peace that only Jesus can bring, Paul presses on.

In Philippians 3:14, he wrote, “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” 

For the most part, ministry looks nothing like this today. Here in America, we are free to preach and teach the Gospel. Unencumbered by travel and cultural differences, we are able to give the Good News to those who will listen. Without fear of reprisal, we are able to gather in a way Paul could never do in his day. Whatever push back we receive is of little danger to us or others. However, in other parts of the world, it looks very different. So much so, that the mere mention of Jesus could get you killed or imprisoned. Yet, we know there are men and women, who through their higher calling, are serving under a death sentence. Like Paul asked almost 2000 years ago, “You also must help us by prayer.”

In 2 Corinthians 1:11, he pleads, “You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.”

While I am not under a death sentence for teaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ, I, too, will ask for a prayer of intercession on my behalf. It is needed so that I may be blessed with the strength and perseverance to finish the race I have been called (2 Timothy 4:7). With humility, I will continue to seek the growth needed in my own walk and those around me. My goal is to be sanctified through the work of the Holy Spirit in my life and to see Him work in the lives of others. I also want to see that the seeds that are planted will find fertile ground just as they did with Demetrius! 

In 3 John 1:12, we read, “Demetrius has received a good testimony from everyone, and from the truth itself. We also add our testimony, and you know that our testimony is true.” The same Demetrius, who had started a riot against the Lord (Acts 19:23-27), was now for Him. God is in the life-changing business. 

Lesson Three • Devotion #1: Avoiding the Middleman

All of us are familiar with the phrase “avoid the middleman.” In our efforts to prevent paying too much for a product or service, we strive to cut out anyone that may be adding their fee onto what we will eventually pay. It is a great goal for anyone trying to save a few bucks! 

However, we may be making a mistake if we apply this type of thinking to other areas of our life. For example, if we just received news that someone we know is going through great difficulty in their life, we should take this matter to God in prayer and ask Him to help and bring comfort to this situation in a way that only He can.

You probably have prayed this prayer or one like it. I know I have. Someone in our life needs God’s comfort, and so we go to God and ask Him to handle it. However, do we “avoid the middleman” by praying such a prayer? I believe we sometimes do because, as with any middleman, we know there is a cost associated when using one. 

Read Paul’s words in his letter to the church at Corinth and see if you can spot the middleman. 

“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 tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ.” 2 Corinthians 1:3–5 (NKJV)

Did you spot the middleman?

Too often, when praying for others in trouble, you and I pray, “God, would you handle it?” However, many times, it is we who have been positioned perfectly by God to be the middleman! We are called to be part of the process but “avoid the middleman” because of the cost involved, mainly our time. Being a comfort to those in trouble with the same comfort we ourselves have been comforted by is going to interrupt our schedule. Yes, there is a cost to becoming the middleman, but if we “avoid the middleman,” the price is paid by those in trouble. 

Paul’s words teach us that God comforts us in all our troubles. If you know God, you probably have been comforted by Him through the sacrifice of His Son Jesus more times than you can count. Yet, Jesus is not the middleman; He is the source of our comfort. 

So, how has He comforted you?

Is it His love for you? (John 3:16)

Is it His overcoming the world? (John 16:33)

Could it be His triumph over all troubles? (Revelation 21:4)

Next time we go to God on behalf of those in trouble, maybe we could pray, “God forgive me when I avoid being the middleman, please help me be a comfort to those in trouble, with the same comfort by which I myself was comforted.”

Lesson Two • Devotion #6: Scenarios

Life can be rough: Divorced after 18 years of marriage, laid off again, losing someone very close to you, sitting in a courtroom with your child again, begging a spouse to go to counseling, worrying about your family’s safety, or hearing the doctor say the test is positive. These are not the scenarios we plan to face in life, yet if you have breath in your lungs, you have experienced some level of a life struggle. Life is always coming at you, and to cope, we look for something to bring us comfort. 

The Apostle Paul understood challenges, trials, and life struggles. He highlighted a few in 2 Corinthians 11:23-28, “I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.”

It is when we face the toughest challenges, the overwhelming stresses, and the daily hardships that we need something on which to hold. We long for the strength of a helping hand to pull us up and to give us hope. A major theme of Paul’s letters, and especially 2 Corinthians, is strength found in the comfort of Jesus. In the opening chapter of this letter, Paul mentions comfort ten times in just five verses.

Feel free to count them in 2 Corinthians 1:3-7, 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. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.”

It is through suffering that our hearts draw closer to God because He is able to comfort us. As we look to Him over other forms of coping, Jesus is working in us for our good, molding us into His image.

Lesson Two • Devotion #5: Back to Basics

The Church at Corinth held a special place in Paul’s heart. He established the church while on his second missionary journey. Being a city in Greece, the Greeks were known for their philosophy and intellect. Paul was a Roman citizen and Jew, but he was well-educated and trained as a Pharisee, referring to himself as a “Jew of Jews.”

At some point, as pointed out in the book of Acts, Apollos was known for his speaking ability among the Corinthians as well. This drew the inevitable comparison between him and Paul among the Corinthians. In 2 Corinthians, Paul writes from a position of almost defending himself and the ministry to which he was called. This letter contains some of the most familiar passages of Scripture, ranging from the ministry of an apostle to him addressing those in Corinth who sought to discredit his ministry and the reiteration of the authority of his call as an apostle.

I like to say that Christians (and churches) have a terminal case of humanity, meaning both will let you down. This is not meant to sound cynical but rather realistic. It was as true in Paul’s day as it is in ours. When I first started preaching 30 years ago, my pastor (and mentor) was quick to caution me about not becoming “puffed up.”  I was a relatively new believer at that point, and that was a valid warning. Over the years, I became more comfortable with preaching and teaching, but still would find myself being cautioned, but also at times criticized on my preaching, or challenged on a doctrinal issue. My fleshly reaction was (and sometimes still is) to lash out, allowing hurt and embarrassment to overcome a rational and measured response. Yet, it ultimately must always come back to Jesus.  

Are my words and ministry honoring Him, encouraging brothers and sisters in Christ, and drawing the seeker to Him? When we face those attacks against our character, we must let our faithfulness speak for itself, and respond in love. As I consider the book of 2 Corinthians and Paul’s situation, I am reminded that we all are, at times, faced with the situation where we are questioned by other believers as to the authenticity of our desire to minister and serve. Like Paul, we can feel hurt and the need to defend ourselves. However, when we find ourselves in that situation (and invariably, we all will), we must always remember to point everything back to Christ.

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