The God of Comfort

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,  To the church of God in Corinth, together with all his holy people throughout Achaia: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 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. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort. —2 Corinthians 1:1-7

In verses three though seven of The first chapter of 2 Corinthians, the word or idea of “comfort,” either as a noun or as a verb, occurs nine times, complemented with words such as compassion, patience and hope. The words “suffer” and “sufferings” occur four times, illustrated and modified with other terms such as trouble, distress and endurance.

The idea of divine comfort Paul is talking about is the picture of someone standing with another, as that person endures pain and hardship. It’s the work of God the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, as Jesus called him, in the 14th, 15th and 16th chapters of the Gospel of John.

Paul assures us that no matter how great the sufferings we may endure, our sufferings are matched—in fact, they are more than matched—by the comfort God provides. The comfort God gives us by his grace will never be overwhelmed or outweighed by our suffering.

And Paul tells us that the comfort God provides to each one of us is not given for the purpose of terminating in our lives. God’s comfort does not flow down a cul-de-sac, a dead end street. Those of us who receive God’s comfort are equipped so that we might act as his tools, his hands and feet, to reflect and radiate that very same comfort to others in need.

We receive God’s grace, and his comfort, so that we might, in turn, pass on that same grace and comfort. God blesses us that we ourselves become channels and conduits of his grace. We dare not attempt to take his comfort and hide it in a napkin, as did the servant described in the parable of the talents. By definition, Christians comfort others with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.

Not so long ago I read about Kris Hogan, a high school football coach who comforted others with the comfort he himself had received. You may have seen the television series Friday Night Lights—based on a high school football team in Odessa, Texas—out in West Texas. Friday Night Lights explains how important high school football is in the state of Texas.

In many, if not most towns in Texas, Friday night is devoted to the game of football, either being played there in town as a home game, or, if not, the trip that people take to accompany the team on an “away” game. Kris Hogan coached the football team at Grapevine Faith—their school is located close to DFW (Dallas/Ft. Worth International Airport) about 20 miles Northwest of downtown Dallas. They were the home team, playing host to a team from Gainsville, Texas. If you’re familiar with the Dallas area, you know that Gainsville is a small town about 75 miles north of Dallas.

The two teams had never played before, and Coach Hogan wanted to do something special. He knew before the game started who would win—his team, Grapevine Faith, had a record of seven wins and only two losses—while their opponents, the Gainsville Tornadoes, had lost every one of their eight games and had scored only two touchdowns all year.

Coach Hogan asked half of all the fans to cheer for Gainsville, because he knew they, as the visiting team, wouldn’t have very much support. He asked for a huge banner to be made, saying “Go Tornadoes!” And when the game started, over 200 Grapevine fans sat on the Gainsville side of the field, loudly cheering for the team playing against their friends, sons and grandsons.

Grapevine won the game, as expected—they didn’t let their overmatched opponents win. But Gainsville scored two touchdowns, as many as they had in eight previous games, and gave their coach, Mark Williams, a Gatorade bath at the end of the game.

For most of the Gainsville players, it was the first time for a long time—perhaps the first time ever in their lives— that someone had cheered for them. After the game the two teams gathered in the middle of the field, and prayed. The Gainsville quarterback, a boy named Isaiah, asked if he could lead the prayer. According to published reports, part of his prayer went something like this: “Lord, I don’t know how this happened, so I don’t know how to thank you, but I never would’ve known there were so many people in the world that cared about us.”

The Gainsville football team was not used to people caring about them. To illustrate why they weren’t, right after the two teams prayed, uniformed, armed guards put handcuffs on the Gainsville team, and escorted them off the field. They marched their prisoners to the bus for their return trip to Gainsville—you see, the Gainsville Tornadoes were from a maximum-security correctional facility for teenage boys.

The Gainsville football players were in the correctional facility for illegal drug use, armed robbery, assault and a variety of other crimes. They were not used to anyone comforting them—they didn’t know what it was like to hear someone say “way to go.” They didn’t believe that they could deal with the circumstances of their lives. They didn’t think that the world outside of their prison cared for them at all. But before their bus left, taking the Gainsville team back to prison, the Grapevine fans gave them brown bag dinners to eat on the bus on their way home. The Grapevine fans passed on the love of God, as their actions helped those incarcerated young men know what it means to comfort others, with the comfort you yourself have received. That’s what it means to pass on God’s unlimited grace and comfort and matchless, supreme love to others.

1) No matter how desperate your situation might be—no matter how dark the valley you’re experiencing—no matter how frightening your circumstances may be—know this: Your heavenly Father has more comfort and more encouragement and more grace and more love than all of our combined sufferings.

2) Take a look around. Consider those you know, and maybe even people you don’t know every well, if at all. Think about and pray about those who need comfort. You have received God’s grace – you have received God’s love. Allow God to use you to reflect his love and grace to others. Ask God to use you as a tool so that others might see an example of his love.

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.