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Thursday, April 09, 2009

The Trustworthy Ministry of Suffering and Comfort

I was out minding my own business on day when I noticed a man who seemed to be quite agitated about something, just downright disturbed. This bothere me, seeing someone being bothered, so I offered assistance. He ignored me. I offered again and seemed to be ready to accept some kind of help, but I learned very quickly that he was intent on making a big deal about his situation and wanted no help at all. How frustrating to meet people who don't want help--they just want to be left alone, happy or otherwise. I think it comes down to this: to accept comfort, consolation, encouragment, even help, one must become vulnerable. For many this means to be weak in an age we are told to be strong, "suck it up," bear the pain, take Ibuprofen and get over it.

The Christian has good reason to suffer affliction: the glory of God in Christ Jesus (2 Corinthians 1:3-7).

1) We suffer so we can comfort others. Certainly Paul is speaking of the affliction that comes with preaching the gospel and ministry (v.5). Ministry is the encouragment of others through affliction and suffering; in other words, by ministry we get into the trenches for the purpose of building others up. This is an odd battle we rage, rushing headlong against the enemy to bring alive in Christ Jesus, not to kill. Our suffering and affliction does not take place in a void, but for the purpose of bringing others the comfort of God.

Some time ago, the husband of a family friend died--the widow was an unbeliever. How does one bring comfort admist affliction? First, one must "be there," available. Next, we must speak the truth of the gospel in love to her. But what about the death of her husband? I've not lost my spouse in death, so I have no clue as to the uncertainties after such a significant a loss, but I do know what pain is. Encouragment, comfort can be given by simply coming alongside.

2) We suffer so that we will not trust in ourselves. Affliction is the prime weakness exposer. Give me a tough situation and you will discover that my default setting is stuck on "freak out." Truthfully, when affliction comes, I just don't know what to do so go looking for help.

People are convinced there is a drug or therapy for just about anything. People don't realize this, but just watch them for a while: they throw a pity party then go hire a "friend" who will listen to them--no answers necessary. What a business to be in, right?

Suffering has a two-fold purpose: in the realm of ministry, we will suffer because of the gospel we preach--it is hard work and will not always be well-recieved. This is why we look to Paul for our example. Look how far he went, how long he stayed, how he was treated. Suffering is an indication as to how well we are not trusting in ourselves and are being obedient to Christ. The second purpose is to show our helplessness and how much more we need God!

Remember my default setting? Suffering is a way to show how much the flesh is under control. If we consider the fruits of the flesh in Galatians 5, look what becomes prominent with a burst pipe, a flat tire, a suddenn loss. While the list may not be fully manifest as we respond to affliction, we can certainly note the process of enmity, strife, jealosy, anger, quarrels, dissentions or factions when the stressors come. These are some of the weaknesses brought about by suffering.

In ministry we come alongside and through the hope of the gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit, not only demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit but also encourage those we minister to. We teach how to respond to affliction in the same way. This is why I look to Paul and other spiritual greats with such admiration because the Holy Spirit is making them who He wants them to be in Christ Jesus. When we see Paul in the face of adversity, we see him standing strong. This is why he is able to say that the ministry of comfort (encouragment) comes out of suffering! When we encourage we do so not out of our freak-out weaknesses, but through His fruit-bearing Spirit!

Rather than fight, surrender. This takes faith. Getting to the end of self and with the encouragment of the paraclete alongside, we get through the affliction to the praise of His glory.

3) We suffer so we can learn to give thanks in everything. And why not? God is the Father of mercy and consulation. Paul will say, "that so many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted through the prayers of so many."

Again, he is specificaly referring to those afflictions gathered and the comfort afforded at the preaching of the gospel. Those who hear and believe will give thanks! In the same way, those to whom we come alongside, at the end of ourselves to the end of themselves, will be given a reason to give thanks when God's ministry is accomplished in them!

The most awesome blessing about comfort, consolation and encouragment is that these cannot be contained. The one who is comforted is compelled to pass comfort along. This is the start of a trustworthy ministry.

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