Twenty-five years ago my father suffered a major heart-attack and needed by-pass surgery. That’s a frightening prospect for anyone at anytime. Even so in his case, because the technology wasn’t where it is today and his heart was so damaged, the weight of the whole thing was particularly heavy. You can imagine the anxiety we were feeling.
A few of days before the surgery a man from our church stopped by the house. He had heard about our situation and wanted to share some things with us. It turns out that he had suffered a heart-attack and had been through by-pass surgery just a couple of years earlier. Very slowly and carefully, he told my dad everything that was going to happen; everything he would experience. He not only told him what the doctors would do but what each phase of the process would feel like. For example, “When you first wake up from the surgery,” he said, “you’ll feel like you’re drowning because you’ll have a big tube stuck down your throat. Your tendency will be to fight it, but that will only make it worse. Just try to relax and you’ll adjust.” As he continued to tell my father what to expect, he talked to him about the goodness of the Lord and how God had comforted him throughout his ordeal. He told him that God would do the same for him, and He did.
We had never met this man before that day; we were new to the church and it was very large on top of that. After he prayed with us and was ready to leave, my father asked him why he came by. He said that God had ministered to him during his time of need and he wanted to do the same for someone else. I didn’t know it at the time, but the Bible actually says that one of the reasons we suffer is so that with the comfort God gives us we can comfort others. That’s exactly what Jack was doing that day. In God’s providence, one of the reasons this man had suffered a heart attack was so that he could minister to us in just the right way at just the right time. Paul said, “If we are afflicted, it is for your consolation” (1 Cor. 1:6). Just before that he said, God “comforts us in all our tribulation, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (v. 4).
Why does God let you suffer? One of the reasons he allows us to go through the trial is so that He can comfort us. He’s the only One who can give true comfort, peace, and assurance during a storm. He wants us weaned from this earth and dependent on Him because He’s better than anything the world has to offer. He wants us to get the true joy and satisfaction of being comforted by Him. His presence and ministry to our hearts is even better than being delivered from the trial. It’s hard for us to imagine such, but it’s the truth. He wants us to know His peace in our hearts. That’s a very different thing than peace based on circumstances. God gives peace despite our circumstances. But He doesn’t stop there. As He gives us comfort, He wants us to turn our attention to others and minister to them. He wants us to comfort others with the comfort He’s given us.
Sometimes it’s hard to give words of real comfort to others if we haven’t suffered ourselves. It’s not impossible; the Word of God is the thing that has the authority and carries the weight and power by the Holy Spirit when we speak to others in their grief. But God uses people to minister to people and he uses people who have suffered to minister to those who are suffering in a similar way.
My father-in-law passed away this week. I’ve spoken many words of comfort to my precious mother-in-law and God’s Word has an entrance into her heart. But, when my mother speaks to her and tells her how she’s going to make it, those words have a special affect because my mother is speaking from experience. She lost her husband (my father) almost twelve years ago. It was tough, but God gave her strength. She is now able to testify to my mother-in-law of that strength; that strength that the Lord will definitely give. And, I have no doubt that my mother-in-law will have some comforting words to share with another grieving widow down the road.
Think about this: I had a tumor in my spine a few years ago. The pain was excruciating and I got to the point where I couldn’t walk. But then I had surgery and I’m better than ever now! About a year later, my neurosurgeon called me and said a woman was suffering from the same thing I had and she was very anxious about going under the knife. She wanted to know if I would talk to her. I can’t describe how thankful I was that God had allowed me to go through that trial. I was able to tell that women how she was feeling physically because I had been through it; I was able to tell her what I felt like now; I was able to tell her how God had met me and given me peace; I was able to do for her what Jack had done for my dad! And I’m not kidding when I say that it was an absolute joy to be able to do so. I had to suffer prior to that to be able to minister in that way, but what a pay-off – to give the comfort that God had given me to someone else.
Why does God allow you to suffer? So you can one day experience the joy – the sheer joy – of sharing Christ in a unique way with someone else who is suffering. God will comfort you so you can comfort someone else for their good and His glory.
Dr. Paul Dean invites you to discover more about yourself, God, and others . . . and develop a Christian worldview. Dr. Dean is a pastor, cultural commentator, and author. Receive a FREE commentary and learn more at http://www.trueworldview.com
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