“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.” (2 Corinthians 1:3,4)
Paul in his second letter to the church in Corinth gives a wonderful pattern for pastoral care and ministry. He praises the God of all comfort, who comforts us in our troubles. In turn we can then comfort those who are also troubled.
I have to confess that I had read those verses many times before but only recently realised that I had misunderstood them. The way I had been reading them was like this: We encounter trouble and difficulty in our lives. We turn to God and receive his comfort and help. We are then equipped to comfort and help others, having overcome the struggles and trouble in our own lives.
That sounds very compelling, but it’s not quite what Paul tells the Corinthians. He certainly does tell us that we will face trouble in our lives, and when we do we should turn to the God of all comfort and compassion to find grace and help. But the aim is not to have our troubles all wrapped up nearly before we can comfort others.
You see, Paul’s aim is not to comfort others because we have the answers, or we have overcome similar troubles. If we try and comfort with our own wisdom or strength, we are not going to help other people at all. Rather he says we comfort others “with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” This is in the present tense: comforting with the comfort we are receiving from God here and now, not just in the past.
Paul’s words bring to mind the way champagne is sometimes poured into a tower of champagne glasses. The wine is poured into the glass at the very top until it overflows and the wine then flows over from the top into the next level. Once that level is full, the wine continues to flow into and over those glasses into the level below and so on.
We comfort and care for others because we are filled up with the comfort and care from God himself. It’s not that we get our glass filled up and then go and fill others, because that way we would quickly become empty. No, we are filled up to overflowing with God’s compassion so that this compassion flows out to others. This is a continual process. We cannot minister and comfort others unless we are continually filled with the comfort that God gives. If we are not full, we cannot be the means to fill others.
I need to remember this daily. Unless I have my vessel filled day by day with the love and grace of God by his Spirit, I won’t be effective in his service. I need the cascading comfort that comes from knowing and experiencing the comfort of God myself, each and every day.