“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort. who comforts us in 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.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-4
I photographed this public drinking fountain on Champs Elysee just because I thought it was a nice work of art. I found out later that it is one of many cast iron sculpture fountains located in various areas within the city of Paris that were built through the generous support of Sir Richard Wallace, an English philanthropist in the late 1800’s, for the purpose of providing clean water for free (and in a very artistic way). Nowadays, with tourists and locals toting bottles of Evian and Perrier, it may be difficult to appreciate the real impact of these public drinking stations. But history tells us of a time after the Franco-Prussian war when the cost of potable water was so high such that the citizens of Paris, already in poverty, resorted to a muddy Seine to meet their needs. To them, the Wallace fountains were indeed a blessing in an era of hardship.
Throughout my life, God has brought individuals and groups of people who have blessed and refreshed me, much like Wallace fountains along my path. They encouraged me to drink from the River of Life that only flows from the Lamb of God (Rev 22:1). When I needed comfort, they pointed me to the God of all comfort.
What does it mean to comfort? Modern day dictionary defines it as an act of alleviating stress. Sounds good, doesn’t it? It gets even better when we look further back at the Latin origin. “Com” is a prefix that signifies “with” or “together with;” and “fort” is from “forte” meaning strong. To comfort is to alleviate another person’s stress primarily by coming alongside and helping the other person find strength. It is not about misery finding company. It’s about sharing strengths or strengthening each other. And since none of us have strength on our own, the only way we can give comfort is by pointing one another to Jesus.
Whether in ministry or in our regular daily lives, a heart of compassion for the burdened and weary is much needed if we are to be image-bearers of Christ. We are called to be vessels through which the grace of God freely flows.
The good news is that our God himself, the Father of all mercies is our Teacher and he demonstrates firsthand what it is like to give comfort by comforting us in our afflictions. Paul, in 2 Corinthians said, we can comfort others with the same comfort with which God has comforted us. We should rejoice in this truth! However, we must not ignore a crucial detail in this passage, and that is the necessity of affliction as our training ground.
The classroom of affliction is not what I would choose but it truly is God’s appointed place for our growth and transformation. Parched earth receives rainfall really well. While I will never know all the reasons for why Christians must suffer, it is clear that 2 Corinthians 1 has at least one good explanation – that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction. Trials enable us to become better ministers to one another. Isn’t it ironic (even foolish) that we spend so much effort avoiding that which is meant to equip and strengthen us? We embrace the truth that God is merciful and yet refuse to believe that his mercy is not meant to be a wall of protection from affliction but a fountain of strength in the midst of it. The Lord that we serve is no stranger to suffering. “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief…” (Isaiah 53:3) Christ who was afflicted on our behalf – He is our comfort in affliction.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Matthew 5:4
“I understand the buffeted days and the days of no small tempest, when neither sun nor stars appear. And it is good to pass through such days, for if we didn’t we could neither prove our God nor help others. If any experience of ours helps to bring others to our Lord, what does any buffeting matter?” Amy Carmichael, Candles in the Dark