31. The Real Comforter

 ‘Comfort’ Meditations No.31: The Real Comforter

Jn 14:16 AV “And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter”

I confess I like the AV’s word ‘Comforter’ rather that some other later versions, ‘Helper’. It’s the word ‘another’ that gives it away. The implication of that word is that the disciples had a ‘Comforter’ with them already, but who was going away – Jesus. I don’t think of Jesus as a ‘helper’ but when you read his ministry mandate in Lk 4:18,19 he is a deliverer and by implication ‘comforter’. Helper doesn’t do him justice. So the Holy Spirit comes to do the work of Jesus, bring comfort, by healing, deliverance, restoring. This is practical comfort. Can we the church bring this to one another and to others around us?

But – and I want to finish this series by leaving us with the vision of eternity with God, utterly united with Him, sensing His wonder, being filled with His wonder, responding to His wonder – this comfort comes, not by a gentle pat on the back with some contentless words, “Now, now, it will be all right,” but with a realisation of the truth – of who God is, who we are and what He is working to do.

He is the perfect Creator who works into the fallenness of a world where mankind misuses its free will, to redeem it, to bring it back towards the goal He ultimately had for it – to be re-joined to Him to experience the wonder of His unfettered love, His perfect will, and enjoy it!

And who we are. Fallen beings, yes, beings who need comforting, yes, but much more than that: beings destined to fully enter into the wonder of sonship, being utterly united with their heavenly Father, enjoying Him, enjoying His love, enjoying responding to it, enjoying seeing the fruit of it all being worked out.

In the film, “The Greatest Showman,” there is a song of celebration, “This is who I am” but there are three sad things about that. First that so often we fail to accept who we are, as we are and, second, like the people in the film we so often fail to see the potential of God changing us and, third, it needs saying, we feel a need to be defensive because we aren’t sure that we are loved and we aren’t sure that God is on our case, changing us into His likeness in preparation for one day taking us into His eternal presence that we have been speaking about these past few days.    You need comforting? Then know you are loved, know you are a child of destiny and although it may appear unclear at the present, this plan of God over YOUR life IS there, for both now, this side of death, and into eternity, the other side of death. Tomorrow will not be the same as today, it’s another day nearer your eternal destiny. Let something of the light of that destiny, shine in your today. Be blessed. 

30. Clearing the Decks (2)

‘Comfort’ Meditations No.30: Clearing the Decks (2)

Psa 69:20 “Scorn has broken my heart and has left me helpless; I looked for sympathy, but there was none, for comforters, but I found none.”

We looked at this verse earlier on but the word ‘scorn’ leaps out. Before we finish there is this danger to be re-emphasized yet again. Scorn – derision, mockery, contempt, let’s say any negative feeling towards another who are showing signs of need. This is so important – unless we clear ourselves of negativity towards others, we can never be comforters. Love looks for the best, believes the best for others and WHEN we do this, we will begin to be ready to be a comforter.

So I come yet again and ask you to try to grab this vision of your eternity with God where we are so bathed in God’s loving presence and so aware of HIS every desire – which, remember is always utterly perfect – that all we are aware of is what is right – the right thing to do next, say next, think next, so that when we do or say what is right, as we respond to His wonderful presence, knowing what is the perfect, right thing to say or do, we have joy, pleasure at being in perfect harmony with God and His creation, we have joy, pleasure, delight in having become the ultimate goal of God’s plan from the beginning, children in perfect harmony with the loving heavenly Father. OK, a bit of a mouthful but, I believe, the truth! You are a child of destiny.

Now let’s step back into the dark and realise how dark it is – this terrible picture of would-be comforters that David speaks about in his psalm, people he looked to for help, for comfort, but none was forthcoming. He had spoken about how he felt he was almost drowning (v.1,2), then about how there were people who hated him without cause (v.4) who were out to destroy him, aware of his own failures (v.5), fearing for his testimony (v.6), scorned by others (v.7), even separated from his family (v.8), mocked by many (v.12). What a horrible picture, what an incredible contrast to the picture of heaven we’ve been trying to grasp these recent days, what a picture of this fallen world. Consider some more of the heaven-picture: God is love so, “God is patient, God is kind, God does not envy, God does not boast, God is not proud, God does not dishonour others, God is not self-seeking, God is not easily angered, God keeps no record of wrongs, God does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth, God always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. God never fails.” (1 Cor 13:4-7 adapted). Now, in our vision, you are utterly united with Him, so substitute the word ‘I’ for God in those verses. That was Paul trying to anchor the truth in present reality. Pray into the eternal reality and seek to bring it into the present, this Oneness with God.

29. Clearing the Decks

‘Comfort’ Meditations No.29: Clearing the Decks

Job 16:2“I have heard many things like these; you are miserable comforters, all of you!”

The truth is that we can have good intentions – to help and comfort others, which is part of what this series has been all about – but unless we ensure we clear away any sense of a critical heart, those we are with will catch that underlying criticism and not feel better. Job’s three friends constantly sought to show him he was wrong and if we do that with one another we will never build the strong and secure church that Jesus wants. Your friend may have got it wrong, but focus only on the good and let the Holy Spirit do the convicting if it is needed.

Right, let’s use these thoughts to try to link to what we have been trying to consider these last two days, our future existence in heaven, utterly united with God, in total harmony with Him and flowing in total harmony with all of the rest of existence.

Now let’s try and let some of the light from this picture shine on the reality of the struggles we have in the here and now, not only struggling to cope with difficult circumstances (like a Pandemic) but struggling as imperfect beings to cope with and deal with other imperfect beings. We thought about becoming comfort-bringers but that is often marred by who we are, damaged people by the past and the perceptions we have of other people.  Now let something of that vision, of who and what God is making you to become when you become one with Him in eternity, impact your outlook. How can we let that wonderful future vision of who we will become impact who we are today? How can that ‘comfort’ us?

The starting point, surely, must be to see ourselves, and constantly remind ourselves of who we are, what our destiny us, who we are on the way to become. This will need daily reminders and constant appeals to the grace of God if we are in any way to take hold of this. Surely the Jesus we see in the Gospels is the Son of God come down from heaven to show us some of the possibilities and when he said to his disciples, “Follow me,” it also meant, “and become like me.” Yes, in the light of the picture I have been seeking to convey in these recent studies, this is really like the proverbial tip of the iceberg but it is sufficient to point us in the right direction. Put aside all the negatives and remember you are Spirit-indwelt and Spirit-empowered, and that is to be a glimpse of this future oneness, this future unity we have been speaking about, unfettered from sin with, “a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance.” (Eph 1:13,14) You’re on the path to this incredible destiny planned for you from before the Creation. Reread these three studies and ask Him to make this vision a reality for you.

28. A Question of Identity

‘Comfort’ Meditations No.28: A Question of Identity

Jn 1:42 “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter).”

Both the Aramaic, Cephas, and Greek, Peter, a footnote tells us, mean a rock. Identity is one of the big question marks that the enemy challenges people on today. Supposing Jesus walked up to you and said, “You’re a star, a rock, awesome, amazing!” I wonder what you would say? How would it affect you? But that’s what personal prophecy so often does, build up a person with God’s view of them. No wonder the enemy tries to steer the church away from using such a gift that builds up the children of God and turns them into strong-identity warriors. Let’s let it release comfort etc. more and more in us.

Now we have to say these things in the light of what I brought yesterday, an image of God’s goal for you and me that, yes, may only be fully realised in eternity, but in case it was too much for you, let’s restate it. Let’s start with God Himself. God is perfect the Bible says (Mt 5:48). My definition of perfect is very simple: cannot be improved upon. Now imagine that everything God thinks, says, or does in heaven (yes, just heaven for the moment) is perfect. Everything He does is in perfect harmony with everything He has created, everything ‘works’ perfectly. What joy He must have in existing in such a way, in total harmony with Himself and with everything He has brought into being outside of Himself. Again and again in the Gospels, we have glimpses of this as Jesus acts with the power and authority of God – teaching people the truth, bringing healing and deliverance to damaged or imprisoned bodies, taking control over water to make it into wine at a wedding, over a few loaves and fish to feed a massive crowd, and so on. This is God enjoying His creation, expressing His power in love for the created beings we call the human race – us. Now turn to us. Who are we? Damaged and distorted-by-sin beings who are being restored, being redeemed by Jesus. Receiving his forgiveness was simply the first step, the stepping over the threshold into the kingdom to enter into a new life that would involve being indwelt by his Holy Spirit, but not in such a way that takes away our personal identity but is there to enhance it. Now take the last step again, and imagine in heaven you are utterly reunited with God, enveloped in His love, full of His loving presence. You are still you but you are so taken up with this wonder – empowered love to know who you at last are, one utterly united with Him, so as you respond to what you sense is His heart, you think, say or do, exactly what is right and you are in total harmony with His perfect design. But what about today, where it is not like this? Ah, yes, we’ll need to think some more on this tomorrow. 

27. Restored

‘Comfort’ Meditations No.27: Restored

Jn 21:15 “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”

I feel drawn back to those of us who feel we are less than we could be, sometimes because we consider in the past we blew it so badly, that there is no longer any hope for us today or in the future (I’m a candidate for this description). Peter has to be our model of Jesus’ restoration work. He takes a leader who has blown it about as badly as it can be and picks him up and restores him to leadership. Amazing. But there is a challenge here beyond bringing comfort to just one man through restoring him; it is the call to have this sort of perspective for everyone.  Can we make our goal, comforting and restoring for every damaged, broken and fallen life we encounter, can we at least try?

But then there is another aspect to all of this. So often, and I have done it at least twice now, we focus on overcoming the past negatives but in so doing, our eagerness to heal up the past (a good aspiration!) means we miss or forget a bigger issue on God’s agenda. So take Peter’s restoration as an example.

We focus on Jesus forgiving him (which IS vitally important) but there is an even bigger issue evident here: what Jesus wants Peter to do and to become.  Basically he tells him to look after his flock – the church, to become its primary leader. Restoring Peter is the next step to getting Peter moving into his primary destiny here on earth at least.

And so it is with you and me. Yes, Jesus wants to comfort us, to restore us so that past failures are properly resolved by the confession-forgiveness-cleansing equation we’ve considered recently, but the bigger issue as far as Jesus and his kingdom is concerned, is getting us to a place where we are reinstated into a place of obedience and availability to more fully flow in God’s purposes. Now of course the ‘sin thing’, still residual in us, blinds us to the wonder of what this means. We’re going to have to wait for heaven for this to be fully realized BUT imagine there the ‘sin thing’ I described being either utterly removed or the presence of God being so great that we no longer have any desire to ‘do our own thing’ and get it wrong. Imagine we are so bathed in God’s loving presence and so aware of HIS every desire – which, remember is always utterly perfect – that all we are aware of is what is right – the right thing to do next, say next, think next. But it gets more amazing. When we do or say what is right, as we respond to His wonderful presence, knowing what is the perfect thing to say or do, we will have joy, pleasure at being in perfect harmony with God and His creation, we will have joy, pleasure, delight in having become the ultimate goal of God’s plan from the beginning, children in perfect harmony with their loving heavenly Father. Heaven, our destiny! 

26. Caught by Surprise

‘Comfort’ Meditations No.26: Caught by Surprise

Mt 8:24 “Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake.”

We’re going to move away from people groups that need comforting and look more generally for a moment at how needs sometimes arise and I’m just going to use this very simple verse above as a reminder of how stuff happens.

There are times in life, in this fallen world, where ‘storms’ arise without any warning. Jesus also taught about this in his parable of the two house builders – Mt 7:25 – both of whom suffered the storms of life. That reminds me first of all what I have been saying again and again throughout these studies – we all of us suffer ‘storms of life’ from time to time, times when either we get it wrong and life falls apart, or simply it all goes wrong around us and we didn’t cause it but we were certainly on the receiving end of it.

They may involve sickness, infirmity, bereavement, loss of employment etc. etc. One of the bravest women I know lives on the edge of death which has nearly taken her numerous times – but God is there in her and for her and in the spiritual world her light shines brighter than most. We would never wish for such times or such a life, but the truth is that when God said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you,” (Heb 13:5) He meant it! Whatever has happened (whether you caused it or not as we saw with Moses) He IS still with you to redeem you, bless you and enable you to shine with His glory (2 Cor 4:6,7).

But perhaps the obvious thing to remember in these things is that so often they come without warning.  If God had said, “Watch out, life is going to get more tricky today,” I’m not sure if that would be a good thing; sometimes I tend to feel I would rather not live with the knowledge of an impending disaster. I don’t want such things – I’d much rather an easy uncomplicated life where everything went smoothly all the time – but if I’m living  in a way that faces reality honestly, I know that such things do come occasionally. I repeat – I don’t want those things, I would much rather I didn’t have to experience them (who wouldn’t have wished the Covid Pandemic never happened and didn’t keep on happening!!!!) but I know they come and so I know that one of the biggest lessons I have to learn, is how to deal with such things, how to receive God’s grace to handle such things, get God’s wisdom to deal with such things, let perseverance, patience, endurance etc. grow in me, AND learn how to receive His comfort when such storms strike. Oh yes, these are learning situations. God doesn’t want me and you to go down under them, He doesn’t want us to drown in the crashing waves but to ‘walk on them’, (Mt 14:29) to learn, as in this story that Jesus has the power and authority to calm the storm (Mt 8:26). Yes? Yes!

25. A Word for Failures

‘Comfort’ Meditations No.25: A Word for Failures

Ex 3:10“So now, go. I am sending you.”

To maintain our context we remind ourselves that we are looking at people groups who are vulnerable and need comforting. We’re moving from age-distinction groups to a much wider grouping which at some time or other will have included ALL of us – the group of failures. Now if you say you’ve never got it wrong it is possible that you a) don’t know yourself or b) have a short memory or c) feel sufficiently insecure in your Christian life that you dare not face the fact of getting life wrong, or d) you have pushed the failure into your subconscious because you feel it was so bad you can’t live with the memory of it, or e) you’ve just shrugged it off and purposely forgotten it because, “We all get it wrong don’t we, so why bother to bring it up again and again?”

The only thing about any of these positions is that deep down we have unresolved issues that have never been dealt with in the right way – which involves acknowledgement, confession and receiving God’s forgiveness and cleansing (1 Jn 1:9). Wherever we have been unable to face our failure (sin) we have stopped God taking us on, restoring, re-envisioning and re-sending us in His purposes. Such failures in respect of dealing with failures acts as a brake on our lives.

Our starter verse takes us back to the conversation between the Lord and Moses at the burning bush on Mount Sinai. These words were spoken to one of the world’s leading failures – Moses. Having messed up his life he saw himself, as this conversation shows, as a nobody, a failure, comfortable only in the presence of his sheep. And God chooses him. And what years follow!

There are numbers of us who prefer not to look back because if we do we see failure and that is painful, but one of the most amazing studies I have ever done looked into ‘redemption’ and I saw there that God is ALWAYS looking to redeem His fallen children, even those who no longer feel they are His child. If this is you, He’s gently reaching out to redeem and restore. Let Him take your hand. There are good days ahead He wants to bring you. “But you don’t know….” You’re right and it’s better that only you and God know but as He knows already, there’s not much point in pretending it didn’t happen. When we come out with those words, we are suggesting no one else is like us and what we did was too bad for God to forgive. No, he forgave Peter and sent him to lead his church. He forgave Moses and sent him to save His people. Jesus died for whatever the sin is, and nothing is too bad. Us failures have got to stick together! I can talk about mine now because a) I know I am loved, b) I know Jesus has forgiven and cleansed me and c) I know we’re all like this and he still loves us

24. A Word for Teens

‘Comfort’ Meditations No.24: A Word for Teens

1 Sam16:11 “There is still the youngest, He is tending the sheep.”

So we have been considering specific people groups that are especially vulnerable and reveal needs of being comforted. We moved from general considerations about the downcast, that can include all of us from time to time, to briefly consider the aged and then those who for a variety of reasons may now find themselves vulnerable, if for no other reason than the fact that they have no one back at home with whom to share their wonderings, their fears, their doubts, and their questions. But now we jump from the aged to the younger generation, specifically teenagers, which is what we find in our starter verse above.

This was Jesse speaking about his teenage son who he hadn’t deemed worthy of meeting the great prophet, Samuel. Later in his story, it is clear his older brothers thought even less of him (1 Sam 17:28). Teenage years are frequently years of confusion, uncertainty about identity and misunderstanding by parents.

Before we rush past this last point, can I focus parents on their teenagers. As I have indicated elsewhere, for teens to feel secure, we need to establish a God-awareness or God-experience environment in our family from the very earliest years when we might have prayed over our children, teaching them to learn to bring all things to God in prayer, and also convey our commitment to God’s word that anchors or forms a basis of our lives. If you don’t do this, note two things. First, it is never too late to start and, second, if you don’t establish this environment for your family you are leaving them very vulnerable to the winds of change in modern society.

But there is something else to note in the Christian family. Where our children have made a commitment to Christ, watch for two things. First, be alert to what God might be doing in them. I nearly missed the potential of my kids until an evangelist and a prophet singled them out!!! Second, don’t be over-protective of them spiritually. They may step out in the realms of the Spirit more than you do. Don’t limit them, be there in the background praying for them and being ready when they open up but don’t hinder the Spirit; He’s always looking to take the next generation on further than we allowed Him to go.

Good old Samuel saw his son just as the boy who looked after their sheep but quickly learns God has other ideas. God has this teenager lined up to be the next king! Awesome!

If you have teens (children or grandchildren) look at them through God’s eyes. We may have giant-slayers in our midst! I wonder, do we expect, pray for, and work for, our children to become men or women of God? No guarantees (they still have free will!) but…..

23. A Word for Widows

‘Comfort’ Meditations No.23: A Word for Widows

1 Kings 17:9 “I have directed a widow there to supply you with food.”

We have turned to focus on specific needs or rather specific groups of people who are especially vulnerable and in need of comfort. We have already twice considered the bereaved and in the last study very briefly (and I feel bad that it is so brief) considered the aged as those who can be especially vulnerable in physical terms or in terms of diminished ‘usefulness’. But now we turn to a group who may be part of the older population, but who might yet be in much younger age groups.

Those of us who, for one reason or another, live alone can be especially vulnerable to the whispers of the enemy. Thus we become a precious, beloved battleground, a treasured testimony-bearer for heaven and, as the opportunity arises (as with the widow in the north of Israel), a special resource-bringer for others in the kingdom. When you pray, when you speak with friends and family, when you act into dark places, be a light-bringer, be a world changer and don’t listen to the enemy’s disparaging words. You are precious to Him, a potential revealer of The Presence. Be comforted in this.

OK, let’s unpack all that a bit more. Vulnerability. There are three groups here. First, there are those who have never had a partner and, second those who are now widows, having lost their partner to death and, finally, those whose partner has simply left them. I would simply draw your attention to these three different but very real needs of comfort. We could write a study on each one but if we are to spread our net wider, we must content ourselves with recognising the difficulties. I believe each of those three groups battle with handling life with anguish – from unfulfillment, loss, and rejection – and for varying reasons, there are a lot of each in the modern Western world. I hesitate to offer consolation for it can sound so glib but all we’ve said about bringing comfort and receiving comfort, in earlier studies, applies.

But go back to what is almost a summary paragraph two paragraphs back. The Lord sees you as a precious, beloved battleground. No, life is not easy but His grace IS there for you. The story of the widow in 1 Kings shows the potential that is especially available to people in this group, to be a blessing to others. Why do I dare say especially available to people in this group? Well, as the apostle Paul suggests in 1 Cor 7, the person who is (now) single is likely to be less family centred and available to bless others, which may be why the Scriptures seem to indicate that God has a special concern for widows, who may not only be more vulnerable and should be looked after by the church, but who also tend to be more God-focused without the pressures (which there are) of having a partner. There is bad news AND good here to be thought about.

22. Comfort for the Aging

‘Comfort’ Meditations No.22: Comfort for the Aging

Psa 92:14 “They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green.”

We finished the previous study considering the struggles that the apostle Paul encountered in his apostolic travels, and if they weren’t bad enough, in his personal relationship with the Lord through which He had granted him such amazing revelations, he also suffered personal struggles of a physical or spiritual nature that had him crying out to the Lord again and again for help. Now such a ministry and such revelations are not the experience of most of us and so these sorts of things are not the sort of things we have to contend with.

But that doesn’t mean that we don’t contend in our own personal spheres with particular things that suggest we really do need the Lord’s comfort. We’re going to consider in the next few days, specific people groups who are prone to difficulties where we need comforting. Different groups need different forms of comfort.  I’m going to start with the elderly. The elderly can take comfort in the promises of our starter Scripture from above. “They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green.” I think this is a beautiful verse because I believe it addresses the two greatest problems that elderly Christian’s face.

Consider first: “they will still bear fruit.” We have gone through life and achieved much. Maybe we’ve been involved in Christian ministry, maybe involved in some charitable or business concern. We’ve risen up the ranks into a leading role and then as age creeps on we are conscious of creaking a bit more than we used to, and of younger people galloping alongside, seeking to prove their worth and gradually the pressure is put on us to ‘retire’. Whether you like it or not there are others who are thinking (if not saying it), “It’s time to move over old timer!” I want to suggest that all that is happening is that your role in life will be changing and your years of wisdom, grace and experience need channelling into some other way of blessing others. You are not a write-off, you are not past it, you still have a place in the economy of the kingdom. I often pray, “Lord please use me every day of every year you will yet give me.”

Our ways of service may change, partly as physical resources decline, partly perhaps as other (younger) people perceive us, but God can still be glorified by your life seen on earth or watched over in the heavenlies. Read Eph 3:10. This is the angels with their mouths open as they perceive the grace of God flowing in us. Be comforted in this! Yes? Yes!!!! Part two: they will stay fresh and green. That may or may not apply to your physical self, but may I suggest that you receive that verse in your spirit and let His life flow in and through you to others and to Him. Let Him energize you in the spirit to continue to be a ‘life’ bringer. Amen