As a pastor I get invited into some of the most personal and intimate times in people’s lives. Pastors officiate weddings, dedicate children, bless new seasons and opportunities, give eulogies and help with funeral plans and lend an ear, a shoulder, a laugh, a tear or whatever might be called for in any given moment. Over the last few weeks I have been very aware of the situations that I have been invited to participate in. In my heightened awareness I pray that I have been more useful and thoughtful than ever before but I also believe that I have learned some things that I want to share today.
During these past weeks I have married a young couple, full of love and hope for the future. I have been called into hospice’s to pray with the dying and their families, filled with faith but also battling against fear. I had a dear friend stop at my home to share with me that he had just been laid off an hour earlier, even before he went home to tell his family and I have gotten news of two different people battling cancer whose tumors have shrunk in the last few weeks. In all of these situations, both those that we would consider good and would consider bad I have prayed for the right words, the right actions, the right prayers and the right thoughts. In each of these situations I have prayed specifically for the Holy Spirit to allow me to be obedient and to be able to be used to share the truth.
One of these situations has really stood out in my mind and I want to share what I believe God has taught me through it. A friend of mine asked me if I would join him and his family at the hospital as the doctor came to share the status of treatment for a family member. I went not sure of what I could give but praying for one thing in particular, comfort. The doctor came into the room and began to share the prognosis of the moment and the future. She shared that the patient was suffering from the shutdown of multiple organs. As she talked I listened closely but I also tried to watch carefully. She was not harsh but she also made sure to be very honest and to share in both medical and laymen’s terms what was happening now and what was about to happen. She shared how one organ was limiting the other and how the treatment of one would shut down another. Ultimately the prognosis was that there was nothing more they could do. The conclusion that the doctor shared was “we must just put her in the hands of God.” The most difficult part of this prognosis was that the patient does not feel as if she is dying. She knows she is sick, quite sick, she knows she is limited in strength and needs help with even the most simple daily task, but dying, no that never entered her mind, or the minds of most of the family members. As you can imagine when the doctor was finished there was sadness, there was shock and there was even some fear. There was something else that was present that I was not expecting, comfort. You see where there is truth there is also comfort.
We have wrongly defined comfort. We want comfort to be something that makes us feel better, something that takes away our difficulty, that takes away our pain. The word comfort is actually defined by Webster’s Online Dictionary as “to give strength and hope to.” We have made being comforted anything but being strengthened. Most of us live our lives looking for someone, anyone to tell us something that will make us feel better, but feeling better masks and covers the issue; being strengthened, being comforted means being given the ability to face, endure and even overcome the fear and doubt of any given situation. My friend’s family is sad, there is some fear and some numbness of shock but they have also been given a gift of truth that provides comfort. How are they comforted? They know the time is short and so they can now redeem it. Already, in less than a week the entire family gathered for a short trip that they had wanted to take but just kept putting off, because there was no urgency. You see, in this case, comfort isn’t news that the family member wasn’t really sick, it was the truth of the seriousness of her condition so that they can all do the things that are important. Comfort for this family now has the opportunity to be reconciliation and joyful relationships. Comfort for them, is being sure that all fences are mended and wrongs forgiven; it is the joy of knowing that each one will get to enjoy each other and take very seriously the time they have; it is being able to share everything on their hearts and hold nothing back until a better time.
In John 14 Jesus called the coming Holy Spirit “the Comforter”. Jesus said that the “Comforter” would lead the disciples into all truth and would bring to their remembrance everything that He had ever said. We have decided that being comfortable is being made to feel how we want to feel. We wear comfortable clothes, sit on comfortable furniture and even create comfortable relationships. In each of these things we define comfortable as something that does not hurt, challenge, stretch or strengthen us. Because of this we often reject the leading and the speaking of the Holy Spirit in our lives. He does not make us comfortable by our definition, He comforts us by the true definition of the word, He makes us stronger and gives us hope. Comfort is not the removal of difficulty it is the strength to endure it. It is not the neglect of hard words so that we are not offended it is the willingness to share the truth so that we will learn to obey it. It is not bowing to our emotional immaturity so that we won’t get upset, it is trusting us with the truth so that we have the opportunity to mature and grow. Comfort isn’t God holding everything still so that we can walk a smooth and easy path, it is God shaking everything that can shake so that we will learn what is truly worth holding onto and what is of no real value.
Another friend called me on Monday to tell me that his mother had just passed away, I had visited her in hospice care last week. As I listened to his voice I silently asked God to give me words of comfort. Suddenly I realized, he didn’t call so that I would somehow make him feel better, he called so I could share in his loss and so that I could offer comfort. I shared with him how his mother had asked me to please pray that God would take her home, that she shared that she was ready to meet Him and that she was not afraid. I told him how much she loved him and how much she had looked forward to being free of pain and disease. When I hung up the phone I wiped my tears and I knew that I didn’t say anything that had caused him not to miss his mother, I didn’t say anything that would somehow stop the grieving process or restore what we consider normalcy to his life. I also knew that my friend was at peace, I knew that he had no doubts of his mother’s eternity or the mercy, love and timing of God. I knew that my friend had been comforted and that his mother had entered into her rest.
We must let go of this fleshly thought of being made comfortable. We are not a people that can willingly sit still and be without challenge, without strengthening and without the truth. Jesus said that He is the truth and that the truth sets us free. Freedom is always costly! It demands the overthrow of bondage, the removal of the former ruler and the implementation of a brand new order. The Holy Spirit was not sent to make us feel better about our current situations, He was sent to lead us into the fullness of Jesus, into holiness, obedience, redemption and perfection. I pray today that we would all run from the bondage of being comfortable and willingly be led into the strength, hope and divine care of the Comforter