The Ministry Of Misery
"The Ministry Of Misery"
II Corinthians 1:3-4
1. We are entering into the sweetest season of the year: the Christmas Season. Everywhere you go you seem to hear that song entitled, "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year."
2. And, for many people it certainly is. But for many people it is the saddest time of the year. Did you know that more suicides take place during the holiday season than at any other time of the year.
3. For many people this will be their first Christmas without their husband or their wife, or a son or a daughter, or a father or a mother. For many this will be their first Christmas without a job. Some have been told by their doctor that this will be the last Christmas they will spend on this earth.
4. Quite frankly, in the midst of "Jingle Bells" there are "jangled nerves." For many every night of this Christmas Season will be a "silent night" of loneliness and despair. As we sing "Joy to the World" there will be many who can find no joy in the world, and they need the ministry of misery.
5. If you look closely enough and carefully enough you will see, even in the church, broken hearts, broken hopes, and broken homes that need the ministry of misery.
6. Paul knew what it was to be mired in the mud of misery. He is not dealing in this passage with theory, he is dealing with fact. Notice the personal pronouns that are used:
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort. Who comforts Us in all Our tribulations, that We may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which We ourselves are comforted by God." (vv. 3-4)
Paul had run the gamont of misery that life can deal out. He had experienced emotional suffering, physical sickness, and spiritual sorrow. Yet out of it, God had taught him the ministry of misery.
I. The God Of Comfort
1. "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God Of All Comfort." (v.3) Later on in this epistle Paul mentions "God who comforts the downcast." (ch.7:6) Can you imagine that the infinite God who created this entire universe with just a word, would take the time to stoop to minister to just one broken heart? Even though God is inconceivable in his majesty, infinite in his power, inflexible in his justice, he is also intimate in his tenderness.
2. We hear so much of the power of God, but we do not hear enough of the pity of God. We know about the greatness of God, but we need to know more about the gentleness of God. He is a God of might, but he is also a God of mercy. As verse three tells us, he is "the Father of mercies."
3. Now I want to affirm the might, the majesty, the miracle of our great God. He is an omnipotent God: just, holy, and pure, whose hatred of sin burns hotter, and whose holiness of character shines brighter than the noonday sun. But Psalm 103:13-14 tells us,
"As a father pities his children, so the Lord pities those who fear Him. For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust."
Again, Isaiah 66:13 tells us,
"As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you; and you shall be comforted in Jerusalem."
This is a God who knows our hurts, our heartaches, our heartbreaks. Yet, as a doting father and a loving mother, he looks after his children.
4. We are told that he is "the God of all comfort." The word all literally means "every kind." God is the source of all true comfort. It is incredible to me that especially during this Christmas season there are those who will try to find comfort in a bottle. There is even a brand of liquor that is known as "Southern Comfort." But I want to tell you there is no comfort in booze. Drink doesn't subtract from your sorrows, it adds to them, and it multiplies them.
5. There is only one type of comfort that is strong enough to penetrate the inner chambers of the heart and last a lifetime, and that is the comfort of God. The Scripture says,
"Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and our God and Father, who has loved us and given us everlasting consolation and good hope by grace, comfort your hearts and establish you in every good word and work." (II Thess. 2:16-17)
6. Years ago I read a story of a lady in the Salvation Army who had visited a particular home where an atheist lived. She had been trying to win that atheist to faith in Christ, but he was hard hearted, cynical, he thought he had no need for God.
7. Later on she visited that home and was about to knock on the door when she heard a noise on the inside and she listened for a while. Well, it became apparent to her that the son in the family was on his deathbed and he was dying. They were a very poor family. There was no doctor even to attend the death of this young man; no one to give him an injection of high powered drugs that would kill the pain. This atheistic father was there trying to give comfort to his son. Can you imagine an atheist trying to give comfort to a dying boy?
8. Well, the father was saying something like this: "Son, hold on. It won't be long son. Then you'll be dead and then you won't feel any more pain. It will be all over son. It will all turn to nothingness and you won't have any more trouble. Just hold on son, hold on." This boy spoke back to his father and said, "Father, you've told me there is no God, there is no life after death. Well I tell you there is no peace. When I die I'll be like an animal that dies, but you tell me to hold on. But Father, there is nothing to hold on to. In the hour when I need comfort the most I do not have it."
9. There is only one who can give comfort in both life and death, an everlasting consolation, an eternal comfort, and that is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
II. The Grace Of Comfort
1. This God of comfort is a God "who comforts us in all our tribulation." (v.4) Now quite frankly, that verse does not say what we wish it said. If we were honest you know what we wish verse four said. We wish this verse would read like this: "who keeps us from all tribulation." But the fact is, even though we don't always expect trouble, we can't always escape trouble and there are times that we must endure trouble. That is true whether or not you love God, know God, trust God, believe God, or serve God.
2. I believe one of the greatest men of God in America is James Kennedy, Pastor of the Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. James Kennedy had a very insightful thought concerning this matter of Christians and tribulation.
What kind of world would it be if Christians never got sick? If they never fell? Never got burned? Never got into automobile accidents? How long would it take for the insurance companies to figure out what was going on?
How long would it take for other people to catch on? Before long we would have a religion of instant gratification obvious to everyone. Christians would never go bankrupt. Their kids would never use drugs or run away from home. Their loved ones would never suffer. Do you know what would happen? You would destroy faith. You would destroy character. Religion would become a craft's commercial venture (which it already is for some).1
3. Paul reminds us that God is the "Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." Now I do not think it is a coincidence that he identifies God in this fashion before he speaks of God comforting us in tribulation. You see, God did not send Jesus to get us out of trouble, but to get into trouble with us.
4. One of the reasons why God allows earthly sorrows is that we might know divine comfort. There are some things that can only be learned in the classroom of conflict. The truth of the matter is, in the school of life oftentimes you will learn in the valley than you will on the mountaintop.
I walked a mile with pleasure
She chatted all the way,
But left me none the wiser
For all she had to say;
I walked a mile with sorrow
And ne'er a word said she,
But oh the thing I learned from her
When sorrow walked with me.
5. You see, often sickness, sorrow, and suffering are not accidents, they are appointments. Oftentimes disappointment is really "His" appointment.
6. The only way you could ever know the comfort of God is to go through trials, troubles, and tribulation where you need his comfort. Andre Crouch captured this truth so vividly in his famous song, "Through It All."
I've had many tears and sorrow,
I've had questions for tomorrow;
There've been times I didn't know right from wrong,
But in every situation,
God gave blessed consolation
That my trials come to only make me strong.
I've been to lots of places,
And I've seen a lot of faces;
There've been times I felt so all alone,
But in my lonely hours,
Yes, those precious lonely hours,
Jesus let me know that I was His own.
I thank God for the mountains and,
I thank Him for the valleys,
I thank Him for the storms he brought me through,
For if I'd never had a problem
I wouldn't know that He could solve them,
I'd never know what faith in God could do.
Through it all, through it all,
Oh, I've learned to trust in Jesus,
I've learned to trust in God.
Through it all, through it all,
I've learned to depend upon His word.2
7. God has given us so many things just to comfort us and to strengthen us in times of troubles and trials. For example, God gave the Spirit for our comfort. The word comfort comes from the Latin word comfort is. The prefix con meaning "with" and the root word fortis meaning "strong." So the word originally meant "with strength." So a comforter is someone who not only gives solace after the battle, but gives strength for the battle. Real comfort is more than a pat on the back, it is strength for the soul. Jesus said about the Spirit in John 14:16, "And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever." The word helper there comes from the same Greek word meaning comfort.
8. But God also gave the Scriptures for our comfort. The Bible says in Romans 15:4, "For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope." The Psalmist said, "This is my comfort in my affliction, for Your word has given me life." (Psa. 119:50) I have learned as a preacher of the Word of God that the greatest prescription for the pain of life is the promises of God.
9. But God also gave the Savior for our comfort. I John 2:1 tells us that Jesus is our "advocate with the Father." The word advocate is the same word for comforter. So God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are all involved in the comfort of the child of God.
III. The Goal of Comfort
1. Now God has something far greater in mind when he comforts us than just to make us feel better. He comforts us "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) God does not comfort us to make us comfortable, but to make us comforters. The comfort of God is the calling of God to minister comfort to others.
2. I tell you that there is not a greater need in the church than helpers for the hurters, and ministers for the miserable. Only those who have hurt can truly and totally understand those who do hurt.
3. I heard a story about a mother who heard her little boy crying in the bedroom. She went back and said to her son, "What's the matter honey?" He pointed to his two year old sister and said, "Mama, she pulled my hair and it hurt!" The mama said, "Well, that's alright son, she doesn't understand that when she pulls hair it hurts."
4. The mother left the bedroom and in a few minutes more crying and screaming from the bedroom. She went back and this time it was the two year old crying. She asked her five year old son, "Now what's the matter?" He said, "Well Mama, you said that when she pulls hair she doesn't understand that it hurts. Well now she understands!"
5. Those who have hurt can best understand those who do hurt. That's why Jesus came and shared the grind, the grief, and the grave of life. Jesus was a "man of sorrows acquainted with grief." (Isa. 53:3) No servant is above his master. Eventually sickness, sorrow, or suffering is going to knock at your door. When it does you are not to become cisterns of self-pity, you are to become channels of blessing.
6. A wise man once said "You cannot cure your sorrow by nursing it; but you can cure it by nursing another sorrow."3
7. You see, God wants to take your tears, your heartache, your grief, your sorrow and mix it into a balm of blessing that can be laid upon the wounds of others. You know there is a big difference between sympathy and empathy. What hurting people need is more than just sympathy, they need empathy. What is the difference? Sympathy is when you feel sorry for someone; but empathy is when you feel sorry with someone.
8. I heard a story once about a farmer who had some puppies for sale. He made a sign advertising the puppies and nailed it to a post on the edge of his yard. As he was nailing the sign to the post he felt a tug on his overalls and he looked down to see a little boy with a big grin and something in his hand.
"Mister," he said, "I want to buy one of your puppies."
"Well," said the farmer, "these puppies come from fine parents and cost a good deal of money."
The boy dropped his head for a moment, then looked back up at the farmer and said, "Well I've got 39 cents. Is that enough to take a look?"
"Sure" said the farmer, and with that he whistled and called out "Dolly. Here come a Dolly." Out from the doghouse and down the ramp ran Dolly, followed by four little balls of fur. That little boys eyes danced with delight.
Then out from the doghouse peaked another little ball; this one was a lot smaller. Down the ramp it slid and began hobbling in a very awkward attempt to catch up with his brothers and sisters. The pup was clearly the runt of the litter.
9. The little pressed his face to the fence and said, "Mister, I want that one," pointing to the runt.
10. Well the farmer knelt down and said, " Son, you don't want that puppy. He was born with a bad leg and he will never be able to run and play with you the way that you would like."
11. When he said that the little boy reached down and slowly pulled up one leg of his trousers, and there was a steel brace running down both sides of his leg attached to an especially made shoe. Looking up at the farmer he said, "You see, Mister, I don't run too well myself, and he will need someone who understands."
12. I want to tell you, as we begin this Christmas season, that's why Jesus came. He left the hallways of heaven, walked through the gates of glory, came to this world to be born in a stable, despised by men, crucified by sinners, that he might share in the ministry of misery. May the Lord use us this Christmas season and beyond to exercise the ministry of misery,
to weep with the weepers, to hurt with the hurters, and to give people the greatest gift of all - the love, the mercy, the grace, and the comfort of the Lord Jesus Christ.