It was not my advance plan to preach two weeks in a row from this Book of II Corinthians. But last week, in the course of my regular daily Bible reading, God impressed me that the verse “we are the Temple of the Living God” fit our situation perfectly – that it is not the building, but we as God’s people who are the church. And then again this week, in the course of my regular Bible reading, I didn’t get very far until I came across this verse in II Corinthians 7:6, which opens with the words:
“But God, who comforts the depressed …”
As soon as I read those words, I was impressed that this is a verse that many of us need today. The world situation with the COVID-19 virus can be discouraging. Our national economy is suffering; the stock market and many of our retirement accounts have fallen dramatically; many of us are ill or hurting in various ways; and on top of all that, so many activities and events have been cancelled that typically get enjoyment from. So where can we find comfort in these days? The Bible tells us here that it is “GOD who comforts the depressed …”. Paul says in :5 that they had “conflcits without, fears within” — just like many of us today! But then he says that GOD comforts the depressed! What a great word for US today too! Philippians 2 says, “Therefore, if there is any encouragement in Christ …” — and the fact is, there IS encouragement in Christ — He has SO much with which to encourage us — and we need that encouragement in these days. So let’s spend a few minutes looking together at some of the scriptural ways that God can comfort us in a time when it is easy to be depressed or discouraged. What comfort is there for us in the Lord?
I. The comfort of ULTIMATE SALVATION.
If we didn’t have any of the other things that I am going to mention here this morning, this one would be enough. If you are in Jesus Christ, then you always have the comfort of knowing that you have eternal salvation.
No matter what happens to you here on earth, you have that salvation, and no one can take it away from you.
That has been the comfort and encouragement of God’s people all through history. They knew that no matter what they had to go through here on earth, they had a salvation with God in heaven that could never be taken away:
Hebrews 11 says that Moses chose “rather to endure ill-treatment with the children of God, than to enjoy the passing pleases of sin; choosing the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasure of Egypt — for he was looking to the reward.”
The Bible says there that Moses could endure all kinds of “ill-treatment” right now, because “he was looking to the reward” that he had waiting in heaven. He could be comforted in his present circumstances by the fact that he knew that he had ultimate salvation with God in heaven. You know, you can put up with a lot of things on a temporary basis, when you know that something really good is on the horizon.
R.H. Dana was a student at Harvard in the mid-1800’s, when he contracted measles, which affected his eyesight. So he signed up to serve on a merchant ship, and he wrote about his experiences on that ship in the classic book, “Two Years Before The Mast.” He and the crew were out to sea for the better part of two years; they sailed from Boston, and traveled all the way down the Atlantic, around South America and then north to California; months, and the better part of two years had gone by — but finally now, they were headed home: back down the Pacific, past Cape Horn and the dangerous southernmost part of South America, and back to Boston. And in his book, Dana writes about how the attitude of the crew changed when they started to head for home. They still had a LOT of work to do: they had to change all the sails out again; tar everything down; scrape the ship inside and out; varnish the decks; so that the ship would be in good condition when they arrived back in Boston. He said that made for some long days, with a lot of hard work to be endured; as hard as any they experienced on the trip — but he said there was one expression that kept them going and lightened every man’s heart. That expression was: “We’re homeward bound.” He said hey could endure anything they had to do now, because soon they would be home. They were “homeward bound.” (R.H. Dana, Two Years Before The Mast, Kindle 4.34.13)
And that same thing is true for the Christian, and even more so: we’re “homeward bound.” We are headed for heaven and glory!
— Do we have some hardships to go through here on earth? Sure.
— Do we have some pain to undergo? Most of us will.
— Do we have some trials ahead. Certainly. Jesus said in this world we WILL have tribulation.
But just like those sailors, we can be comforted in the midst of all of our trials, because “we’re homeward bound”! The trials we are experiencing are just temporary; but heaven is eternal; our greatest pains are not worthy to be compared with the glory we’ll experience there. No matter what we endure here on earth, we can be encouraged and find comfort from God in the fact that we are “homeward bound.”
But here’s the thing: this promise of being “homeward bound,” and having glory in heaven, is something you have to take hold of for yourself. You have to make sure that heaven really IS your home. This isn’t true for everyone. God made us, originally, to spend eternity with Him. But we ruined that with our choice to sin, which separated us from God, and would have separated us from Him for all eternity, had He not done something for us. But God DID do something for us: God the Son left heaven in the Person of Jesus Christ; He came to earth, and died on the cross, paid for our sins, and rose from the dead. And now He offers the forgiveness of our sins, and eternity with Him, to everyone who will turn from their sins, and follow Jesus as their Lord & Savior.
If you would say, “Well I HAVE done that; I AM following Jesus!” Then rejoice — even in your trials, you are “homeward bound! The worst things that can happen to you here on earth are just temporary. You’re “homeward bound.” But if you are still living in your sins, and have never repented of them and followed Christ, I’m not going to lie to you; you do NOT have that hope. But you CAN! The Bible says “whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.” The salvation of Jesus and glory in heaven is for anyone who will receive it. In fact, God may have allowed some of the difficult things that have come into your life during this time to get your attention; to get you to think about turning away from your sins and following Christ. So LISTEN to Him in this time. Turn to Jesus; ask Him to forgive you and save you, right now. And if you will, you can know that no matter what happens to you here on earth, the glory of God in heaven is your home, and you can have the comfort every Christian has, that you are “homeward bound”! There is comfort in our ultimate salvation.
II. There is also great comfort NOW through the Personal PRESENCE OF HIS HOLY SPIRIT.
The Bible tells us that when you are truly saved, God sends His Holy Spirit into your life:
— Ephesians 1:13-14 says: “In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, (14) who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory.”
The Bible says there that the moment you put your faith in Jesus like we talked about just a minute ago, God sends His Holy Spirit to “seal” you as belonging to Him. And His presence in your life is the “pledge” that you will indeed have that eternal inheritance in heaven we were talking about.
And that presence of God’s Holy Spirit is one of the greatest sources of comfort in a Christian’s life: God’s own Spirit – God Himself! – is with you; and in you! There is always comfort to be found when His presence is with us.
Jesus said in John 14 that the Holy Spirit He was sending would be a Comforter; the picture of that Bible word is of one who is running alongside of us, comforting and shouting words of encouragement to us.
When we were in Mexico, one of the activities we did one afternoon was to go to the sports park with the special needs kids from the Rancho De Ninos home. Each of us was paired up with one of the children, and it was our privilege at one point to run alongside of them as they ran a relay race. My friend was Raphael, or “Rapha” for short; and I was able to just put my around him, and run along with him, and encourage him to run as fast as he could.
This is something of the picture of God’s Spirit in our lives. He is WITH us; He is IN us. He is running alongside of us, giving us words of encouragement and comfort. GOD HIMSELF is in us, encouraging us — now THAT is the comfort we need these days! And He is there with us, no matter what we are going through. The Book of Daniel tells us that even when the Hebrew children, Hananiah, Michael, and Azariah, were cast into the fiery furnace — that King Nebuchadnezzar called out to his officials: “Did we not cast three men bound into the furnace? … Look, I see FOUR men … and the fourth is like the “one like a son of the gods”! He WAS with them — even in that fiery furnace. And the great comfort for the Christian today is that no matter what kind of “furnace” we may get cast into in our lives, God through His Holy Spirit will be with us, comforting us as well.
Hudson Taylor, the great missionary to China in the 1800’s, who lost his wife there in China on mission, wrote: “How lonesome were the weary hours when confined to my room! How I missed by dear wife and the voices of the children far away in England! Then it was I understood why the Lord had made that passage so real to me, ‘Whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst.’ Twenty times a day, perhaps, as I felt the heart-thirst coming back, I cried to Him, ‘Lord, You promised! You promised me that I should never thirst.’ And whenever I called by day or by night, how quickly He came and satisfied my sorrowing heart! So much so that I often wondered whether it were possible that my loved one who had been taken could be enjoying more of His presence than I was in my lonely chamber.” (TAYLOR, pp. 179-180)
Hudson Taylor knew the comfort of the Holy Spirit when he was “confined to his room”, when he called out to him moment by moment as he needed Him. We need to remember that the SAME Holy Spirit who was with Hudson Taylor, is in YOU, if you are truly a Christian today. And wherever you are — in a furnace of fire, or like Taylor “confined to your room” in exile – or in a coronavirus quarantine! – He is WITH you; He is IN you; He is there for you to call on, every moment that you need Him. So be sure to DO IT! Turn to Him every moment that you need Him, just like Hudson Taylor did, and FIND the comfort God will give you through His Holy Spirit in you!
III. There is also comfort to be found with the Lord right now as we WORSHIP Him.
As we talked about last week, God did not create us to sit around and watch tv all day — not the news or anything else! He DID create us to worship Him. We see this in so many places in scripture:
— God says in Psalm 149: “Let Israel be glad in His maker; let the sons of Zion rejoice in their King.” God wants us to be glad in HIM, and rejoice in HIM.
— He says in Psalm 16:11 “In Your presence is fullness of joy.” It is when we come into the presence of God in worship that we can find great joy — and that can be one of the best comforts we can have in our trials.
The Apostle Paul knew that from personal experience. When he and Silas were on mission in Philippi, and were thrown into prison, the Bible says they were singing at midnight. In what should have been a time when they were depressed and discouraged, they turned to God in worship and singing instead. And we can find that same comfort in our trials today if we will turn to God during this time and worship Him.
David said in Psalm 17:15, “I will be satisfied with Your likeness when I awake.” Be satisfied with your God in your morning worship time. Start your day by reading a Psalm, singing a song of worship to God, and then thank Him for the things you are grateful for. Just even a little worship time like that can be the most comforting way to begin your day. There is much comfort to be found NOW, in worshiping God — IF we will do it. But unfortunately, too many of us are NOT doing it — or are spending more time taking things that are dragging us down. It’s like what Max Lucado, well-known pastor and author from San Antonio, said of our reaction to this crisis: “Feed your faith and your fears will starve. But if you feed your fears, your faith will starve.”
I DO think one of the reasons why so many people are anxious and afraid these days is that they are spending SO much time following the crisis on the news and other media. Now, I am not advocating “putting our head in the sand” or anything like that; it is part of being a responsible citizen to keep up with what is going on – and there is occasionally some breaking news that we need to be aware of. But we don’t need to just sit there watching the endless and often discouraging stream of this coverage.
I have to admit, some days ago I found myself, without really thinking about what I was doing, just going back and forth on my computer from the AP news wire, to Fox news, to the Houston Chronicle, to Houston Channel 2, and then Houston Channel 13 — and then when I finished I’d start it all over again, to make sure I was keeping up and not missing anything. All of the sudden, I just stopped and thought: “wait a minute; what am I doing? This is too much! I’m not reading anything else; I’m not doing anything else. This has to stop!” It’s ok to check the news a few times during the day — we need to be informed — but I I don’t need to be doing that constantly, hour after hour — and neither do you.
Here’s a good self-check: are you spending more time watching the news, or reading your Bible and praying? More time checking current events, or worshiping God with “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs”? The other day Cheryl just put on some worship music — a lot of our church worship songs that we’ve downloaded, and others — and it was so comforting, and encouraging.
There is much comfort to be found in worshiping God. As we’ve said several times before, He MADE us to worship Him; He did not create us to live off of Fox News 24/7; He made us to live off of HIM! So first of all, take time every morning to worship God, in His word & prayer — He’ll give you a word you need, and also comfort you as you worship Him. Then keep on turning to Him all day long, in His word, and through music, and prayer, and join us in our Live Stream services to worship with your brothers & sisters in Christ. There is so much comfort to be found for your soul in these times if you’ll turn to God in worship.
IV. There is also great comfort in knowing that God is USING whatever happens to us, for His good purposes.
— Most of us are familiar with that all-encompassing verse in Romans 8:28, that “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love Him …”.
— And Ephesians 1:11 says He “works all things according to the counsel of His will.”
These verses and others remind us that whatever happens to us in life, God will USE those things for His good purposes. Something good will come out of it — for us, for our family, for His church, His Kingdom, His eternal plan. NOTHING is wasted with God.
John Newton, the author of the beloved song “Amazing Grace,” left behind a whole raft of letters that he wrote to his friends. In fact, one of the most effective ministries he had during his lifetime, was his ministry of counseling people through his letter writing to them. To one of his friends who was undergoing some suffering, Newton wrote: “When we further consider, that He who thus suffered in our nature, who knows and sympathizes with all our weaknesses, is now the Supreme Disposer of all that concerns us, that He numbers the very hairs of our heads, appoints every trial we meet with in number, weight, and measure, and will suffer nothing to befall us but what shall contribute to our good, this view, I say, is a medicine suited to the disease, and powerfully reconciles us to every cross.” (John Newton to Miss Medhurst, Letters of John Newton, Josiah Bull, ed., pp. 47-48)
Newton told his young friend: be comforted by knowing that in your trial, God will allow nothing to befall you but what shall contribute to your good. We can have that same comfort today — if we will allow ourselves to see things from that perspective. All the discomforts you may be going through right now, are contributing to your ultimate good.
For example: many people are having a lot of things “stripped away” during these days: we’ve been stripped of jobs, of money, of bank/retirement accounts; of prosperity; of health; of sports — none of these things are “bad” in themselves, but it is also easy for some of these things to become “false gods” or idols in our lives. And isn’t it interesting that so many of these things have been stripped away from us these days? WHY? I don’t have all the insight into God’s Divine Plan, but perhaps He is allowing some of these things to be taken away to get us to see that we have made some of these things “idols” in our lives — and to get us to look back to HIM as our ultimate good the way we should have all along; to help us find HIM in a new and deeper way. It is all for our ultimate good.
And so with everything that happens to us. It will eventually contribute to our ultimate good. So let that truth comfort you, in whatever difficulty you may be facing these days. If you know for sure that you belong to Christ, then you can be comforted that “all things” — and ALL means ALL! — “ALL things” are being used by God for His ultimate purposes in your life, and for your good.
So like Paul says in another place, “comfort one another with these words.” There’s SO much comfort available to us from the Lord. No, these are NOT the easiest days some of us have ever faced. We do have some difficulties and trials — some of us would say we have plenty of them! But just as the scripture says, “Where sin abounds, grace MORE than abounds” — so we can say, where our trials abound, God’s comfort MORE than abounds towards us. But we’ve got to LOOK to Him in this time. Honestly, that may be one of the reasons He’s allowed it all oo happen: to get us to seek Him, and His comfort, like we never have before. My prayer today is you will recommit yourself to find the comfort God wants you to have from Him in these days; just as this verse says: “God, who comforts the depressed.”