Filled with feelings of discouragement and helplessness, weary souls plod through dismal and shadowy valleys. We are human. We know what fear and discouragement are. Even the apostle Paul admitted to being downcast. Although the details of his situation were different, his words sound as though he has walked in our shoes. “When we came into Macedonia, this body of ours had no rest, but we were harassed at every turn — conflicts on the outside, fears within.”/1
- Distress can come into our lives from many different sources. Different paths wind their way into the dark valley. Some of those trails we might inflict upon ourselves. At other times, they seem foisted upon us without provocation.
- Looking at the bills, a husband’s fear banishes peace as he realizes outflow exceeds income.
- A drunk driver careens into oncoming traffic unleashing havoc on a young family.
- Feeling the crushing weight of guilt, a teenager panics as ripples from that choice cast life into a tailspin.
- A couple, watching their child grow up into a young person, notices an emerging pattern of bad choices.
- A chronic debilitating disease slowly envelopes a healthy body.
- Before marriage, a wife had dreamed of a husband who would care for her, be a family man and provide for their needs. She wakes up to the realization one day, “that is not who I married.”
- A family feels fear creep into their lives as unemployment lingers on.
Then there are those Christians like Paul, who are concerned about the reign of God in the hearts and lives of people. Perhaps their congregation looks like a raft full of survivors in the open sea.
If we are walking through a dark valley, what are we to do? Paul had been filled with fear and facing conflict. Yet something happened enabling him to write, “my joy was greater than ever.”/2 Where did Paul find a solution? He summed it up in the phrase, “but God, who comforts the downcast.”/3 Paul admitted he had fears within, “but God who comforts the downcast” brought relief. This was no fluke or special situation.
Paul began 2 Corinthians proclaiming God can handle the trouble in your life. “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 tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”/5 God is not locked in a box far away and impotent to bring relief. The Creator is not limited to providing relief in the sweet bye and bye.
What practical counsel does scripture suggest?
First, set your hope on God. Know that God can help. God can work through his providence, through his word and through his people to transform and liberate.
Second, James promises, “draw near to God and he will draw near to you.”/4 Drawing near to God might include purifying our hands and hearts. Has materialism, greed, or serving ego created a credit card nightmare? Has our heart harbored a grudge? Drawing near can also entail developing spiritual disciplines like prayer.
Third, comfort others with the comfort God has given you. One of the ways God brings comfort involves him working through his people to provide encouragement, support and resources.
1/ 2 Corinthians 7:5 NIV
2/ 2 Corinthians 7:7
3 /2 Corinthians 7:6
4/ 2 Corinthians 1:3-4
5/ James 4:8
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