Letter from Australia 54 – A Comfortable Life?
Brothers and Sisters,
Sometimes one comes to the realisation that you are wrong about something. I had that experience (again!) this morning. I have often used the word ‘comfort’ in a negative sense – for example saying to people that they did not come to church to be made comfortable or encouraging people to come out of their ‘comfort zone’. But this morning reading Richard Sibbes sermon on 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 challenged my thinking and made me realise I was missing something.
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-4
Is being comfortable such a bad thing? Is enjoying comfortable living conditions, a comfortable chair, a comfortable climate, or a comfortable church, wrong? Are we tempted to a kind of hair shirt asceticism – which we think somehow makes us more spiritual and cleanses us? Of course, there is a comfortableness which is wrong – when we are comfortable in our sins – when the love of earthly comfort prevents us following Christ – when our comfort zones prevent us moving out into the battle fields. But there is also a great deal to be said for comfort – physical, emotional and spiritual. He leads beside the still waters.
Sibbes talks about how God comforts us in all our troubles. He doesn’t just, as you would expect, talk about the spiritual comfort we receive through the Word, prayer, the Spirit, but he also mentions how the Lord uses the physical – such as smell, taste, touch etc to comfort us. Then he turns to the question of how God uses other people to comfort us and how we should seek to comfort others – with the comfort we receive. It is a cycle of never-ending comfort! Sibbes points out that we are often reluctant to go to other people like us for comfort because of our pride.
“ This is the reason why many go all their lifetime with heavy, drooping spirits. Out of pride and neglect they scorn to seek it of others. They smother their grief, and bleed inwardly; because they will not lay open the state of their souls to others. Although God be ‘the God of comfort’, he has ordained this order, that he will comfort us by those he has appointed to comfort us. Though God be the God of comfort, yet he conveys it, for the most part, by the means of others. I say for the most part; for he ties not himself to means; though he ties us to means when we have means.”
There is a richness and depth of wisdom in these words. Yes, God can bring us something without human means, but he usually uses means. God can bring us food from the ravens, but we normally receive our food through the farmer, the shop worker, the lorry driver, our families, neighbours and friends. If you sit and wait at your window for a raven to fly in with your food, you will starve! Likewise, with spiritual comfort. If we sit and just wait and do not use the means God has given, (the Word, Church, prayer, our fellow human beings and especially our Christian brothers and sisters). we will spiritually starve.
Sibbes goes on to say that this knits us together in love and then challenges us to use the comforts we have received to comfort and bless others. This passage challenged me particularly.
“And even as God has disposed and dispensed his benefits and graces to us, so let us be good stewards of it. We shall give account of it before long. Let every man reason with himself, why do I have this comfort that another does not have? I am God’s steward; God has not given it to me to lay up, but to lay out. To speak a little of outward comforts. It is cursed atheism in many rich persons; that think they are to live here only to scrape an estate for them and their children; when in the meantime their neighbours want, and God’s children want, that are as dear to God as themselves, and perish for want of comfort.”
As well as reflecting on God being the Father or mercies and the God of all comfort – I have been reflecting on the comforts that God has granted to us…here are a few photos to help.
- I live in a world of plenty – where chocolate can bring comfort and even ‘Penguins’ come to Oz!
It’s a childhood memory…
2. I live in a world of great beauty….and creativity of human beings who ‘garden’ that beauty.
3. I live in a world with a wonderful family – a world of relationships with all their ups and downs and yet a world that because of this has love.
4. I live in a world where even the rusted, broken and worn out can be renewed and reused. This is an old pickup that has been turned into a cafe table and kids play area!
Prosperity, beauty, family, renewal….God gives us so much comfort.
For me the greatest challenge from Sibbes is how I can be thankful for the many comforts God has given by sharing them with others.
A couple of other thoughts before I go. Please pray for us here in Australia as things have gone wrong in Victoria and the danger for the rest of the nation is that the rapidly growing infection rate there will spread to the rest of the country. In terms of Covid it appears as though one of the most effective means is to wash your hands regularly. There is of course a greater threat that we face – our sin. I also read this from Chrysostom.
“To pray with unwashed hands is a matter indifferent; but to do it with an unwashed mind, this is the extreme of all evils.” Chrysostom Homily on John 13:36
See you next week,