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Letter from Australia 54 – A Comfortable Life?

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.

  1. I live in a world of plenty – where  chocolate can bring comfort and even ‘Penguins’ come to Oz!

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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!

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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,

In Christ

David

Letter from Australia 53 – The Lost Glove, the Spanish Inquisition and the Writer’s Candle

 

 

4 comments

  1. For a number of years now I’ve been led to believe that when the word ‘comfort’ is used in the Bible its meaning is more like ‘encouragement’ and ‘strengthening’. Jesus promised His disciples that after He left them He would send His ‘comforter’, the Holy Spirit, to encourage and strengthen them. I don’t know any Aramaic, Greek or Hebrew, so stand to be corrected but this meaning fits perfectly with your letter, David.

  2. David – you hit the nail on the head with this. I’ve been saying this kind of thing for years and I’m glad the you “get it”. I hear your “did not come to church to be made comfortable” but what if someone comes to church heavily laden and instead of finding Jesus in church giving rest, encounters judgement which is too heavy to bear on top of being heavily laden? There is a reason why church attendance in many parts of the west has fallen dramatically in recent decades and not all of it is because of secular society being bigoted against the church. Much of is is self – harm and in some cases it is suicide.

    I think as in the comment above there is truth in “comfort” being “encouragement” and “strengthening” but it can also be attendance to deep wounds inflicted and healing, knowing peace and joy, protection and safety – just as a wounded soldier might be taken to a place of safety to attend to wounds or even sent home far away from the battlefield for rest and recuperation.

    If someone is left bruised on top of overwhelming burdens they carry as a result of their experience with Christian worship and community then the environment they are in has not been fit for purpose. And many prophets throughout history have found that for them their experience in religious communities has come at great personal cost.

    A prophet is without honour among his own people but blessed are you when all men hate you because of Christ for great is your reward in the kingdom.

    The body of Christ is invisible and can be found wherever 2 or 3 are gather with Christ as central. Sometimes that happens in a visible church.

  3. Loved the Penguin biscuits ad , thanks.

    Another great Scottish invention confected by Glasgow baker William Macdonald in 1932 . That was a banner year for Scottish dentists as Mr John J. Lees ( creator of the Macaroon Bar) commenced business in Coatbridge at that time.

  4. I commend to you that good old Anglican Communion text, the Comfortable Words. They come in the Prayer Book service, after the Absolution and before the “Lift up your hearts” dialogue which starts the Prayer of Consecration.

    As a teenager one always sniggered a bit at the idea of describing Bible texts with a word more familiar from DFS ads. Today we would probably say “comforting” or “comfort-filled”, or even “reassuring”. But I think Cranmer knew his people and what they needed.

    https://www.durhamcathedral.co.uk/worship-music/regular-services/sermon-archive/comfortable-words

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