Note: This is one of my very favorite articles Jack has written! And it means something new to me now. I thank the God of all comfort, for the words I have received from those of you who have also lost a spouse/partner/best friend (for Jack was all three, and more, to me). I will treasure them always. There is something powerful in knowing and feeling you are not alone in your sorrows.
Commentary by Jack Kelley
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. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. (2 Cor. 1:3-5)
Are You In Ministry?
To me the passage above means that our life is intended to be a ministry and our sorrows are our credentials. Someday, somewhere, perhaps when you least expect it, someone will cross your path; someone who is experiencing the very same difficulty you yourself have experienced. The comfort you received during your time of affliction, and the lessons you gained from it, are now yours to pass along. No one else will be in as good a position to minister to this person, because only you have “been there and done that.” Having survived the same ordeal you will have two powerful tools for ministry; credibility and perspective.
Two recent experiences led me to write this message. Although they both bear testimony to the truth of 2 Corinthians 1:3-5, one is an example of the success that came from applying it and the other describes the failure to do so. (Note: This article was originally posted in 2003.)
First The Success
A friend had invited me to lunch and asked me what my current article was going to be about. I told him I had two possibilities, but the one I preferred was frustrating me because I hadn’t found a way to put it into the proper context. “Tell me what it’s about,” he said. He knew that events in my recent past had affected me profoundly, and having endured the same kind of difficulty himself, he had asked me to lunch to offer his support. He correctly assumed that getting me to talk about my writing would be helpful, and so it was. As I told the story, the scripture above came suddenly and clearly into my mind. It was the missing piece I needed to finally grasp the underlying context of my article. I stopped to thank the Lord and my friend, and for a moment we both found it hard to speak as we silently acknowledged the Lord’s involvement in our conversation.
And Now the Failure
The failure concerns the story I was telling my friend about the article I was trying to write. The topic was an opportunity I had missed to help someone through a difficult time.
25 years previously, my family’s business had been in real trouble; so much so that we had to sell it fast and cheap to avoid losing everything. (We had already lost a lot.) It was a well-known business and the whole community knew what had happened.
Some time later, while talking with an acquaintance, I discovered he was having similar problems in his business. As we talked, he asked me how I had gotten through my own ordeal. In retrospect I can see it was a divine appointment, but at the time I just blew him off. I stuck to the story I had fabricated to protect my pride, that we had simply sold the family business and had actually made out quite well. We both knew I was lying but I ignored the look of disappointment on his face. I chose not to see that he desperately needed someone to talk to, someone who understood and could help him through his time of trouble.
Shortly thereafter, his business closed and he and his partner suffered a huge loss. For 25 years I never thought about it again until that day when I was searching for something to write about. Out of the blue the Lord reminded me of the opportunity I had missed. As I replayed it in my mind I knew I should write about it, but I didn’t know why until He gave me 2 Corinthians 1:3-5.
Let’s be clear about this. It was an opportunity I and I alone had missed. The Lord doesn’t miss opportunities. It’s only we who miss out when we decline to participate.
In the Book of Esther God had Esther’s uncle Mordecai make this same point. The Jews were facing an extinction order and Esther, who was both Jewish and the Queen of Persia, was asked to intercede for them. When she reminded her uncle that approaching the King without being summoned would put her very life at risk, he replied,
“Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:13-14).
The crowning achievement of our Christian life could be a single instance of comforting someone else with the comfort we have received. If we fail to respond, the Lord will bring someone else to do the job, and we’ll miss out. And that’s what happened in my case. Some one else comforted that young man. Someone else gave him the courage to accept his losses and start over. I don’t know if that person became a life long friend like I could have been, but I will never forget the name of the man I failed to comfort with the comfort I had received. You would know it too, if I told you, because he’s now a famous fashion designer.
Pride Goeth Before The Fall
My pride prevented me from seizing an opportunity for ministry the Lord had placed before me, and for which I was uniquely qualified. My pride deprived me of a friendship that could have had a powerful impact on both our lives.
My lunch companion had listened to the Lord and comforted me with the comfort he had received. To him I say thanks for asking me to lunch that day. But I had failed to do so for the one who needed my comfort. To him I say please forgive me for not listening when you needed me. I’m glad someone else was more considerate. To the Lord I say thanks for bringing me the lesson, and to you I say that I hope reading this will make you more attentive when the time comes for you to comfort someone with the comfort you yourself have received from God. 11-13-13
Note: Have you been comforted in your sorrows by someone who has been there? Are you in need of comfort now? Please share in the comments below so that we can rejoice, and pray and comfort you together.