In our suffering, we can often respond with much self-focus. If you’re like me when you get sick, you find it challenging to think about much else beyond, “Wow…I feel crummy and I don’t want to feel this way anymore.” When life hurts, you have likely asked one or more of these questions: “Why?” “Why me?” “When will it all stop?” “What do I have to do to get out of these circumstances?” “Why does it have to be this hard?” Such questions are understandable since suffering ranges from difficult to excruciating, but we are not helped in our suffering by focusing on ourselves and how badly we want to feel relief from the burden of affliction. We are helped when we focus on the Lord and his purposes for our suffering. Second Corinthians 1:3-6 zeroes in on God and one of His intentions for our suffering that will help us to praise Him for our suffering and apply patience to life’s difficulties.
In v. 3, Paul calls God, “the God of all comfort”. That, in and of itself, is a balm to the soul when we are suffering. Where else would we want to look if all comfort resides with Him? But verse 4 really reveals an arrow that you may not have in your quiver. Paul says that God “comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” What does this mean for us when life hurts? It means that we can be certain that the hurt is not in our lives so that we will turn to ourselves until it stops. Rather, God is at work in our suffering, not only to bring us comfort, but to bring others comfort through us in the future. As John Piper states so clearly, “He turns the comforted into comforters.” Additionally, not only is God working in our suffering for this purpose, but He Himself has also ordained the suffering for this purpose, since in verse 6 Paul says, “If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation…”
Practically speaking, then, you and I can tell ourselves when we are suffering, “God is setting me up for future ministry.” There will be people in your path who will need God’s comfort as they experience affliction, and you will be equipped with the comfort that God gave you when you were suffering so that you can be used by Him to bring them relief. Many of us want to have more opportunity to serve people and to do it better when we get those opportunities, so we look for a book to read or class to sign up for at church to assist us. That is wonderful, but let this wear a path on your heart: according to God’s design, suffering provides the context for some of His best equipping for personal ministry.
When you are experiencing suffering, look to God for comfort, but trust that it is not God’s plan for you to keep that comfort to yourself. It is not God’s plan for the comforted to hoard His comfort. You are meant to pass it on to others who are suffering, and Lord willing, they will pass it on to others still. As you suffer, if the Lord opens your eyes to a sweet promise we have in Christ, then that promise becomes a comfort for you in the present, and then a comfort through you to others in the future. The reality is that you would not need that comfort if you were not suffering, so God uses suffering to make way for His comfort, which opens the door for your ministry of comfort. With that in mind, it is hard to complain to God about our suffering, because we know that our suffering means other people will be comforted. Think of how many people, for example, have been comforted through Joni Eareckson Tada because she suffers from quadriplegia and receives comfort in the plan of God. She has not kept that comfort to herself, so thousands of disabled people have been helped by God’s comfort extended to them through her.
Just knowing that this is one of the ways God works in our affliction, can be an immense advantage to us, as it gets our eyes off ourselves and on to God and others. And knowing that God has such good purposes for our suffering helps keep us patient and grateful in the hurt.