When my children, Sam and Martha, were little, my wife and I enjoyed reading to them. One of the books we especially enjoyed was Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. The story goes like this – from the moment this young boy named Alexander wakes up, things just don’t go his way. As he gets up, the chewing gum that was in his mouth the night before is now in his hair. He trips on his skateboard as he gets out of bed and drops his sweater in the sink while the water is running. His brothers, Nick and Anthony, find prizes in their cereal at breakfast time while Alexander does not. The whole day is filled with one disappointment after another for Alexander. Even at bedtime his nightlight burns out. He bites his tongue. His brother Nick takes back a pillow he said he could keep, and the cat chooses to sleep with his other brother Anthony.
A funny statement runs throughout the book after each disappointment. Alexander says, “I think I’ll move to Australia.” He thinks it’s perhaps better there. The book ends with his mother’s assurance that everybody has bad days – even those who live in Australia.
In our life, we know some days, some weeks, some months, and some seasons can have challenges, hardships, and suffering. Some days we will have a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.
The apostle Paul knew this firsthand. As we read some reflections of what he went through, it’s amazing the bad days he experienced. In 2 Corinthians, Paul talks about being whipped, beaten, stoned, and shipwrecked. He faced danger from bandits, enemies and dangers in the city and wilderness, toil, hardships, sleepless nights, hunger, thirst, cold, and even nakedness. He was under daily pressure over the churches he wanted to see grow. He talks of being afflicted, perplexed, persecuted, and struck down. He mentions a thorn in the flesh, which many scholars believe was a physical ailment. In Philippians Paul told them, “For Christ’s sake, I have suffered the loss of all things.” He regarded all the things he had as rubbish.
In our text for today, he even talks a bit about despair while on his mission trip to Asia. He thought he was going to die. As you read the passage, you notice that affliction and suffering are keywords used redundantly. That is the biblical writer’s way of making an important point. No one goes through life affliction free or immune from suffering.
But here is some good news to hang onto during those times – We are not on our own. In the midst of our terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days, we have a Father. Paul describes Him as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, as if to tell us, Remember what He did to make you His own, all the trouble He went through to make you His sons and daughters. Jesus suffered and died on a cross to save us from our sin and restore us to a relationship with the heavenly Father for eternity.
This God has gone all out for you! He is our Father, just as Jesus taught in the Lord’s Prayer. We can pray, Our Father, and know He cares for us more greatly than any earthly father can.
He is the Father of all mercies, which means He is filled with compassion. He has a BIG heart for us. He has care and concern. He gives, and He helps.
He is the Father of all comfort. Paul also tells us God comforts us in all our afflictions. When life is caving in on us, He comforts us.
The word “comfort” here doesn’t mean ease and relaxation. It basically means something like encouragement. The word doesn’t imply that God rescues us from discomfort but gives us the tools, the instructions, and the essential guidance to endure the problems of this life and keep us going.
In the final two verses of this passage, we learn that Paul is not just waxing eloquently here. He is speaking from personal experience as it relates to them about what happened on his mission trip in Asia – how he despaired. He thought he might die, but God took care of him and delivered him. He testifies, I am confident even now that He will continue to do it again. All of this has taught me to rely on my heavenly Father.
Suffering and hardship also brings good news. As we walk with Him, God comforts us, so we may be able to comfort others who are in any affliction with which we ourselves have been comforted by God.
God has a purpose for comforting us. It is not just for ourselves but also for others who comforting. Remembering the word “comfort” means encouragement, we encourage those around us as God has encouraged us.
Years ago Billy Graham, the great evangelist, said, “Our sufferings may be hard to bear but they teach us lessons, which in turn equip and enable us to help others.” I believe that! Suffering can help us become more empathetic with those who are hurting. It gives us a bit of a perspective, some sensitivity, and actually move us toward a person who is hurting.
I have friends who are involved in Alcoholics Anonymous. They know what bondage is from personal experience. They understand the disease and how it can take over a person’s life. As they come together in AA meetings, they encourage one another and say, You are not alone in this. You’re my brother/my sister. I’ve been there too, and you will get through this.
I think of a family in our congregation who lost a child. Another family who also lost a child came right alongside of them soon after and walked with them. They seemed to know the right things to say and the right things to do from their own experience.
Hardships can equip us, as Billy Graham says, to be encouragers as we share what has worked with us or for us with words, with actions, and with the Good News of the Father’s faithfulness and love for us.
I believe comfort and encouragement is one beggar showing another where to find food. It the healed one telling about the skills of their doctor. It’s passing on the good that we have received and allowing it to multiply by sharing.
We see this displayed in the life of a well-known figure in Christianity, Charles Colson, who wrote the book, BORN AGAIN. He was special counsel to President Richard M. Nixon, a position at the center of political power in the United States. His involvement in the Watergate cover-up led to his own arrest, conviction, and imprisonment. But the events of those days also led Chuck Colson to a personal faith in Jesus Christ.
Following his conversion, Colson was NOT miraculously freed from his convictions. To the contrary, he was sent to Maxwell Federal Prison. Yet God was able to use the experience of imprisonment to open Colson’s heart to the needs of prisoners and to give him a special ministry, a special calling to serve those men and women in the name of Christ. Colson puts it this way in his book: “God often uses what we least expect for His divine purposes. That has certainly proved to be true for me. Out of the depths of my prison experience came the vision for Prison Fellowship Ministry, which now involves thousands of volunteers and brings the hope of Christ to prisoners throughout the United States and abroad.” Chuck Colson’s difficulty became a source of blessing to thousands of men and women behind bars who have been influenced for Christ.
It’s a vivid example of Paul’s assertion in verse five when he says, “For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.” Each of us will undergo suffering in life. Not one of us is immune from trials or difficulties. But if we allow Him, Christ can take even that suffering and produce from it blessings in our lives and in the lives of others.
Hardships also turn us into carriers of hope. When I say hope, I do not mean wishful thinking, but confidence. It is sure did for Paul. This passage, you see, was meant to instill hope and confidence in its readers.
Usually Paul opened his letters by telling them how he was thanking God for working in their midst. But this time Paul doesn’t do that. He instead launches right into holding up a picture of God being our encourager, our comforter. He seems to be saying right off the bat in this letter, Yes. It is a hard knock life. I’ve experienced it. But know this – you and I have a Father who has been faithful in the past, and He will be in the future. This Father wants you to have hope and strength for today, to rely on Him now, believing in the depths of your heart that He is with us. As the old hymn says, “Present to cheer and to guide. And He walks with me, and He talks with me, and the promise of Jesus is sure and true. Lo, I am with you always to the end of the age.” Let that be your confidence today, if you’re going through a hardship.
But this God, our Father, wants you to have a bright hope also for tomorrow knowing the future is securely in His hands. He wants us to be able to concur with the apostle Paul that this God who raises the dead as he did Jesus Christ will deliver us again and again, ultimately for eternity. We will live with Him in His heaven, and nothing can separate us from His love through Jesus Christ our Lord until we join Him in the place Christ has prepared for us. We know, from the bottom of our hearts, we are headed to that life where there are no more tears, no more sorrows, no more suffering.
We have a wonderful Father who is there to comfort us. If you are going through something now, He is there to comfort you. Call upon His name. Lean heavily upon His promises. Open His Word and let Him speak to you.
If you are not a believer, find a community of believers and tell them, Share with me your strength. What is your hope in Christ? Whatever you do, don’t go through this alone. You don’t have to. You have a Father who loves you. He gave His only begotten Son to die for you in order that you might become His own. He has gone to a lot of trouble to bring you to Himself and give you the life He desires for each and every individual He has created.
It’s great to have a Father who is absolutely perfect, don’t you think? Praise God. Amen.
Pastor Steve Kramer