God has interesting ways of catching my attention.
Some weeks ago, I was memorizing the first lines of Malcolm Guite’s reflection on Psalm 49:
“Where Christ himself is there to welcome you,
Then you are home, wherever you may fare.”
As I did so, I kept inadvertently changing “welcome” to “comfort.”
Where Christ himself is there to comfort you,
Then you are home. . .
For a while, I just kept trying to change it back, thinking it a simple error.
When it kept happening, I wondered if I was too attached to comfort, and needed God’s help to let it go.
And then I sensed a nudge and began to wonder if, instead of God asking me to let go of my longing for comfort, he was instead inviting me into a deeper trust of his gentle love. Might he want to offer me still more deeply his presence and comfort? Might he be inviting me to come as I was and receive what he longs to give?
I sometimes forget things I know, and basic questions resurface. Questions like, “Is it okay to need and want comfort, from people and even from God? Is that part of how God wants to love us and be with us?” Verses began to come to mind, and as I dug deeper into all the places “comfort” is used in Scripture, here’s what I found. May there be rest and comfort here for your soul as there was for mine.
David found comfort in God and his promises, his word, and his unfailing love.
“You, LORD, have helped me and comforted me” (Psalm 86:17)
“You will increase my honor and comfort me once more” (Psalm 71:21)
“My comfort in my suffering is this: your promise preserves my life” (Ps 119:50).
“I remember, O LORD, your ancient laws, and I find comfort in them” (Ps 119:52).
“May your unfailing love be my comfort, according to your promise to your servant” (Ps 119:76).
There were times when David longed for God’s comfort and it didn’t come right away.
“My eyes fail, looking for your promise; I say, “When will you comfort me?” (Ps 119:82)
But in the valley of the shadow of death, that darkest place where he was most afraid, David declares,
“Your rod and your staff they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4).
Jesus, too, knows what it’s like to long for comfort:
“Scorn has broken my heart
And has left me helpless;
I looked for sympathy, but there was none,
For comforters, but I found none.
They put gall in my food
And gave me vinegar for my thirst” (Ps. 69:19-20; c.f. Matt 27:34, Mk 15:23, John 19:28-30).
He asked his friends to stay with him in his agony (Matt 26:37-38). And when they couldn’t provide the presence and comfort that he needed, God, in his compassion, offered strength and comfort, sending angels to attend him (Luke 22:43-44; c.f. Matt 4:11).
The first words of Isaiah 40, the “turning point” chapter which begins the beautiful second half of the book, read,
“’Comfort, comfort my people,’ says your God. ‘Speak tenderly to Jerusalem. . .’”
Comfort isn’t something that happens by accident. God is intentional about offering us comfort, and commands his prophet Isaiah to pass that comfort on to God’s people. In fact, God is so emphatic about his desire for his people to know that he is a God who longs to comfort and encourage them that he repeats the command twice for emphasis. “Comfort, comfort my people.”
Isaiah seems to have gotten the message, because the theme of God’s comfort recurs through the rest of his book—and, with it, the joy that comes from receiving God’s tender comfort in places of pain and brokenness.
“Shout for joy. . . for the LORD comforts his people and will have compassion on his afflicted ones” (Is 49:13).
“The LORD will surely comfort Zion and will look with compassion on all her ruins; . . . joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the sound of singing” (Is 51:3).
The comfort God offers is such a tender comfort, just like the comfort of a mother for her young child.
“As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you; and you will be comforted. . .” (Is 66:13).
But it is also a strong and active comfort. The Hebrew word for comfort “does not mean to sympathize but to encourage” (HALOT). It’s a comfort that brings redemption and lifts us out of the muck and makes us new.
“Who can comfort you? . . . Burst into songs of joy together, for the LORD has comforted his people, he has redeemed Jerusalem” (Isaiah 51:19, 52:9).
“Afflicted city, lashed by storms and not comforted, I will rebuild you with stones of turquoise. . .” (Isaiah 54:11).
“I have seen their ways but I will heal them; I will guide them and restore comfort to Israel’s mourners, creating praise on the lips of the mourners in Israel” (Is 57:18).
In case we missed that it really is okay to come to God for comfort, that, in fact, he both longs to comfort us and is the only one who can provide the deep comfort we need, God says it again:
“I, even I, am he who comforts you” (Isaiah 51:12).
Jeremiah picks up the theme:
“You who are my Comforter in sorrow, my heart is faint within me” (Jer 8:18).
“. . . I [God] will turn their mourning into gladness; I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow” (Jer 31:13).
And if we still have any doubt about both God’s desire and ability to comfort us, the apostle Paul shares his experience during a time when, he says, “We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death” (2 Cor 1:8-9). In precisely that time of pressure and despair, Paul learned more deeply who God is. And the first characteristic Paul pauses to savor is God’s compassion and the comfort that rises from it:
“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).
Life sometimes hurts. There’s no way around that.
AND, we have a Father who is “the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort.”
Having suffered and ached for comfort himself, Jesus compassionately accompanies us on our journeys, able and eager to comfort and strengthen us (Heb 2:18; 4:14-16).
The Holy Spirit, too, is always in and with those of us who are Christ’s, strengthening, teaching, encouraging and, yes, comforting us on our journeys.
So whatever you’re going through today, friend, know this: you are not alone. We have a God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—who is near, inviting us to come close with all our longing and need and let his love and comfort be saving salve for our deepest aches and wounds. Nestle in with me, will you, and receive the comfort our loving God longs to give?