Before I dig into this there’s probably a few qualifiers I should say: first, please do listen to the sermon I’ve uploaded below by Mr. Keller, particularly if you’re going through a dark time it’s a lot better than anything I can say. Secondly, my experience of sorrow is a blip on the scale of human suffering and in writing this I feel like I’m grasping concepts I don’t fully understand. Finally, the comfort of Christ is reserved only for his people, if you are not a Christian then his comfort grants you nothing.
When sorrow, hardship, trails, grief, persecution and suffering come our way then our first refuge should be the comfort that is to be found in Christ. It is not our first instinct to do this. It is easy to search for comfort in other things: family, friends, escapism through drink, computer games, drugs, fantasy, relationships, keeping busy, anything that distracts from the pain. Most of these are perfectly valid and good things in part but they can’t comfort us on our profoundest level, the spiritual level, for that we need the love and comfort of Christ. It is often not an easy comfort to grasp for it allows us no illusions or delusions about our situation, it confronts us with the reality of this sinful world we live in and our sinful selves, it tells us that we should not be surprised by our sorrow for as Jesus promised: “In the world you will have tribulation.” (John 16v33). I used to think that if I did a good job of walking with God I would be spared hardship and sorrow; not true, Job lived blamelessly before God and suffered much, Jesus lived perfectly before God and suffered to the point of death. The comfort of Christ is not in denying sorrow yet nor is it wallowing in self pity or giving way to despair. As I said, it can be a hard comfort to grasp but it is the only comfort that will provide peace and solace for the troubled heart. The comfort of Christ is rich and can comfort the most weary and grief stricken soul.
The Comfort of his Care
“He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart;” Isaiah 40v11.
Pause for the moment, still yourself and let this verse sink in: Jesus Christ tends you as a shepherd tends his sheep and when he sees you sorrowful, troubled and in pain he will pick you up in his arms as the little lamb you are and carry you close to his heart. Well it is said that there is no place quite like being held close to the heart of Jesus!
Jesus Christ walked on this earth, he knows what it is to be tempted, he knows the sorrow of loss, poverty, pain, betrayal, evil and suffering. He was a man of sorrows, well acquainted with grief (Isaiah 53:3); he shares in your pain, he knows your weakness, he has shed the tears you shed. And he is your shepherd; in him you will find all tenderness and care for the least of his loved ones. Pour out your grief before him, bring your complaint to God, you will not find him unsympathetic, be like the Psalmist in Psalm 88 who brought his complaint before God. In most Psalms of lament the psalmist concludes with a note of praise, not so in Psalm 88, it goes from bleakness to darkness to despair and he concludes that: ‘darkness is his closest friend’. The very inclusion of this Psalm in God’s word shows you that God understands, he is with us even when we can see no light or hope.
And take heart, for you have not strayed from the shepherdship of Christ, he is still your good shepherd, leading you be it through green pastures or the valley of the shadow of death, your circumstances are exactly what is best for you at this time. The shadow proves the sunshine; hardship proves that God loves us as Hebrews 12 says:
“Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children…but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” Hebrews 12v7,10-11.
With sorrow and suffering often come doubt and fear; we must cling to the sweet promises of the Word, God still loves you with a love beyond measuring out, your name is written on his heart, his ear is turned always to your cry, his Spirit still reside within you. Jesus is still risen, victory is still certain! Think back to all he has done for you, remember his goodness, recall his merciful providences, go back to your conversion, God has been good to you!
“Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.” Lamentations 3 v 21 - 22
The Comfort of his Cross
Having considered the comfort of his care let us turn to the comfort of the cross. And oh, what comfort does the cross bring! For in the cross there is freedom from guilt, we can come and know that our sins, so often the cause of misery and pain, are forgiven through the blood of Christ. We can stand clothed in that righteousness not our own! Take your guilt to the cross, Christ paid it all, you are not being punished for your sin for Christ took that punishment, you may be being disciplined but better to have hardship from the loving hand of God than from the hand of his wrath.
Consider as well the suffering of Christ, the agony of the cross, the pain of being separated from God, his cry: “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” If you find yourself in darkness, be encouraged, Jesus knows what it is like to feel cut off from God. Remember as well that the cross is the greatest act of goodness done for a sinful race; your own troubles though big will result in goodness too. The darkest hour this world has known was the greatest victory of love this world has known. If Christ gladly went through so much suffering for us then let us be humbled and resolve to suffer for him. When we doubt Christ’s love we need to come to his cross and find love displayed in all its fullness.
The Comfort of Future Glory
“For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” 2 Corinthians 4 v 17
The final comfort I will touch upon is the comfort of casting our eyes forward and seeing heaven before us. Christ has our souls, he will allow nothing to take them, heaven is secured, our future glory is certain, take heart, have courage, look to that day when there will be no more pain and no more suffering and no more sin. What of this present passing life? It is a tiny fraction of the eternity of the bliss to come. There will come a day when we will see Jesus face to face and will not this all be worth it? Will not your suffering, pain, sorrow, trouble, hardship and grief be worth it as Christ welcomes you home and says: “Well done my good and faithful servant…come and share your master’s happiness!” (Matthew 25v21). Look towards your heavenly home, it is a day’s walk nearer, Christ stands at its gates and looks out for you, he will see you safely there, his own happiness depends on it for without you his people would not be complete and he will not bear the loss of even one of his sheep.
There have been many good books written for struggling Christians, try The Love of Christ by Richard Sibbes and prepare your soul for a feast of delights and comfort; read Spiritual Depression: it’s causes and cures by Dr. Llyod Jones and be refreshed with sound godly wisdom; read The Broken Reed again by Sibbes and try hard not to cry; I never quite managed not to. If for some strange reason you’re adverse to books which are ‘old’ read When I don’t desire God by John Piper though to be honest it’s just a knock of Llyod Jones’ book. You don’t suffer alone; we suffer as the church of Christ for the glory of Christ.
Above all else though, read the Word of Christ, pray to him and seek comfort in the gospel that saved you. To bring this long post to a close first a psalm and then a hymn:
“The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley,I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.”
It Is Well With My Soul
When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.
Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.
My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!
And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.