Comfort and Joy

I’ve been thinking a lot about “comfort” lately, not because anything is wrong in my life, just that I find it fascinating to explore the various things, places, people, and situations that many of us turn to for comfort depending on what we are experiencing in our lives. Many people turn to comfort foods, which can either physically comfort us (like hot soup on a cold day) or provide us with a sentimental or nostalgic feeling that links us to loved ones or reconnects us with happier times or places. Enjoying comfort foods is not a bad thing in and of itself; however, according to Wikipedia “Comfort food consumption has been seen as a response to emotional stress and, consequently, as a key contributor to the epidemic of obesity in the United States.”

Made to CraveAs Lysa TerKeurst explains in her book Made to Crave: “Craving isn’t a bad thing. But we must realize God created us to crave more of him. … Many of us have misplaced that craving by overindulging in physical pleasures instead of lasting spiritual satisfaction.”

For example, there are those who find comfort in alcoholic beverages. As a former alcoholic explains it: “alcohol gives [me] a false sense of being at ease … it blurs the hard edges of life and gives [me] a false sense of courage. Alcohol helps a person forget his/her problems for a while, but it doesn’t help resolve them.” However, for those who don’t over-indulge, enjoying a glass of wine, a beer, or a mixed drink is simply part of their winding-down process. In situations like this, a drink can be a comfort, but not a cover-up. And that’s okay; I’m not judging here, just following a train of thought. 🙂Glass of Wine

For those who DO use food or drink as an escape, I am drawn to these lines from another blogger that I recently read: “If we hide from our pain, we don’t need a healer.  If we hide from our faults, we don’t need a redeemer. If we hide from the fact that we are lost, we don’t need a savior.” Are you hiding things in your life? Are you looking to the wrong sources for comfort and answers?

When sharing about her own personal journey, Bonnie Gray shared this: “I decided if I was going to make it through this hard season of my life, I needed as much comfort and beauty for my soul that I could find. Even if it was whisper thin, even if it brought my heart pain to long for it, I would nurture that desire in me. Beauty reminded me that the real me was whole and present inside me. I didn’t know how to begin. But, I knew I needed to begin.”

2014-05-15 11.55.08

What are some things (or places) that bring you comfort? Not necessarily in the midst of catastrophes but when you’re dealing with the everyday blues or when you’re just not feeling your best for whatever reason? I definitely look to nature as a source of comfort – it almost always provides me with a spiritual pick-me-up. Do you have things that you consider comfort wear? I’m not talking about sweats or yoga pants that you wear because they are comfortable. I’m talking about things that, for whatever reason, seem to make you feel just a little bit better.

Have you ever heard of prayer shawls? There are many groups around now that participate in this, but the basic idea is that individuals knit or crochet shawls, which they pray over, and they give them to those in need of comfort and solace. Janet Severi Bristow, one of the founders of the ministry in Hartford, CT describes it this way: “Shawls … made for centuries [are] universal and embracing, symbolic of an inclusive, unconditionally loving, God. They wrap, enfold, comfort, cover, give solace, mother, hug, shelter and beautify.” I just love this idea. Imagine wrapping a shawl of prayers and blessings around your shoulders. Close your eyes and feel the arms of the Father (and those who were involved in the making and distributing of the shawl) giving you a much needed hug.

I don’t have a prayer shawl, but I have a couple of shirts that I consider comfort shirts. One is this flannel shirt pictured below that I’ve had for probably 20 years. The other is a Tigger T-shirt that I may have had for just as long. It has small holes in it so I don’t wear it out anywhere, but sometimes I put it on when I’m having a down day. Or if my husband is out of town, I like to put on one of his shirts to feel closer to him. It comforts me to feel connected to him. I also have a quilt that my older sister made for me. I use it at night when it’s chilly, but I also like to cover up with it on the couch when I’m not feeling well. If you don’t have “comfort wear” already, why not pick something out … something that reminds you of happy times or a particular person or place. Next time you are feeling a little blue or lonely or sick, reach for that shirt or wrap or blanket and give yourself a hug. And be sure to also take some time out for yourself – time to rest and recharge.

I've had this flannel shirt for probably 20 years. It's thin and worn so doesn't really provide much warmth, but it's familiarity brings comfort.

I’ve had this flannel shirt for probably 20 years. It’s thin and worn so doesn’t really provide much warmth, but its familiarity brings me comfort.

This is the quilt/comforter that my sister made for me. I love it.

This is the quilt/comforter that my sister made for me. I love it.

If what you are feeling is stronger, deeper, more than you can handle alone … reach out. Call a friend or family member (we don’t know you are hurting unless you tell us), go to church, or find an opportunity to forget about your own troubles and help someone else. Helping others is a sure way to find not only comfort, but joy.

Lysa TerKeurst reminded me (and thousands of others) in a recent Facebook post: “Be joyful: Intentionally look around for measures of joy each day. There is joy in simply being alive and in being redeemed by God. Remember, joy is a choice we make, not a feeling we hope to get from our circumstances. It’s good to look for the good, to celebrate it even in small ways. Doing so is a moment of victory!”

Bella running with pure joy!

Bella running with pure joy!

No matter how unpleasant your current circumstances might be, don’t cover up or hide from the realities of your life. Don’t cower in shame for your weakness or allow your fears to debilitate you, but boldly reach for comfort whenever you need it. You are not meant to live in fear or to suffer alone. Actively pursue comfort and joy, and you will surely be moving in the right direction!

I will send you the Comforter.

I will send you the Comforter.

 “If you love me, obey me; and I will ask the Father and he will give you another Comforter, and he will never leave you.”

John 14:15-16 (The Living Bible)

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The Art of Encouragement

Today I am proud to post a sermon from my father-in-law, H.B. Fuller (retired pastor but forever a preacher) that ties in wonderfully with my post from yesterday. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
Do you ever feel like giving up? We all go through those periods when we want to throw in the towel. This is the pattern a lot of us go through. Listen and see if this is not similar to your experience. You feel people are saying things about you that just are not true. Work is a drudgery. Even things you used to do for pleasure become a task. You are tired, irritated with those who love you the most. Life loses its joy. Depression, frustration and a tinge of paranoia become your bedfellows.

About at this point, God raises up some friends who prove to be [true] friends. These Christian friends support, pray for, and love us. They have taken seriously Hebrews 10:25:

“not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some,
but encouraging one another,
and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

How desperately we all need encouragement. It is wonderful to have a friend who does not hesitate to point out flaws in our Christian faith and conduct. This finest of encouragement is possible only between two friends who trust each other, and know each other well enough to laugh together at each other’s expense.

The creation of this living fellowship is surely one of the most urgent tasks of the church. Anyone who sets their mind to it can be an encourager. It requires no degree or ordination. All one needs is the willingness to give oneself to another person.

Interestingly, the word in the Bible reading in the 11th verse [1 Thessalonians 5] that the NIV translated “encourage” has its root in the word parakalos, usually translated “comfort.” When you make a noun out if it, the word becomes “comforter,” which we define as “one called alongside of.” The supreme Comforter is the Holy Spirit. When we become encouragers or comforters, we are doing work akin to that of the Holy Spirit. How awesome!!! What a privilege and responsibility to be permitted to work alongside of the Holy Spirit to encourage a struggling brother or sister. And yet there is the exhortation “encourage one another” (v. 11).

Walk (or sit) together.

Walk (or sit) together.

  1. ENCOURAGEMENT IS A PERSON

During one of the major offensives of World War II, Dwight Eisenhower was walking near the Rhine River and came upon a GI who seemed depressed. “How are you feeling?” the General asked. “Sir,” the young man replied, “I’m awful nervous.” “Well,” Eisenhower said, “You and I are a good pair then, because I’m nervous, too. Maybe if we just walk along together we’ll be good for each other.”

No speech, words of wisdom, or special advice necessary, just one person giving of himself to another.

Encouragement means “coming alongside to impart courage.” In a sense, encouragement is one person giving strength and support to another by osmosis, just being there radiating light, spiritual nourishment, strength. When we encourage, we snuggle up to an individual and show we care.

One of the great callings of the New Testament church, one of the great responsibilities of individual Christians is encouragement. Barnabas, whose name means “son of encouragement,” came alongside Paul to give him needed support for entrance in the early church. Let’s read the record in the Bible—maybe God will teach you a lesson I do not see. It is found in Acts 9:26–28:

“And when he had come to Jerusalem he attempted to join the disciples; and they were all afraid of him for they did not believe that he was a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles, and declared to them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who spoke to him, and how at Damascus he had preached boldly in the name of Jesus. So he went in and out among them at Jerusalem.”

Paul not only benefited from Barnabas’ encouragement, but he learned the lesson well. Later, he became an encourager himself, especially for his young friend Timothy.

Encouragement is a person—you and I—an encourager giving self to another in distress—the distressed experiencing the benefit of his friend’s presence and taking up the ministry himself.

Created by Bonnie Gray, the Faith Barista

Created by Bonnie Gray, the Faith Barista

  1. ENCOURAGEMENT IS A WORD

Consider the following sound advice from Proverbs 25:11:

“A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.”

The Japanese have a saying, “one kind word can warm up three winter months.”

We all need encouragement whose “pleasant words are a honeycomb sweet to the soul and healing to the bones” (Proverbs 16:24).

Vince Lombardi, the legendary Green Bay Packers’ football coach was a feared disciplinarian. But he never leveled a man without also seeking to launch him. One day he chewed out a player who had missed several blocking assignments. After practice, Lombardi stalked into the locker room. The player was sitting at his locker head down, dejected.

Lombardi mussed his hair, patted him on the shoulder, and said, “One of these days you are going to be the best guard in the NFL.” That guard was Jerry Kramer and he said he carried that positive image of himself the rest of his career.

“Lombard’s encouragement had a tremendous impact on my whole life,” he said. Kramer went on to become a member of the NFL Hall of Fame and a part of the NFL’s ALL 50-YEAR TEAM.

Do you offer encouraging words? Paul Tillich [one of the most influential theologians of the 20th century] said, “Almost every person you meet is fighting a great battle within.” People everywhere are in need of an encouraging word, an uplifting compliment, or a note of encouragement. Many Christians are discouraged and faltering in the faith. You can spur them on with your inspiring words.

What words to say? Sometimes one approach, sometimes another. BE THERE, GO and SAY something (make sure what you say is from the heart)—“I love you in the Lord.” “We care about you.” “I am praying for you.” “I am asking God to meet your need.” Be sure you ask God to give you the appropriate things to do and say.

Go to the hurting person when possible. If this is not possible, send a letter of affirmation, a note of congratulations, a pep talk, or a kind word from you. If you send a greeting card, write a personal note, even if it is no more than one line. You would be surprised at how many people read only what you wrote.

Your personal word, from the heart, inspired by God, can and often does make an eternal difference in someone’s life. It has in my life.

Church

Memorial Baptist Chapel

  1. ENCOURAGEMENT IS A CHURCH

The Bible makes it clear that the church is distinctive from the world in the area of encouragement. Our society [often] seeks to depress and defeat; the body of Christ desires to inspire and uplift. “We are called out ones,” the set aside ones. One of the distinctive callings of the Christian is to be an encourager. Listen again to the text from I Thessalonians 5:11:

“Therefore encourage one another and build one another up,
just as you are doing.”

It can’t be any plainer. The church is [to be] a safe place of encouragement.

The early church was acquainted with persecution. Martyrdom was a daily occurrence. These people had reason to be depressed. Consequently, the author of Hebrews wrote a letter of hope and perseverance.

Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Hear closely Hebrews 10:25:

“not neglecting to meet together as is the habit of some,
but encouraging one another,

and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

The body of Christ gathers for worship and fellowship with other believers. The church offers the warmth of a bonfire. But when we remove ourselves, the fire diminishes. Three times a week [let alone once a week] is little enough for the body of Christ to assemble itself together to be warmed by each other’s spiritual heat. Together hope is fortified, and life is renewed.

Christians thrive as a group, bunched up together. We are not designed to be loners. We draw strength from each other. When God’s people bunch up to pray, praise, preach—the power of God is magnified and individuals are encouraged. 

Many Christians take seriously the ministry of encouragement. A church in Oregon provides encouragement cards in the pew rack. Members take time before the worship service to write notes of encouragement to each other and others. These cards are collected and mailed.

Encouragement is the overall theme at a Texas church. The sanctuary is called “The Encouragement Center.” The pastor’s message on the weekly bulletin is labeled “The Encouraging Word.” The church newsletter is titled “The Encourager.” But more importantly, the membership takes seriously the need to encourage one another. No wonder people are attracted to this growing church.

CONCLUSION:

Find someone who needs encouragement. Give of yourself, say a word, or introduce him or her to the church—the safe encouraging place—or to Jesus—the encouraging Savior.

Sunday school classes must emphasize the ministry of encouragement. Teachers, please work on this. Give priority to it. If for one reason or another you cannot, encourage some of your members who appear to have this ability.

Of course, our best friend is Jesus. He is the premier encourager. If you do not know Him as Savior, now is the time.

Jeremiah

Jeremiah 29:11-14