THE ART OF COMFORT
Pastors come in different varieties which is why the term pastoral conjures different ideas in the minds of different people. A pastor is like the hand that is placed in the glove of a ministry position which then leads to that glove taking a certain shape of the pastor’s strengths, abilities, and spiritual gifts. Over time, if the partnership between a pastor and a congregation endures, that pastor will also be shaped by the needs and demands of those whom God has called them to shepherd. And if both that pastor and that congregation are particularly blessed by God, the breadth of the needs and demands of a growing congregation will be attended to by pastors rather than the unrealistic expectation of them being met be a pastor. But there are times when a pastor is called upon by the broader community to care for that broader community in those times of severe adversity resulting from some tragedy. Floods, bush-fires, transport disasters (air/sea/road), military incidents, famine, are just some broader community demands for pastoring that come to mind as examples. More often than not, the type of person that God equips to enter these tragedies is one who has been shaped by God through having to deal with their own tragedies. In these instances the pastoral glove takes the shape of a chaplain. A chaplain’s principal function is comfort. In writing to the Corinthians after a particularly painful series of events, the tragedy-seasoned apostle Paul was able to comfort those he was ministering to because he himself had been the beneficiary of comfort from God through others. Notice how many times he refers to comfort in just five verses of the opening chapter of Second Corinthians-
¶ Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort,
who 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. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings,
so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation;
and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure
the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you
share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.
Second Corinthians 1:3-7
Chaplains generally minister outside of their church community yet on behalf of their church community. They minister the love and comfort of God through Christ to those who are grappling with the early stages of sudden grief. They become a listening ear, a hand to be held, the bearer of immediate aid, and a conduit for other practical services. They represent the God who has suffered and entered into our world of suffering, loss, and pain (as Paul stated to the Corinthians 2Cor. 1:3-7). The most effective chaplains are those who have earned the trust of those they are called upon to comfort. This is why they can be found in football clubs, schools, and certain workplaces. (It is my hope that as our church continues to develop we will have numbers of representatives from our church serving as chaplains in these various community hubs who can offer hope and comfort in times of tragedy being experienced within these clubs/schools/workplaces.)
But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus,
and not only by his coming but also by the comfort with which he was comforted by you,
as he told us of your longing, your mourning, your zeal for me, so that I rejoiced still more.
Second Corinthians 7:6-7
Unlike animal life, all of the aspects of human life are not instinctive. We humans have a lot to teach each other about being a fully-formed human being who is capable of love, bearing responsibility, living sacrificially for others, developing spiritual intimacy with God, worshiping, interacting courteously and respectfully with others especially those different from us, and parenting as a father or mother the next generation. Along the way of life’s path as we each learn these skills, there will be the inevitable need to also learn how to process loss. This will involve the loss of something precious, a loved one, a dream, a love. Dealing with such losses involves grieving. Ministers of comfort help those grieving to grieve well. They patiently listen as the grieving one expresses their disbelief at their loss, then their anger at someone (anyone will do) who should be or could be blamed, their regrets, then their overwhelming sadness. The minister of comfort shows the grieving that tears and sadness at their loss is both normal and healthy. They introduce them to the concept of their new normal and help them to understand that things will never be same again, and that feeling sad whenever they think of their loss is a part of their new normal. Without this shepherding, a griever’s remaining relationships can be strained beyond acceptable limits, and their use of food/alcohol/seclusion can become unhealthy for them physically/emotionally/spiritually. This is why chaplains are so valuable today. Chaplains are guides of good grief.
¶ So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.
THE GOD OF ALL COMFORT
In the times of our deepest anguish, God is “the God of all comfort” (2Cor. 1:3). He is the One who understands our pain, our loss, our sadness. He is the One gives meaning to each of these. It is this God who not only promises to comfort all those who turn to Him in worshipful surrender, but He is the One who heals wounded souls so that they can be used by Him as agents of His soul-healing comfort to others. I am aware that there are many in our church who have experienced soul-healing comfort from God and that their tears of sadness in the process are more often than not good for our souls. Most of these ministers of comfort will never be seen on our stage or behind our pulpit, but I can also assure you that those who are regularly ministering from our pulpit are indeed recipients of the God of all comfort’s soul-healing comfort.
¶ Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and God our Father,
who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace,
comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.
Second Thessalonians 2:16-17
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