Finding Comfort in Sorrow

A common theme throughout both the Old and New Testaments is how God seeks to comfort His people. Just as the ancient Israelites awaited the arrival of the Messiah, so Christians await the return of Christ. The Book of Revelation describes how Christ will wipe away all our tears and restore all things; the Old Testament also eludes to this fact.

In my previous post, we took a deeper look into the Hebrew word, Nacham (Strong’s #5162), which means “to repent or comfort” from the perspective of how we can draw comfort when we repent and show the strength to take a new course of action. To read the previous post, click here https://triumphantinchrist.wordpress.com/2016/09/10/finding-comfort-in-our-repentance/. In this post, we will examine Nacham from the comforting or consoling aspect of the word. Once again, I will be quoting exclusively from the King James Version.

 

Job’s Well-Intentioned Friends

When tragedy or difficulties strike our family and friends, our heart aches for them. We often feel so powerless and overwhelmed when we realize nothing we do or say is going to take away their pain. Our hurting loved ones need our presence more than social clichés. We do not have to say anything. Just be there. Give them a hug. Tell them you love them.

 Perhaps no one in the Old Testament suffered more than Job. In a quick succession of time, Job’s ten children died, he became ill, he lost his livelihood, and his wife, out of her pain, told him to “curse God and die.” Job, to the best of his knowledge, could not think of anything he did to bring on such suffering and tragedy. Up till the end of the book, God remained silent. When God did speak, Job was not given an explanation for his suffering, but was blessed in the end with more than he had before. Job’s three friends went to comfort him.

 “Now when Job’s three friends heard of all this evil that was come upon him, they came everyone from his own place; Eliphaz the Temanite, and Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite: for they had made an appointment together to come to mourn with him and to comfort him. And when they lifted up their eyes afar off, and knew him not, they lifted up their voice, and wept; and they rent everyone his mantle, and sprinkled dust upon their heads toward heaven. So they sat down with him upon the ground seven days and seven nights, and none spake a word unto him: for they saw that his grief was very great.” (Job 2:11-13, KJV, emphasis mine).

Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar started out with noble intentions, as all three decided to visit their friend. The three men also joined Job in his mourning by following the Hebrew customs of weeping openly, tearing their clothes, and sprinkling dust on their heads, which were all signs of mourning. Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar offered no condolences or words of wisdom, they simply sat on the ground in silence for a week, covered in dirt and torn clothes. Job’s grief was so great that his friends did not recognize him at first.

During times of tragedy, we can find ourselves trying to explain why God would allow something to happen. However, the truth is that we cannot fully know God’s reasons nor even begin to understand His ways. Therefore, we do need to speak for God. If we say the wrong thing, we will only add to someone’s grief, which is what Job’s three friends did. If Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, had remained silent when Job began to speak, they would not have added to Job’s grief. However, Job’s three friends accused him of harboring a secret sin and that sin brought on his troubles. In multiple debates, the three friends reasoned with Job that he brought this on himself. This frustrated Job to no end.

“Then Job answered and said, I have heard many such things: miserable comforters are ye all. Shall vain words have an end? Or what emboldeneth thee that thou answerest? I also could speak as ye do; if your soul were in my soul’s stead, I could heap up words against you, and shake mine head at you. But I would strengthen you with my mouth, and the moving of my lips should assuage your grief.” (Job 16: 1-5, KJV, emphasis mine).

 At the end of the Book of Job, he received the comfort he needed not only from his submission to God, but also from everyone who came out to see him and blessed him.

When the Grief is too much

The pain of yesterday and the uncertainty of the future only adds to the grief in the current moment. When we cannot see past the pain, life becomes too and we fall into despair. If you have reached despair, hold on to hope. There will be difficult days, but you will get through them. If you question “Where is God in the midst of all of this?” do not fret, because the Bible addresses this as well, showing us that we are not alone in how we feel.

“My soul fainteth for thy salvation: but I hope in thy word. Mine eyes fail for thy word, saying, ‘When wilt thou comfort me?’” (Psalms 119:81-82, KJV, emphasis mine).

“So I returned, and considered all the oppressions that are done under the sun: and behold the tears of such as were oppressed, and they had no comforter; and on the side of the oppressors there was power, but they had no comforter.” (Ecclesiastes 4:1, KJV, emphasis mine).

 “Reproach hath broken my heart; and I am full of heaviness: and I looked for some to take pity, but there was none; and for comforters, but I found none.” (Psalm 69:20, KJV, emphasis mine).

Comfort is on the Way

Though we often picture the Old Testament prophets as bearers of “gloom and doom,” and pronouncing “Woe unto you,” God makes beautiful statements concerning a day when His children will be comforted, even in the midst of famine, suffering, grief, or an invading army. We too can take solace in these beautiful words found in Isaiah.

“Therefore the redeemed of the Lord shall return, and come with singing unto Zion; and everlasting joy shall be upon their head: they shall obtain gladness and joy; and sorrow and mourning shall flee away. I, even I, am He that comforteth you: who art thou, that thou shouldest be afraid of a man that shall die, and of the son of man which shall be made as grass.” (Isaiah 51:11-12, KJV, emphasis mine).

 “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; He hath sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound. To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn; To appoint them that mourn in Zion, to give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He might be glorified.” (Isaiah 61:1-3, KJV, emphasis mine).

If you are experiencing grief and loss, please do not give up hope. This is a process and will take time. There is no set timeframe for this. You do not have to go on this journey alone. In fact, you are not on this journey alone. Though you may have days of darkness and doubt, know that God still loves you. God bless you all.

The Bitterness of Our Souls

For anyone who farms, gardens, or does general yard work, weeds can be a destructive force. Weeds can grow in any circumstances and in any location. Weeds choke the life out of crops, plants, and grass, thereby making hard work unfruitful. If we do not kill or pull up the weed at its roots, the weed will grow back. In my personal experience, I have had to take a shovel and dig up a weed at its roots. The Book of Hebrews compares bitterness to a root:

“Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God: lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled.” (Hebrews 12:15, KJV, emphasis mine).

When we allow the roots of bitterness to grow, they will wrap themselves around our hearts and spirits, choking they very life out of us. Our walk with God and our testimony will be affected if we allow bitterness to get a hold of us. We will become like Naomi, Ruth’s mother-in-law.

“’Don’t call me Naomi,’ she told them. ‘Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The Lord has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me.’” (Ruth 1:20-21, NIV).

Over the course of ten years, Naomi’s husband and two sons died, leaving Naomi bitter. Of course, bitterness can be a natural part of the grieving process and we must be honest with ourselves and with God, but we cannot allow it to define who we are. Naomi allowed the grief to define her and she was going around telling people, “Just call me bitter, that is who and what I am.”

Our enemy, Satan, wants nothing more than to destroy God’s people. If you have made Christ your Lord and Savior, Satan cannot have your spirit, but he will try to make your life hell on earth.

“The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10, NKJV).

One of Satan’s best strategies is to make us discouraged and bitter over unanswered prayers or overwhelming circumstances. In fact, we see the phrase, “The bitterness of my soul” in the Old Testament.

Hannah

Hannah eventually become the mother of the prophet Samuel, but struggled with not being able to have children. Hannah’s husband had two wives and the other wife, Peninnah, had multiple children while Hannah had none. For anyone who cannot have children or has struggled with infertility, it is a painful and heartbreaking situation. You can grow bitter and mournful over not having your own children while the world celebrates and sometimes complains about their own children. Hannah’s case was made worse by the taunts of Peninnah.

“And her adversary also provoked her sore, for to make her fret, because the Lord had shut up her womb.” (1 Samuel 1:6, KJV, emphasis mine).

How many times has your adversary, the devil, made you feel bitter about a situation? To the devil, our situation is not enough to deal with, he has to rub it in as Peninnah did with Hannah. How did Hannah deal with the situation.

 “And she was in bitterness of soul, and prayed unto the Lord, and wept sore.” (1 Samuel 1:10, KJV, emphasis mine).

Scripture goes on to say that Hannah prayed for a son and that if God would give her a son, she would give him to the Lord’s service. God granted Hannah’s request and her son, Samuel, became a prophet and the last judge of Israel.

King Hezekiah

King Hezekiah was one of the eight righteous kings of Judah in the Old Testament. Hezekiah became gravely ill and he received a visit from the prophet Isaiah.

“In those days Hezekiah was sick and near death. And Isaiah the prophet, the son of Amoz, went to him and said to him, ‘Thus says the Lord: Set your house in order, for you shall die and not live.’” (Isaiah 38:1, NKJV).

King Hezekiah responded to the news by praying and the Lord gave Hezekiah another fifteen years to live. Hezekiah praised God for answering his prayer and contrasted praise with bitterness that he had in his heart.

“What shall I say? He has both spoken to me, And He Himself has done it. I shall walk carefully all my years in the bitterness of my soul. O Lord, by these things men live; And in all these things is the life of my spirit; So You will restore me and make me live. Indeed it was for my own peace that I had great bitterness; But You have lovingly delivered my soul from the pit of corruption, for You have cast all my sins behind Your back.” (Isaiah 38”15-17, NKJV, emphasis mine).

Job

 Job, of course is known for the many trials he endured. All ten of Job’s children died, he lost his financial livelihood, he became sick, his wife told him to “curse God and die,” and his friends claimed that his trials were brought on by Job having sin in his life. Naturally, who could blame Job for being upset? Job on multiple occasions makes his feelings known not only to his friends, but to God as well.

“Therefore I will not refrain my mouth; I will speak in the anguish of my spirit; I will complain in the bitterness of my soul.” (Job 7:11, KJV, emphasis mine).

“My soul is weary of my life; I will leave my complaint upon myself; I will speak in the bitterness of my soul.” (Job 10:1, KJV, emphasis mine).

Of course at the end of Job’s story, he had an encounter with God and God blessed Job. Though God never gave Job a reason for his severe trials, God did restore to Job everything that was taken from him.

When life’s circumstances knock us to our knees and we receive devastating news, let us not neglect prayer. We must express our bitterness to God because He already knows about our bitterness. I wish that there was a quick fix out of bitterness, but there is not. Removing bitterness from our lives is a process and it will take time. If you have a tree whose roots are causing damage to your home, it is a process to remove that tree. The tree has to be cut down and the stump has to be removed, which involves pulling up the roots. If the tree has been there for decades, that tree’s roots are firmly in the ground. It is the same with bitterness.  How long have you allowed “the root of bitterness” to grow in your life? A year? Five years? Ten years? Twenty years or more? We must expose our roots of bitterness to God and allow Him to deal with us. Your bitterness not only affects your life, but it can and will affect the lives of those around you. Go to the Lord in prayer. Seek out wise counsel. Be strengthened for the journey. God bless you all.

 

Are You Perceiving God’s Voice?

Have you ever had a one-sided conversation with someone? Have you ever tried to start or maintain a conversation with someone who seemed disengaged from what is going on around them? Have you ever spoke from the heart about something important and the other person just brushed you aside and did not listen or hear anything you said? Have you cried out for help and felt ignored or slighted? Did the exchange or the lack thereof change the dynamics of the relationship? Have you ever felt that away about God? Be honest.

The old adage “perception is reality” holds true in these instances. How we view the world around us is colored with our thoughts, senses, relationships, beliefs, biases, and unfortunately, any prejudices we have developed. In the midst of an ongoing or series of trials, we can become so caught up with ourselves that we miss the clues about God and the people around us. We may perceive that someone blew us off, but could it be possible that person has had an extremely bad day or they are dealing with their own trial? Of course, that does not excuse any malicious ill-mannered behavior, but it is something to keep in mind.

If we are not careful, our relationship with God can be hampered or altered by our perceptions. For example, a believer may think that God does not answer prayer because they prayed for a sick loved one who eventually passed away. Or how about going through a severe financial trial after years of being generous with giving? Or how a parent dealing with a rebellious child who was raised in church? When we think God is silent or does not care our trials will feel that much more difficult. However, all we have to do is listen.

Job was a righteous man who had to endure a series of trials- the loss of ten children, the loss of his financial livelihood, sickness, his wife told him to let go of his integrity, his friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar all claim that his suffering is a direct result of some secret sin he has committed. Just having to endure one of these trials would be enough to shake the faith of some people.

Job does not blame God for his trials, but maintains he has committed no secret sin. Job longs for an audience and mediator with God because God has been silent in all of this (Job 9:33-35; 10:2-22; 16:19-21; 23:3-9). After the discussion of Job and his three friends ends, a young man named Elihu comes along and helps correct the wrong perceptions Job has had during these trials. In fact, Elihu maintained that God was trying to speak to Job, but Job was not perceiving it.

“Why do you complain to Him that He responds to no one’s words? For God does speak- now one way, now another- though no one perceives it. In a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falls on people as they slumber in their beds, he may speak in their ears and terrify them with warnings, to turn them from wrong doing and keep them from pride, to preserve them from the pit, their lives from perishing by the sword.” (Job 33:14-18, NIV).

Elihu goes on to further state: “Or someone may be chastened on a bed of pain with constant distress in their bones, so that their body finds food repulsive and their soul loathes the choicest meal. Their flesh wastes away to nothing and their bones, once hidden, now stick out. They draw near to the pit, and their life to the messengers of death.” (Job 33:19-22, NIV).

What Elihu states is that God has been trying to get our attention- we are not listening. For anyone who is going through “a famine of the Word,” consider, what have you been dreaming about lately? Where has the Holy Spirit directed you to in God’s Word? What are your fellow believers in Christ saying to you? Have you gone through any sicknesses that may be a sign to change your lifestyle? Of course, this may not be the case in every situation, but we must be alert to what is going on around us and with us. When we go through trials, we expect God to show up and talk to us directly as He did with Job (Job 38-41), while ignoring the still small voice Elijah heard (1 Kings 19:12). There are also times when we expect God to speak to us the same way as He did before, but maybe God is trying a new method of getting our attention.

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” (Isaiah 43:18-19, NIV).

We must remember that our lives are not our own because we have been redeemed by the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. God is sovereign over all His creation, including our lives. Though God spoke to Job, Job never received an answer as to why he suffered the way He did. God is always faithful to us and we must continue to be faithful to Him, even in the midst of the most severe trial of our faith. Grace and peace be with you all.