Posts Tagged ‘Comfort’

As a pastor and hospice chaplain I have been confronted with the suffering and pain of many of my church members and patients. They have been living with a terminal disease, or perhaps they just lost a loved one to a tragic accident or to a prolonged illness.


Several times in the bible we read of Jesus bending down to touch the suffering, bring a healing word to people that were disabled or gravely ill, or to bring comfort to widows, parents, or His own followers. It doesn’t mean that because we are followers of Jesus we will not experience pain or grief…no one is exempt from such experiences. But what it does mean, is that we’re not alone in the midst of our pain and suffering.


The apostle Paul prays for us, “May the God of patience and comfort grant you to be like-minded toward one another, according to Christ Jesus.” Romans 15:5 (NKJV)


When going through a painful situation, talk to somebody about it. “Pain shared is pain divided.” May the God of patience bring you comfort.

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Not every word has a good connotation. We rarely think of death as a source of happiness. Perhaps when an enemy dies, ending the suffering they’re causing us, we may find relief. But anytime death refers to someone we care about, a loved one, it brings with it pain and sadness.


Unfortunately, we hear about tragedy and death so often in the news that it has become commonplace. For Adam and Eve, who had never experienced it before, it was tragically traumatic. Ellen White writes that, “As they witnessed in drooping flower and falling leaf the first signs of decay, Adam and his companion mourned more deeply than men now mourn over their dead.” (PP 62)


Death is sad, painful, and tragic, and it is even more so if it happens to someone we love deeply. The only light at the end of this sad, dark tunnel, is the hope that we will meet them again. Paul, speaking about the second coming of Jesus, writes, “Comfort one another with these words” 1 Thess.4:16-18 (NKJV).


Death is part of life, but is not the end, not for those who believe in Jesus.

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Scripture: Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. Psalm 23:4 (NKJV)

Observation: There are four words/expressions in the first part of this verse that are very significant:
1. Though – the hope we have is that “even if” we have to experience death, God is with us.
2. Walk through – which indicates that death is temporary, that is, we don’t remain dead forever.
3. Shadow – Even the shadow of death is frightening, but it has no real power to harm us, at least permanently. As unpleasant and forbidding as death may be, ultimately it can’t do any real harm to the child of God. Henry T. Mahan writes: ‘… Christ has removed the substance of death and only a shadow remains. A shadow is there but cannot hurt or destroy.’
4. Valley – a valley is a deep place compared to the mountain peaks. That’s what makes death so painful and foreboding, that it brings us down to the lowest depths of feeling. At the same time, valleys are usually peaceful and tranquil, a place of peace and comfort.

Application: We can apply these words of the psalmist to several situations:
1. When we are diagnosed with a disease that could potentially end our life. When told of such disease we can plunge to the deepest, darkest recess of our feelings. The fear, dread, confusion, anger, denial – all drive us deeper than we’ve ever been
2. When someone we love is diagnosed with such a disease. It is one thing that experience danger in our lives, but the closest we’ll ever get there is to know a loved one is going through that experience. In fact, for some of us, we’d rather be the ones dying that to loose a loved one to a terminal disease.
3. When we loose a loved one to death. While we know that death is part of life, we still can’t accept the fact that it has taken one of our loved ones away from us. For some time, we plunge deep into that dark valley of dread, despair, and darkness.
4. When we die. This is probably the easiest passage of all, because “the dead know not anything” (Eccl.9:5).
The wonderful thing about this verse, is that it doesn’t end with the dark valley of death but rather with the promise that God is with us as we journey through it. Whether we or a loved one are diagnosed with a terminal disease, or if they die, or if we die, we’re never alone. God’s rod and staff – symbols of His power and authority, of His presence and guidance – they provide us with the hope and comfort we need to walk through that valley and come to the other side, to the valley of eternal life, with Him.

A Prayer You May Say: Father God, Our gentle, Loving Shepherd, thank You that we don’t need to fear death because Jesus has conquered it. And thank You that even when we or our loved ones have to taste death it is simply a temporary state until Jesus the Conqueror of death calls us back to life eternal. Thank You, Father, for walking with us through that dark valley.

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Scripture: But I would strengthen you with my mouth, And the comfort of my lips would relieve your grief. Job 16:5 (NKJV)

Observation: Job had lost all his property, but what hurt him most was the loss of his children. Ultimately he was struck with some skin disease and with the discouraging words of his own wife. To add insult to injury, his friends, who came to encourage him, used words that were more like accusations and a call to repentance.
The words of today’s text are in response to Eliphaz’ boasted “consolations” (Job 15:11). Job would have like words that would strengthen him, words spoken from the hear, with love, words that would bring true consolation. The text could be paraphrased: “Like you, I could also strengthen with the mouth, with heartless talk and the moving of my lips – mere lip comfort could console in the same fashion as you do.”

Application: I know that for the most part people have good intentions when they say some things. I have heard people say things, particularly at funerals or to bereaved families that make me cringe. Probably the most commonly used are the words “I know how you feel!” By that they mean, “I have also experienced pain, so I know what your pain is like. The reality is that no one can possibly know the pain we feel because pain is a very personal experience. Just because I lost my father or mother I can’t tell someone else whose father or mother has just dies that I know how they feel.
Have you heard someone say to a parent whose child has died, “well, at least you have other children”? Or, “You can have more children”? Or have your heard someone tell a person whose relationship has ended, “There are plenty more fish on the ocean!” Our careless words, intended to bring consolation, may sometimes do more harm that they can help.
In dealing with people who have experienced great loss, your presence is often more helpful than any words you may say. Later, after the funeral, when you visit those who are still going through the process of recovery from grief, let them talk about their loved one. In fact, encourage such conversation by asking about their loved ones – their favorite memories, etc. After six to twelve months, friends and family go back to their own life and routine and inadvertently leave those grieving alone. It is at those times that your presence and encouraging them to express their feelings and to talk about their loved ones can become one of the most helpful tools for healing.

A Prayer You May Say: Father, help us to become instruments of healing through our presence and through our heartfelt words.

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Scripture: (Job 14:12-15 NKJV)  So man lies down and does not rise. Till the heavens are no more, They will not awake Nor be roused from their sleep. {13} “Oh, that You would hide me in the grave, That You would conceal me until Your wrath is past, That You would appoint me a set time, and remember me! {14} If a man dies, shall he live again? All the days of my hard service I will wait, Till my change comes. {15} You shall call, and I will answer You; You shall desire the work of Your hands.

Observation: It is now time for Zophar, the third of Job’s consolation friends, to try to straighten him up.  Job responds to his accusations by declaring that he feels there’s nothing he could do to fight God, if God were angry with Him.  In chapter 13, verses 20-27 we can read his stirring, heart-felt prayer to God, opening his heart to Him.  And then in chapter 14, he expounds as to his understanding of what happens when a person dies; here are a few examples of his theology of the state of the dead:
10  But man dies and is laid away; Indeed he breathes his last And where is he?
11  As water disappears from the sea, And a river becomes parched and dries up,
12  So man lies down and does not rise. Till the heavens are no more, They will not awake Nor be roused from their sleep.
21  His sons come to honor, and he does not know it; They are brought low, and he does not perceive it.

He also expresses His hope in God and for the salvation He offers us all: My transgression is sealed up in a bag, And You cover my iniquity.(v.17)

Application: It’s amazing how well-intentioned, yet heartless, Job’s friends are.  They see their friend suffering through all of his losses, and yet instead of helping him through these tragedies, they assume the judgmental stand that wants to set people right and they set out to prove to Job that all he’s experiencing is the result of his own sin, and he would only repent, God might just forgive him.  Their accusations do not bring any consolation to Job.  In the same way, well-intentioned friends and relatives feel compelled to say something to their loved ones or friends who are terminally ill or who have lost a loved one, and at times use old cliches or explanations that do nothing to alleviate the pain.  The result may be more pain, more confusion, or if they are fortunate enough, they may not even remember what  has been said.  When you think of it, no explanation, no matter how good or theologically correct it may be, can take away a person’s pain.  What good is it to say to a mother who’s lost their child in a tragic accident, “God has a plan for you”?  Or how does it help someone dying of a terminal illness, “I know how you feel”?  Or how can it possibly help your widowed friend to hear the words, “One day you may find somebody else who’ll make you happy again”?
Several years ago I wrote an article which was published by the Adventist Review giving practical steps to take to help a friend or loved one who is dying of a terminal illness.  Here are the suggestions I offered:

1. The ministry of presence. Most people feel uncomfortable, maybe even afraid, to talk about death and dying. Therefore, when they hear that a friend, loved one, coworker, or schoolmate has been diagnosed with a terminal illness, they stay away. In reality, what you say is not what matters to the terminally ill person or their family, but rather the fact that you cared enough to come be with them. However, respect their privacy and always call beforehand. If they are in a hospital, you must not only respect visiting hours but also be conscious of the fact that those visiting hours may be the only time the family gets to spend with their loved ones. Make your visits brief.
2. Listen. More important than what you say is how much you listen. While most people’s greatest fear is not knowing what to say, if you go prepared to listen and let the terminally ill lead in the conversation, you might find that death is not all that’s on their mind. They just want someone to talk to.
3. Empathize, don’t proselytize. If the person who is dying does not share your beliefs, this is not the time to try to convert them to your belief system; to do so may cause more anxiety than assurance. For instance, several of my patients talked about going to heaven after their death. Rather than lecturing on the state of the dead, I would say something like “As Christians we have a special hope, don’t we?” or “That’s a comforting thought, isn’t it?”
4. Offer practical help. Many people take the easy way out at the end of a visit with the standard offer “If there’s anything I can do, just let me know.” The reality is that during these difficult times the challenge for the patient includes thinking about what needs to be done or asking someone to do it. It would be better to offer to do specific things for them–mow the lawn, wash clothes, or run errands such as grocery shopping. Sometimes an offer to stay with the person who is ill to relieve the caregiver for a few hours can be the welcome help they need.
5. Watch for special events. People who are terminally ill seem to have control over when, where, and how they die. One of my patients waited until the day after his daughter’s birthday, and the night he died he was so restless that his wife decided to sleep in the living room. When she woke up the next morning, he was dead. He had chosen not to die before or on his daughter’s birthday, and he didn’t want his wife to see him die. Others wait for loved ones’ or their own birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, baptisms, weddings, and other special occasions. Be aware of this fact as it may help you get an idea of when they might die.
6. Fear of dying or of death. One of my patients told me he was afraid. I asked him if he was afraid of death or of dying. He said, “I’m not afraid of death; I just don’t want to die in pain.” Most people are afraid of the dying process, and not of death itself. In his case I assured him that we in hospice would do all in our power to keep him comfortable and without pain or discomfort. That assurance helped him relax and enjoy the last few days of his life. If the person you’re visiting expresses such fears, clarify what the source of their fear is, and if they are uncomfortable or unable to answer, ask someone else who may be better able to answer.
7. Help them to die in peace. In hospice we have learned that those patients who struggle the most in their dying process seem to be the ones who have strained relationships with someone. It may help them to ask, “Is there someone you would like to see or talk to?” Offer to contact the person they’d like to speak with. If the other person is not willing to speak with the terminally ill patient, you can facilitate the expression of their feelings by offering options such as, “If you could talk to them, what would you tell them?” You may offer to help them write a letter that they can then choose to mail or burn, thus symbolizing their having taken the step of reconciliation. Many patients wait to die until after they see someone they care about, so you could offer to help make the contact.
Another way to help them die in peace is to pray for and with them. The medical field has come to recognize the benefits of praying for those who are ill. We need not feel the obligation to pray for healing; it does not reveal a lack of faith, but recognition of the inevitable. When I pray with and for members or patients who are terminally ill, I pray for comfort and peace, courage and strength, hope and renewal of love for themselves and for their loved ones.

Instruments of Peace
Dying can be a difficult and painful experience, or a special memory for their loved ones. You can be instrumental in making it as comfortable and comforting as possible by carefully doing for them what they need as they write the last chapter in their earthly life.

Prayer: Father, help us to be such instruments in Your hands that we may bring Your comfort, not so much by what we say but rather by what we do to help those experiencing illness, sadness, or pain.

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Scripture: Then the king was deeply moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept. And as he went, he said thus: “O my son Absalom; my son, my son Absalom; if only I had died in your place! O Absalom my son, my son!”    (2 Sam 18:33 NKJV)

Observation: Absalom had show his rebellious spirit when he killed his brother Amnon, albeit to avenge the rape of his sister at the hands of Amnon, and by sitting at the gate of the city in judgment as if he were the king.  That spirit of rebellion ripened into a coup d’état against his own father, King David.   But for Absalom it was not enough that he had routed his father, he wanted to destroy him completely, so he pursued him as David fled.  Among the things for which Absalom was known was a head full of long, thick hair.  While pursuing David, Absalom ran under the thick boughs of a terebinth tree, his hair got caught in them and he was left hanging in mid air exposed to the enemy.  Joab, David’s general, came and killed him there.
Joab sent news to David of Absalom’s death, and today’s text tell us of his reaction to the news.  And while Israel could have been celebrating the victory and the fact David could now return to Jerusalem, they all felt awkward by seeing the king mourning.  Joab chastised the king for not affirming the troops which protected him and who won this victory over those who were pursuing him.

Application: I have been told by those going through it that there is no more painful death than the death of a son or daughter, regardless of their age.  I remember being at the hospital with the mother of a stillborn child and a few months later in another room nearby with the parents of a three-year-old.  As a police chaplain I had to give a family the news of the tragic death on a motorcycle of their seventeen-year-old son and have officiated at the funeral of a forty-five year-old daughter who died of cancer.  During times like these and many others like them, the parents have told me again and again how that the death of their parents or a sibling or a dear friend was painful but their pain at losing a child was so much worse, almost unbearable.  Even if their son or daughter had left the fold, like Absalom, their death was nonetheless sad for their parents.
It seems like the right order of events should always be that as you get older and your parents age by the time they die you are old enough to accept it as a natural part of life.  I lost my dad when I was fifteen years old and my mom when I was 42 years old, and their deaths affected me in different ways.  At any rate, it is expected that at some point in time your parents will pass on.  But your child will always be younger than you and thus you don’t expect to have them die before you; it is not the normal way of life.  For Adam and Eve, the murder of their son Abel, particularly at the hand of his brother Cain, must have been horrible.  For David the death of his first son with bathsheba and not of Absalom was most painful.  For God the death of His Son Jesus must have been most difficult.  And yet, he experiences the death of so many of His children every single day!  That’s why during the difficult, painful days following the death of a child we can find comfort in Him who truly knows what it is like to loose a child.  And with God, it’s not just the He understands, but somehow He also brings the healing we need.

Prayer: Father, I pray none of us ever experience the death of one of our children; bless them and protect them.  For those who have, bless them and comfort them, and may Your comforting, loving arms surround them during their time of mourning until healing comes.

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Scripture: (Gen 24:2-4 NKJV)  So Abraham said to the oldest servant of his house, who ruled over all that he had, “Please, put your hand under my thigh, {3} “and I will make you swear by the LORD, the God of heaven and the God of the earth, that you will not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I dwell; {4} “but you shall go to my country and to my family, and take a wife for my son Isaac.”

Observation: Abraham is getting old and wants to make sure the promise that God made him of a long posterity would indeed be properly fulfilled through his son Isaac.  In order to ensure that Issac and his descendants would be followers of the same God and not be sidetracked by the practices and the people of the land, Abraham asked his servant to go back home and find a wife for Issac from his own people.  It’s obvious that Abraham’s servant had learned from his master about God and was also a true believer in the God of the universe; this is evident by his life of worship and prayer as he took on this journey and responsibility.  We know from the story how he met Rebekah, her family’s reaction and agreement with the news and request, and her own eager response to marry Issac and make the trip to become his wife.

Application: Even in an age of arranged marriages, Abraham understood the importance of compatibility, particularly in several areas.  The more things a couple has in common, the more compatible they will be in important areas of their life such as faith, family, parenting, communication, conflict resolution, financial management, etc.  This does not mean that they have to think alike in every way, but it sure is nice when you and your spouse can have more in common than when you have very little in common to help you build a stronger relationship.  Through the prophet Amos God said, (Amos 3:3 NKJV) “Can two walk together, unless they are agreed?”  While some people firmly believe that opposites attract, a book I read many years ago also remind us that often “opposites attack,” which is the cause for so much of the headache, conflict, abuse, and divorce nowadays.
At the end of this part of the story we read, (Gen 24:67 NKJV) “Then Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent; and he took Rebekah and she became his wife, and he loved her. So Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.”  The results of Abraham’s plan for Issac and of Issac and Rebekah accepting it were very positive for both:
1. Issac loved Rebekah – what every woman wishes from her husband, to be loved, cared for, nurtured, and protected by him.
2. Issac was comforted after his mother’s death – Rebekah was also a true comfort and encourager for her husband, her cheerleader, her strength during his most vulnerable moments.
3. The lineage of faith continued through Issac to his children.  This is what Paul writes about in 2 Corinthians  6:14 (NKJV) “Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness?”
Look for compatibility in the most critical areas of life and your changes for a successful, fulfilling, loving relationship will increase.

Prayer: Father, guide us to the person You would have for us, and help us to be the person who would be best for them.

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