After 5 ½ years, I finally walked in my graduation ceremony at Missouri State University. I technically graduated in May, but COVID resulted in a delayed ceremony.
I entered college in the fall of 2015, and it all feels like a century ago. And yet I remember it all so clearly—the all-nighters, the pre-exam dread, the panic attacks when I didn’t get my desired grade on an assignment, the shortness of breath after rushing across campus to get to back-to-back classes in time. I could possibly write a book about my college experience because I took a wide range of challenging courses, had unusual and interesting encounters with students and classmates, and managed to get through it all unscathed. But also slightly traumatized.
The most important accomplishment after 5 ½ years of attending liberal colleges is (as some have told me) that I kept my faith through it all. Indeed, I left college this past May with a stronger understanding of who I am in Christ than I had when I entered college in 2015. There were moments when classmates openly ridiculed conservative and Christian beliefs as though they assumed no one in the room held those beliefs. There were liberal professors who taught ideologies and theories counter to what I believe, but I was always able to discern between the truth and a lie. God kept my mind stayed on Him through it all. There were even so many moments when I was positive I wouldn’t pass a test or keep a 4.0 (which meant the world to me), but every time, I prayed, didn’t give up, and trusted God to take care of it. And He did.
You see, I can’t do anything on my own—pass a test, write a great paper, or withstand others’ ridicule and challenges of my beliefs.
But through Christ, I can do all those things.
I firmly believe that He is the reason I made it this far when I was depressed and burned out from college in 2018. He is the reason I persevered and was able to graduate. He is the reason I can testify today that no amount of secular teaching ever caused me to waver in my faith and belief in Him. The more college exposed me to worldly spirits and points of view, the closer He pulled me to Him because I kept praying and kept believing in Him.
Prayer and perseverance.
If you’re in college right now or thinking of going to college someday soon, be encouraged that you can make it through and finish strong. Don’t stop praying. Don’t stop studying His Word. Don’t stop going to church.
Just breathe. You will make it.
Pray. (Give your cares to God.)
Every single day take it step by step and day by day. Pretty soon, you’ll be looking back over that finish line, relieved that you made it and rejoicing in God for carrying you through.
It’s that magical time of year when Christmas music echoes from loud speakers in malls, grocery stores, and town squares, creating an atmosphere of joy and cheer or at least reminding rushed shoppers of how soon Christmas will be here and of how little time they have left to check off the Christmas gifts on their list. I love it all—the Christmas tunes, the jingling of the bells that mall Santas carry, the countdown to Christmas day. Every year, I gleefully wrap Christmas gifts as Christmas songs play on my Pandora station, and I excitedly make fudge, yule log cake, Christmas cookies, and apple tart with “White Christmas” and other popular songs on in the background. Yes, Christmas music is an essential part of my holiday traditions. But there’s more to Christmas than presents and baking, because, of course, we celebrate Christmas to commemorate Christ’s first coming—His birth as our Savior.
I love finding new Christmas songs that worship Jesus and bring to mind how He came from a throne in Heaven to live here on earth and die for us so that we don’t have to pay the price for our sins. He already paid it. His decision as our Creator to love us unconditionally and die for us never ceases to amaze me.
We’re unworthy. Undeserving. But He came anyway.
This season is a reminder of the fact that God is love. Jesus loves us more than we could ever fathom, and when we celebrate Christmas and His birth, we’re also celebrating the fact that He will come again someday soon to take us from this dark and sinful world to live with Him forever.
Here are ten of my top Christmas worship songs that I listen to this season to celebrate His birth and unconditional love for us. Whether you’re in your car or wrapping Christmas gifts, add them to your playlist and worship along! If there are any other Christmas worship songs on your favorites list, let me know in the comments below!
This may be the question we ask God the most. Why did “x” have to happen? Why couldn’t I have gotten that job? Why did you let me fail that test when I studied so hard? Why did so-and-so have to die? Why are you letting bad things happen to me? Why, why, why?
We wonder, we fret, we pity ourselves, and we ask “why, God?” until our eyes are swollen, and depression consumes our spirit. We see through a glass darkly, so we sometimes cannot see that there is always a purpose behind our pain. Ah, yes—the statement no one wants to hear when they’re going through something, but we humans often only learn things the hard way, especially young adults, and our struggles exist to make us stronger if for no other reason.
Physical pain can be a good thing. It tells us that something is wrong and that we may need medical attention. When I was diagnosed with diabetes, I never felt a literal pain as in aching bones, but I felt a mental pain. I was fatigued and nauseous (among other things), and the very sight of my weary self signaled to others, like the receptionist at urgent care, that something was wrong with me. Miserable is the word I typically use to describe how I felt then, but if I hadn’t felt that way, I might not have known for quite some time that I had diabetes. My pain served a purpose, but it’s often emotional pain that is the hardest to see through and understand.
During and after the spring semester in 2018, I felt an emotional and spiritual exhaustion that threw me out of sorts, and it set me on a path to realign my focus. I had just entered a four-year university to get my bachelor’s degree, and the shift in the atmosphere from a small community college to a very liberal university was palpable. All semester, I was stressed from classwork that involved treating subjective, liberal studies as legitimate, evidence-based coursework, which greatly conflicted with my conservative and Christian beliefs. But I felt an exhaustion deeper than simple stress due to papers and exams, and it escalated that summer.
Never before had I been tired literally every day. It is an understatement to say that I slept a lot. Practically all I wanted to do was sleep, and when I wasn’t sleeping, I was tired and disturbed in my spirit. I loathed college—loathed it—for the atmosphere and for its inefficient system, and I knew I simply couldn’t continue college past a bachelor’s degree to get two master’s degrees (long story there, but that’s where I was headed) in order to teach college English and write professionally. I was done. I was miserable. I was lost. It’s only now after having finally finished college that I have come to truly appreciate the experience for what it taught me and how it helped me grow.
After realizing I didn’t want to continue the path to becoming a full-time English professor in this liberal society, I prayed (a lot), and I looked to different avenues. I made an alternate plan to apply for work at a local publishing company after graduation, but then COVID happened. The company went on a hiring freeze. Great. I scoured the internet for job openings in editing, tutoring, and copywriting, and by the grace of God, I found a company that was hiring part-time tutors. The future is still uncertain, but all of my searching and pain and misery and growth has helped me grasp a simple concept that I hadn’t realized I didn’t truly “get” until I went through something difficult: trust God.
Sometimes, we don’t truly understand a concept or truth until we have no other choice but to embrace it head on. C.S. Lewis once said that “God allows us to experience the low points of life in order to teach us lessons that we could learn in no other way.” Of course, having grown up in church, I’ve always known we should trust in God to guide us through life, but somehow, I’d formed my own contingency plans for everything to get where I wanted and expected everything to work out as I planned—until it didn’t. I can look back now at all those moments I was worried and miserable and exhausted to my core and understand that God let me go through those things to teach me that no matter what happens in my life, I still need to trust in Him and let Him take the reigns of my life, that I need to believe it’s okay when things don’t go my way, that if something tragic happens, I am going to make it as long as I trust in Him.
I still wonder why things happen sometimes. But now I understand that I am not alone in whatever trial I’m going through. Whatever happens—no matter what happens—I can rest in the assurance I have in Jesus. It’s okay to be not okay. It’s okay to wonder about why things happen, because in those moments, God fills me with His Peace and whispers, “trust me,” and He draws me closer to Him than I’ve been before.
Today is a day of giving—giving to others to support them and build up our communities. That’s what “giving Tuesday” is about. We seek to build a more generous and caring world. Unfortunately, this is in direct conflict with human nature, which seeks to gain material things for the self and neglects the needs of others. Of course, it is the Spirit of God within us that helps us overcome our selfish nature and give to others. You know how when you’re a kid, and you’re really excited about getting things on Christmas morning, but when you get older, somehow that aspect isn’t as important anymore? As we mature, we naturally (hopefully) come to understand and embrace the concept of giving to others rather than getting. Case in point: yours truly.
8-year-old me was obsessed with presents and sneaking a peek before Christmas at the toys my parents bought me that they had hid in the corner of their bedroom closet.
“For shame, Caitlin, had you no self-control?” you might wonder.
And, no, I did not. I was eight, and I remember specifically asking for a basketball for Christmas so I could dribble it on our back patio (why I’ll never know since I’ve never been drawn to sports or even remotely coordinated in that area). 8-year-old me was anxious—nay, ecstatic at the thought of opening up my gift, wondering whether my parents had agreed to meet my request. I was, admittedly, a greedy little child. As I pulled back the paper hiding my special gift in the corner of my parent’s closet, I gazed with glazed over eyes at the bright orange orb with black stripes. I imagine my glee resembled that of the European conquerors when they came to Central America in the 1500s in search of gold.
“Behold! This brass, shiny object is more beautiful than chainmail sparkling in the moonlight! I must have it!”
But alas! My pleasure at the sight of the brand-new basketball in my parents’ closet was short-lived when my sister (the fiend!) stomped into sight and called my name, bringing attention to my clandestine meeting with my gift to our mother’s attention. Though I still unwrapped the basketball on Christmas morning, I never again sneaked a peek at my Christmas gifts. Once, I cared only about what I would get for Christmas. Naturally, the older I became, the more invested in others I became.
You see, my sister and I have a stocking stuffer tradition. While some families have always stuffed stockings and opened them on Christmas morning, this has never been a tradition in my household until my sister and I decided to try it two years ago. It has become a challenge each year to come up with small gifts (some practical, some cutesy) to fill up each stocking, but the real delight isn’t in finding out what each of us received in our stocking—it’s in seeing each other’s delight at what we put in each other’s stocking. In short, it’s about giving, of which I learned the joy with experience as I got older and began to invest in others.
Giving requires us to think about others more than ourselves. What does so-and-so want? What do they need? What would make them happy? And then we give to them whatever fits into those categories, be it quality time or a special gift of sentimental value. Giving trains our naturally selfish minds to think less about ourselves. The more we give, the easier it becomes. The more we give, the more we reflect Christ.
After all, He gave His life so that we might have life and have it more abundantly. But He didn’t die on a cross and rise again so that we could only invest in ourselves and in our life on earth. Christmas is a season of giving to others, yes, but I believe it is also a season to remember why we give and what we must give back to Him.
There’s a popular Christian song that says, “I give myself away.” Our lives are not our own. We give ourselves up to Him—our time, talents, and treasures—so that He can use us to glorify Him and help people come to know Him. For me, this concept solidified in my mind when I learned I must give up my dreams and desires to Him. We want what we want, right? Sometimes, we often think what God wants for us is something we won’t like, and so we stubbornly hold onto our wants. But the Kingdom of God is not full of people who only focus on their own desires and plans, and what God wants for us will give us more joy and fulfillment than we could ever imagine. When we learn to put our focus on what He wants and what others want and need, we become effective workers in the Kingdom of God.
“Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver.” ~2 Corinthians 9:7
30% off sales galore On toys and clothes from every store! Hurry to get them before they’re all gone When the Black Friday shoppers battle at dawn! Shopping carts clash and fights become petty; You buy all the things but run out of money.
~a poem by yours truly. Quite Shakespearean, don’t you think?
Black Friday has commenced once again, and I may have bought fuzzy socks on sale, but even I have to remind myself every year that “things” are not why we’re here. If we’re not careful, we can become obsessed with buying and acquiring all the things we think we want–shoes, appliances, boats, new hunting gear, or whatever we’ve set our sights on. Before we know it, materialism has consumed our pocketbook and corrupted our sense of value. Many consumers wind up finding their happiness in the things they acquire as though they’ve won trophies and have elevated their own social status.
But we do tend to equate a person’s value with the things they own or the amount of money they have. If a person has a bigger house, better car, or money for elaborate vacations every year, we think they’re more important or special than us. They mean more because they’re “worth” more. However, our value is not found in things but in our salvation and in Christ. This material, physical, tangible world will not remain forever, and sometimes we must remind ourselves not to make idols of the things we may possess.
(19) “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: (20) But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:”
~Matthew 6:19-20, KJV
Although shopping in itself is not an evil thing and neither is money, it is the love of money that is the root of all evil. Instead of finding our value in the things we can’t take with us to Heaven, we must remember that to God we are all worth saving in spite of what we may or may not have. The poor man is as special and valuable to God as the rich man. Our home is in Heaven and our worth is in Christ. So, while all the things we may have are okay and are often gifts from God, they are not what determines our value in life.
I love clothes and shoes and hats like many girls, but I know that whether I’m wearing that expensive, pretty, new dress that is all the rave or not, my worth does not change to God. I know that we should all instead strive to remind ourselves this time of year to remember what’s truly important and why we’re celebrating this season. We celebrate Christmas not for the things we can buy but to commemorate the birth of the One who thought we were worth saving. Jesus came to save the poor, the lost, the broken, the lonely, the hurting. He is our treasure, and Heaven is our goal.
“Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.”
It’s difficult to feel thankful when your year has been full of disappointments and heartbreak.
COVID isn’t the only thing that has taken people’s lives this year. Many have lost loved ones to violence, cancer, heart disease, and car accidents. Strict lockdowns due to coronavirus restrictions are keeping families apart and have canceled many church services and events. This has been a tumultuous year, but it is especially important to give thanks during times of trouble to remind us that we are still a blessed people.
In November, many churchgoers often recount the things that have happened to them or the people in their lives that they are thankful for. Even though 2020 has been less than stellar, I think it’s fitting that we recount our own blessings in spite of all the devil has thrown at us this year. So, here are five things we can be thankful for in 2020.
1. Quality Time
How many have spent a lot of time with family members or roommates this year because you’re working from home or are going to school online? I certainly have, and it’s been both a blessing and a…well, it’s been memorable to say the least! My family and I are often tired of each other’s presence when we’re the only people each of us ever spend time with these days, but it isn’t something anyone should take for granted. For many people, work, school, and special events have taken their attention away from quality time with family, but 2020 has allowed us to be with our parents, siblings, or roommates more and (hopefully) helped us come to appreciate more time to chat and eat dinner with loved ones.
We’ve also had more quality time to work on our relationship with God. He is the most important One in our lives, but it is easy for our jobs and schoolwork to distract us from spending enough time with Him. I know that since the lockdowns began, I’ve had much more time to plan out time spent studying His Word and more time in the mornings or throughout my day to pray. Prayer is essential to our walk with God, and I’m certainly thankful for more time with Him this year to work on my relationship with Him and grow spiritually.
2. A Slower Pace
Before 2020, things were go-go-go 24/7 for 365 days of the year for many of us. Once lockdowns began in March and school moved online and businesses sent employees home to work and church services went online and church and community leaders canceled events, life really s l o w e d down. I began to miss going places and doing things—well, as often as I used to, which wasn’t very often for this introvert.
When we speak of a time with a slower pace, many minds go to a good fifty years ago and perhaps much further back than that. We think of a time when people weren’t rushing everywhere, whether to work or social events or school, weren’t home late after attending meetings or shopping, weren’t always busy with thinking of the next school event or the next work meeting or the next convention or the next big service to plan. For many of us, and for me especially, 2020 fits that criteria of a slower pace, and it’s given us the ability to appreciate other things in life that we were perhaps too busy to notice before. Things like an extra hour or two in the evenings to relax and read a book. Things like more time on the weekends to clean or plan an activity at home with your children. Things like time to deep clean the house or prepare an intricate meal every evening. Things for which we were often too busy before 2020.
Church is essential, but in 2020, the enemy has targeted the church more specifically this year with lockdowns and orders that claim the church isn’t essential and that congregants must only meet for church virtually. Of course, I am very thankful for the technology we have to meet online and hear our ministers preach a Word from the Lord through our screens. We’re blessed to be able to continue having church and sharing our online services with others even if it isn’t in person. However, we cannot forsake the assembling of ourselves together (see Hebrews 10:25). Thankfully, many churches have been able to meet again in person throughout this year, even if it’s been sporadic, and churches have become very creative with finding ways to meet in person, whether it’s in the church parking lot or in someone’s yard. Online church simply is not the same and is not sufficient for the body of Christ. I am tremendously thankful for the people of God this year and for being able to meet in person to hear from the Lord and worship with fellow believers in Christ. If 2020 has reminded us of anything, it’s that we must never take the church for granted.
4. That God is Our Healer
The COVID epidemic has reminded many people this year of how frail and fragile human life is. Our lives are like a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away (see James 4:14). We can get sick, and we can die, but God can never die. He lives forever and has all power, and amazingly, He loves us enough to use His power to heal our fragile, earthly bodies and extend our lives here on earth so we can spend more time with loved ones and fulfill His Purpose for us. He also loves us enough to free us from our earthly burdens if He chooses and let us go into our rest before the trumpet sounds and we rise again to meet Him in the sky. Our lives are in His hands. This year, I am thankful that He has healed so many from COVID, including myself and my family, and from other diseases and injuries. Our human frailties may be discouraging, but let them instead be a reminder of how great our God is, for He has no frailties!
5. His Promises
The promises of the Lord are yes and amen. Whatever He says He will do, rest assured that He will do it. He has promised that He will never leave nor forsake us (see Hebrews 13:5), that the seasons and day and night would always be while the earth remains (see Genesis 8:22), that He will supply all our needs (see Philippians 4:19), that His grace is sufficient for us (see 2 Corinthians 12:9), that when He sets us free we are free indeed (see 8:36), and that we have eternal life through Christ (Titus 1:2). His promises are forever because His Word is forever, and I am thankful after all the turmoil of this year that we still have hope in Jesus!
No matter what unpleasant surprises 2020 may have brought you, dear reader, I hope you can still find within yourself the ability to thank God for His promises and blessings. God truly has blessed His people, and we are lucky each day to wake up and have another day to live for Him and spend time with the loved ones He has placed in our lives.
Oh, how I could write a sonnet about 2020 and all the many unpleasant surprises it has thrown my way. After all the cancelled events and meetings and social and political pandemonium, I’m not sure a soul exists who now doesn’t relate to the phrase “life doesn’t always go according to plan.” In fact, 2020 wasn’t the first year I learned this lesson.
I first became very well acquainted with life’s curve balls when I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in 2013 during my first semester of college. After that, I thought I was an expert on handling surprises and disappointments. Little did I know then. The seasons of life change more often than, well, the seasons. (Yes, I thought that was rather poetic, too.) I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s looked back this year on the previous “worst years my life” and thought, “Look how sweet and ignorant I was then, getting all bent out of shape over practically nothing. So naïve. So clueless. What I wouldn’t give to have that year back!” I was excited for 2020 until it robbed me of a normal graduation and graduation gift (a week-long vacation in beautiful Charleston, South Carolina) and of all the plans I’d made for this year.
2020 retaught me a lesson I thought I’d learned to its completion, but it turns out I’d only heard half the lesson. Life doesn’t go the way you want it to. I understood that. You’ll have to have contingency plans in place when things fall apart. Okay, got that. You might become depressed and anxious while walking through a barren, dry desert wilderness and may want to be bitter and angry about everything and turn back the clock to before when you were happy and ignorant and unaware and when everything was peachy, but you can’t let yourself be that way or else you’ll be lost in a chasm of doom forever—
—wait, how’s that now?
Seems a little over the top, but alas, I had let disappointments distract me and make me more frustrated with life than I had ever been. Before 2020, I thought I understood how to deal with disappointment and the unexpected, but I had only learned how to bottle up my feelings and fill myself with childish hope of how I might still “get my way” eventually. Such are the notions of a control freak. I still had to learn how to accept disappointments and (here’s the kicker) make the most of my circumstances anyway.
I honestly didn’t even realize I’d learned this lesson this year until the Christmas season arrived. Sigh, the most wonderful time of the year. You see, after all the cancelled church services and special plans and in the face of more altered plans, I resolved not to let 2020 steal my merry Christmas. Things still aren’t going exactly the way I would prefer, but frankly, I’m tired of letting disappointments make me angry and miserable. Christmas is supposed to be a happy and exciting time of year when we celebrate the birth of our Savior and spend quality time with loved ones. This Christmas will be different, yes, but I’m going to ensure I enjoy every single millisecond of it. This year has been ridiculous for all of us.
So, I encourage you if you’re down about cancelled plans or new disappointments because of COVID or lockdowns, don’t let this year take away any more of your joy or your resolve to enjoy life. God has a plan amidst all of 2020’s disappointments for you to prosper. There’s another common cliché that applies here: let go and let God. Believe me, as someone who’s like a dog with a bone when it comes to control, I know the difficulty that comes with letting go of your frustration over disappointments and wanting to change things yourself. For the sake of ensuring this year ends on a better note for you and your family, I encourage whoever is reading this to trust God, give all your anxiety and frustration to Him, and go all out for the holidays.
Really, be extra with the holiday décor.
Blast the Christmas music.
Soak in every second of chatting with friends and family.
Savor every worship service and message preached.
Rest in His Presence in every prayer and every quiet moment.
2020 is almost over. You will make it, and you know what? You might even be grateful for 2020 for making you cherish the little things you took for granted and for inspiring you to live for God more boldly and joyfully than ever before.
“This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.” Psalm 118:24 (KJV)
There’s something about staring at a blank page that’s like prayer. I don’t know what words to put on paper, and so I stare at the white space and blinking cursor, practically asking it what I should write. But the more I stare, the more focused on the white space I become, and my mind goes blank. It’s happened to me in prayer before.
“God, what should I do? What’s my next move? What should I do in x situation?”
And then I listen to what seems deafening silence. Pretty soon, that ringing in my ears fills the silence. And then it gets annoying, and I talk some more to cover the sound.
How does one hear the voice of God? I struggled with this a lot in my late teen years and through college. I still struggle with it. When your mind is so busy, it’s hard to tune out all the noise or pay attention to anything other than the blank “white space.” My prayer sessions were a one-way radio. A monologue. There I was at my Shakespearean best, talking to God, asking questions, answering my own questions, getting distracted by my own ramblings, and then my time expired, and it was time to move onto the next scene.
Then, a few years ago, I heard a friend of mine say something so simple and obvious at the right moment that made the concept of talking to God finally click in my mind.
“It’s a relationship.”
Well, duh, Caitie. It was a lightbulb moment that came as I had become burnt out with college and needed direction in my life. In those moments, you need to hear God’s direction for you. My friend continued.
“I talk to God throughout my day, whether it’s in my car or walking down the hall at school or work or wherever. If I get up late and rush around for work, I’ll make sure I talk to God on the way to work.”
As she spoke, I mulled over the concept. It’s not about trying to “fit” God in. It’s a relationship. How did I get so close to my sister or others in my life? Constant communication. A two-way radio. A dialogue. If I could do that with my family and friends, then I could establish a relationship with God.
I’m a scientific person. Processes, research, hypotheses, formulas—they’re how I take in and understand information. Tell me how something’s done, and I’ll review the process and make plans for implementation. So, I applied the concept of taking time to create a real relationship with God. I began to see my time with God as an opportunity to get to know Him. The results of my actions led to an obvious conclusion that I needed to reach in order to fully understand—the more time I spent with God, truly seeking Him, the more I began to understand what His Presence feels like and how to listen for His voice. A novel concept, I know, but sometimes, your mind gets so hectic that it’s difficult to understand concepts that come naturally to others (like clearing your mind to focus on God during prayer).
I still have my bad days—days during which I’ve let my brain scream at me for hours on end that by the time I sit down to pray, all I hear is a bunch of pots and pans banging around in my skull and then white space—but I also have good days. Those are the days when I’ve prioritized my time wisely, let my mind focus on things above, and went to God with a genuine desire to hear from Him and feel His Presence. Those are the days I feel I’m making progress, getting to know Him more, becoming a little more of the person I need to be. Those are the days I try to remember on the bad days to inspire me to make more days like those days. Those are the days when I get done with prayer and realize how much time has passed as I’ve prayed, and I’m amazed.
It’s like looking back at the beginning of the first page when you began writing and seeing how much you filled the white space. You get lost in the moment, and before you know it, you find the exact words to say, and you know exactly what you’re supposed to do. You’ve connected, and suddenly the white space and deafening silence doesn’t seem so intimidating anymore because you know when you begin the next time, you’ll tune in to the right frequency if you persist. After all, “…the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (James 5:16, KJV).
When I drive through Springfield, Missouri, I see a sign on East Sunshine that says, “Love God, love people—on purpose.”
Two basic commands in life are to love God and to love our fellow man. We love God because He first loved us, and with the love of God in us, we are able to love others. I believe this applies to other acts of love, such as comfort.
Last week, we covered how “comfort” in the New Testament relates to the theme that we have hope in Jesus because He calls us near to Him. This theme continues throughout the New Testament. 2 Corinthians 7:6 says, “Nevertheless God, that comforteth those that are cast down, comforted us by the coming of Titus.” “Comforteth” comes from the Greek word parakaleō, which as you may recall from last week’s post means “to call near.” “Cast down” translates from the Greek word tapeinos (pronounced “tap-i-nos’”), which means “depressed, humiliated (in circumstances or disposition), of low degree (estate), lowly.” We know we are an unworthy and lowly people, and we are often in despair, but God calls the lowly near to Him.
Romans 15:4-5 (KJV)
4 “For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
5 Now the God of patience and consolation grant you to be likeminded one toward another according to Christ Jesus.”
Paul is telling the Christians of the church of Rome that the Word of God was written to teach and instruct us in the doctrine. Here, “learning” in Greek is didaskalia, which means “instruction, doctrine, or teaching.” In fact, he says the endurance and constancy (which is from hupomonē, the Greek word for patience in this verse) and the comfort of the Scriptures gives us hope or confidence (according to the translation of hope in the Greek, which is elpis). In the next verse, Paul calls God the “God of patience and consolation.” Since God is the Word and the Word is with and is God, both He and His Word literally are our source of comfort and hope. And that source of comfort and hope endures forever. No matter what we may go through, we are never without the comfort of God and hope within His Word. But the comfort of God and the hope we have because of His comfort is not the only theme that accompanies this word in the New Testament.
Just as the love of God helps us love others, God comforts us so that we can comfort others.
2 Corinthians 1:3-6 (KJV)
3 “Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort;
4 Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.
5 For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth in Christ.
6 And whether we be afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effectual in the enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer: or whether we be comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation.”
God is our Father Who comforts us in every troublesome situation. Here, “comforteth” again means “to call near.” When burdens, trials, and afflictions persecute us, God calls us near to Him. However, He comforts us so that we might be able to receive strength from and confidence in Him as well as comfort others. We may suffer for striving to live righteously, but God gives us an excess of consolation. “Abound” and “aboundeth” here come from the Greek perisseuo, which means “to be in excess, abundance, to increase, and to remain.” Paul and the early church suffered greatly for serving Christ. My Apostolic Study Bible says this about this passage: “Paul and the church at Corinth had shared in Christ’s sufferings. God’s merciful deliverance of Paul from his tribulation served as an encouragement to the Corinthians that He would deliver them also.” When we suffer, we do so for the cause of Christ. Though our sufferings are in abundance, so is God’s comfort and mercy. He delivered Paul from difficulty to encourage others in the same way that He still delivers us today to encourage others. We experience difficulty and the comfort of the Lord so that we can learn how to be a comfort to others in their time of difficulty. So, not only do we receive comfort from God, but we receive comfort from one another.
On numerous occasions, the Lord commands His people through the apostles to comfort each other. In 1 Thessalonians chapter 4, the apostle Paul instructs the church at Thessalonica to comfort each other with the promise of eternal life through Jesus Christ:
1 Thessalonians 4:16-18 (KJV)
16 “For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first:
17 Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.
18 Wherefore comfort one another with these words.”
Again, “comfort” here comes from parakaleō. Another meaning of this word is “to exhort,” which means to encourage someone. In the Apostolic Study Bible, the notes for these verses discuss the church’s responsibility to “offer encouragement and comfort to those who are grieving,” for “the return of Christ means we do not need to grieve as those who are hopeless.” The next chapter contains two more commands to comfort:
1 Thessalonians 5:11, 14 (KJV)
11 “Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, even as also ye do.
14 Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all men.”
We comfort one another by building up each other. “Edify” from the Greek word oikodomeō (pronounced “oy-kod-om-eh’-o”) means “to construct or (figuratively) confirm, build (up), embolden.” In verse 14, “comfort” comes from the Greek word paramutheomai (“par-am-oo-theh’-om-ahee”), which means “to relate near, that is (by implication), encourage, console.” These verses and the verses that follow contain several practical instructions (such as “pray without ceasing” in verse 17) to believers on how to live righteously and ethically so that we can make it to Heaven. Among these instructions is the command to encourage the “feebleminded,” that is the “little spirited” or “faint hearted” according to the translation of the original Greek word oligopsuchos (“ol-ig-op’-soo-khos”). We must support and give encouragement to those who are weary among us because God has done the same for us. We are nothing without God, and in the midst of trials, we cannot rely on ourselves for strength. God is our strength and comfort. If He does this all for us, then we should offer the same for others.
Some of the last messages about comfort in the New Testament speak of the church comforting each other. In the face of trials and persecution, the church stands united so long as we comfort and give strength to one another. As we well know, a house divided against itself cannot stand. In this time that the church is facing its fiercest opposition, we cannot afford to allow ourselves to become prejudiced toward each other and fail in our responsibility to lift our brothers and sisters up to God in prayer. The early church faced persecution from the enemy, and so Paul instructed them to encourage each other. Likewise, in these last days, the church is again facing persecution and opposition all over the world, but we still have that same command to be a comfort to each other. Our end goal—our ultimate goal is Heaven, and we work daily to live righteously so that we can all make it there.
As the children of God, we are never alone in our difficulties. As the Word teaches us about comfort, from the Old Testament to the New, we receive our strength and comfort from two places: from God and from the church. He comforts the weary so that we can comfort our weary fellow believers. He consoles the broken hearted so that the church can give consolation to the broken hearted. He calls us near to Him so that we can bind together with each other and lift up the depressed and hurting in our communities. His strength is our strength, His comfort is our hope, and our responsibility is to comfort each other with the news of eternal life through Him.
“2020 has been consistent,” a friend of mine recently said.
It began crazy, became wild, and is wrapping up in a confusing maelstrom of insanity. This past week has proven just that.
As my family and I went into election week, COVID hit us and many we know. At first, it felt like things were collapsing. There’s a picture somewhere on the internet of a room on fire and a person standing numbly in the midst of it, unable to stop the chaos and practically accustomed to it. That’s where I was at the beginning of the week. I had planned on writing more posts for BPR by Sunday, but COVID upended my plans.
And now insanity has upended the US election. And here I sat, trying to catch up on posts that I was already supposed to have finished and posted for everyone to read so I could move into the next post series I’ve been preparing. But everything has a purpose. I began to wonder. What if I wasn’t supposed to finish these posts by earlier this week? What if, in the middle of all the craziness of post-election day, someone somewhere needs this reminder of God’s comfort now instead? What if the crazy things that happen in our life are orchestrated by God with a purpose? If God is the orchestrator of our life, and He is, then nothing happens that God does not know about and allow for a divine reason. This means He is in control. This means He hasn’t left us alone. This means that no matter what else happens, Jesus is our only hope.
We may be stressed to tears over struggling to do the things God has called us to do in this pandemic-obsessed and divided nation. We may be saddened over the loss of loved ones due to COVID or the news of loved ones infected with the virus, but our circumstances do not place us at a disadvantage.
“Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.” ~Matthew 5:4 (KJV)
Despite our sadness and struggles, we are blessed. “Blessed” translates to makarios in the original Greek translation of this verse, which means “supremely blest, fortunate, well off, happy (-ier).” We are a fortunate people even though we mourn. “Mourn” comes from the Greek entheō (pronounced “pen-theh’-o”) and means “to grieve (the feeling or the act); bewail/wail.” We may be grieving and wailing in our grief, but we are still well off. Why? Because God calls us near to Him. “Comforted” in this verse comes from the Greek word parakaleō, which means “to call near, that is, invite; invoke by imploration, hortation, or consolation; beseech, call for; be of good comfort; give exhortation; intreat.” In other words, those who grieve are blessed because God shall give them comfort and consolation. Even though we grieve and mourn, we are still fortunate because in those moments of grief, God calls us near to Him and comforts us. Therefore, even in the midst of our grief, we can find joy in knowing God will invite us closer to Him. We have hope in Jesus. That He is our Hope is not the only lesson I discovered when studying comfort in the New Testament.
 “And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever;
 I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.” ~John 14:16, 18 (KJV)
God, our Comforter, does not only draw us to him, but He comes to us! In John 14:16, “Comforter” translates in the Greek to paraklētos, meaning “intercessor, consoler, advocate.” “Comfortless” in verse 18 comes from the Greek word orphanos, which means “bereaved (orphan), that is, parentless, fatherless.” Jesus is speaking in these verses, telling His disciples that He would send an intercessor or advocate to dwell with them forever. He said again that He would not forsake them or leave them without comfort or a Father but that He would come to them. My Apostolic Study Bible says the following about these verses: “While Jesus would soon leave His disciples physically, this “Spirit of truth,” which was now with them and was invisible to the world, would dwell within them…. The Spirit that indwelt Jesus was the Comforter. He would not forsake them, leaving them…as ‘orphans,’ but would ‘come to’ them.” In verse 18, “I will come” is from the Greek word erchomai that is only used in the present and imperfect tense, meaning that Jesus wasn’t just telling the disciples then that He wouldn’t leave them but that this still applies to us today. Through the Presence of God’s Spirit, He comes to us and dwells with us. We find comfort in the Presence of God, which in turn gives us strength.
“Then had the churches rest throughout all Judaea and Galilee and Samaria, and were edified; and walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, were multiplied.” ~Acts 9:31 (KJV)
Here, through Barnabas’ testimony, God calmed the disciples and helped them trust Saul (who had been persecuting them before his conversion). Now that their persecutor was one of them and was preaching the Gospel, they had some rest because God’s Spirit, the Comforter, gave them rest and edified them. In the comfort of the Spirit, they boldly served God and grew. “Rest” in Greek is eirēnē (pronounced “i-rah’-nay). This means “peace, prosperity, quietness.” We translate “edified” from the Greek word oikodomeō (pronounced “oy-kod-om-eh’-o”), which means “to be a house builder, that is, construct or confirm, build up, embolden.” The comfort of the Holy Ghost, God’s Spirit, gives us peace and prosperity, literally enabling us to build each other up, grow His Kingdom, and walk boldly in serving the Lord. Serving Him comes with a process, however, on which Matthew 9:20-22 sheds some light:
 “And, behold, a woman, which was diseased with an issue of blood twelve years, came behind him, and touched the hem of his garment:
 For she said within herself, If I may but touch his garment, I shall be whole.
 But Jesus turned him about, and when he saw her, he said, Daughter, be of good comfort; thy faith hath made thee whole. And the woman was made whole from that hour.”
The woman with the issue of blood teaches us a little about finding comfort in the process of serving God. According to the Greek translation, “issue of blood” (aihmorrheō, which is pronounced “hahee-mor-hreh’-o”) means “to flow blood, that is, have a haemorrhage.” For years, this woman suffered some form of bleeding, possibly internal, but she didn’t let her issue keep her down. “Came” in verse 20 translates to the Greek word proserchomai (pros-er’-khom-ahee), which means “to approach, that is, (literally) come near, visit, or (figuratively) worship.” “Touched” in the Greek haptomai (hap’-tom-ahee) means “to attach oneself to, that is, to touch.” She approached Jesus and attached herself to the hem, or border, of his robe because she believed that if she did so, that alone would heal and deliver her. We know that Jesus immediately turned around and, seeing her, declared that she could have courage (“comfort” in verse 22 is from the Greek word tharseō and means “to have courage, be of good cheer”). Why? Well, “faith” in verse 22 means “persuasion, that is, credence; moral conviction (of religious truth or the truthfulness of God or a religious teacher) especially reliance upon Christ for salvation; assurance, belief” according to the Greek translation. This woman’s moral conviction, reliance on Jesus for healing, assurance in Him, and belief made her whole. She was completely healed and delivered that same hour. Her story teaches us that we can have comfort and courage knowing that if we worship God, draw near and attach ourselves to Him, rely on Him for assurance, and believe that He can do anything, then He will deliver us, protect us, preserve us, and save us.
There is comfort in the process. Isn’t it interesting that the Greek translation for “came” also means to worship? Imagine what would happen if we didn’t just come to Jesus but if we always came to Him in worship and praise! Living for God is often difficult when we let our flesh get in the way and when we let life’s disappointments discourage us, but we can find comfort in the process—we worship Him, we draw near to Him and push other things away, we rely on Him daily, and this brings us comfort. This makes us whole.