Comfort

I’m attending a conference this week put on by ABWE, the Association of Baptists for World Evangelism. It is a missions sending agency for those Baptist churches that do not have a denominationally-supported missionary system, or at least choose not to support one. It has been a very enlightening two days for a guy who grew up in the world of Southern Baptists and could not name any of the Convention’s thousands of missionaries until I got to college and met some of their children.

The conference is called the Pastors Consultation on World Evangelism. One of the speakers at the conference has been talking to us pastors about our spiritual walk, and especially the pitfalls we can fall into as we go about ministry. One of the big ideas he has promoted is the journaling our quiet or devotional times. It is something that I have done with some success in the past. The speaker mentioned the benefit he gets from rereading where he was. The only time I have been consistent with a devotional time I was also consistent with journaling. It was the summer of 1999, when I was working as a summer missionary with the North American Mission Board in Oregon. I actually kept it up for a little while after the summer was finished, back at college. But it didn’t last. Papers and exams and the social trials of college days interfered. Life after graduation didn’t get any easier! But I can affirm how helpful it is for me to go back and reread my entries during those days. So it is something that I would like to start doing again.

I’m not sure that a blog is the best way to do that. But this is what I have available to me at this particular moment, so it’ll do for now. Besides, I might as well use this space for something!

At the opening session this morning the speaker asked the pastor’s what they had been reading in their devotional times. That was easy for me: nothing. Yes, I’m a minister. Yes, I encourage my congregation to keep up with devotions. I just don’t do so hot myself. And when I do, it’s not through a particular book. I use other sources, like the Jesuit broadcast out of London, Pray As You Go, or the Irish monk site Sacred Space. They are more prayer oriented, but with a reading from the Scripture. If I’m really excited, I’ll try to follow along with one of the yearly Bible reading plans from Back to the Bible. After all, I have that printed in our church bulletin every week. I even found a site that sends the reading straight to my RSS aggregator. But I must confess that I rarely keep up with it.

But with the fresh encouragement of the conference, I opened my Bible this evening to 2 Corinthians (no particular reason, just where I opened), and started reading the greeting and first full paragraph. At the conference, we have been talking about missions (it is a missions agency, after all, and the conference is on world evangelism). The topics have been varied, from the emergent church and postmodern theory to reports from The Gambia and working through strategizing around potential scenarios (our table’s scenario involved biological and nuclear terrorism that shut borders by 2010, providing for an interesting view of missions).

The general background question has been what are we willing to do to see God’s kingdom expanded on earth, as we have been commissioned and commanded to do? Some of the speakers have talked about how we have cheapened the gospel to “pie in the sky” and a “benefits package.” We have forgotten that we have been joined to Christ in the fellowship of His sufferings.

The first full paragraph of 2 Corinthians after the letter’s greeting (2 Cor 1:3-7) speaks of comfort, and how God extends it to those who suffer, just as He has extended Christ’s sufferings to us. Verse 5 says that we “Share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings.” I don’t know about you, but I don’t really experience that. And I don’t want to experience that. I comfortable in my First World socio-economic middle-class status. I don’t need or (on my best days) want more than I have. But I do enjoy what I have. My wife and I certainly have our own share of personal struggles and issues, but I wouldn’t call them “suffering” in a Job sense, definitely not in a “sharing with Christ” sense. We had a dark period just before arriving at our present ministry, but even that (from this vantage point) I would not call suffering. I’m sure that the Corinthians were suffering. I’m absolutely positive that Paul’s situation classified as suffering. I’m just not sure that I have experienced it.

So when Paul says that we have shared in such a great comfort because we have shared in such great affliction and suffering, I’m not sure what he means, or if I can include myself in that. When he talks about our being comforted so that we can pass that comfort onto others who are similarly afflicted, I can mostly understand that. I have participated in that.¬† Paul’s assurance for the Corinthians was the comfort of Christ being poured out on them as they endured the sufferings that Paul was enduring (and receiving comfort for).

What comfort do I receive that I can pour out on others? What comfort do you receive that you can pour out on others? How do we participate in that giving and receiving?

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