One of the most encouraging ways Scripture describes God is as our comforter. God is the one we can turn to in our need for comfort (Ps.71:21; 86:17). He dwells within every Christian to instruct, guide, and comfort us (John 14:16; 26). And God is not just a comforter. He is “the God of all comfort” (2 Cor. 1:3, emphasis mine).
When I think about God in this way, it is most often with the many blessings that He has given me in mind. Family and friends, of course, but also the comforts of modern life. And there is something good and right about this, of course. All of us are called to give Him thanks for everything, in every circumstance. This is why thanksgiving is an all-encompassing lifestyle, a discipline that we need to cultivate.
But there is more to give thanks for than our comforts. There is another kind of comfort that we are called to give thanks for. But this comfort is one that hardly seems like a kindness in the moment. It is a counterintuitive comfort found in trial and difficulty.
Comforted to Comfort
Paul’s greeting to the Corinthian Church in 2 Corinthians 1:3-11 helps us to see this. There, Paul wrote that God comforts “us all in our troubles so that we may be able to comfort those experiencing any trouble with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (4).
You can see why I described this as counterintuitive, right?
We are comforted by God so that we can pass along that comfort to those who need it. That the way that we endure difficulty, and the way we see others endure it, creates steadfastness—a firmness of faith, a determined belief in the goodness of God—and compassion for those who are experiencing trials of their own.
Encouragement from Gregory the Great
When Gregory the Great wrote to encourage the church of his day as they labored “through the heat of this world,” he did so with this in mind. Gregory wrote:
Let us remember the labors of those who went before us, and what we endure will not be hard, for we must through many tribulations enter into the kingdom of God. “We were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of living. Indeed we felt as if the sentence of death had been passed against us, so that we would not trust in ourselves but in God.” And yet the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the supervening glory that shall be revealed in us. How then can we who are weak sheep pass without labor through the heat of this world where we know that even rams have suffered under heavy toil?¹
To bolster the faith of his hearers, Gregory did not offer well-meaning platitudes. He offered the example of Paul and his companions, these heroes of the faith who labored to bring the gospel to the ends of the earth. Who experienced such great burdens that they “despaired even of living” (2 Cor.1:8). And he did so to remind his hearers that the same God who was with Paul was also with them.
Give thanks for God’s counterintuitive comfort
That same God is with us as well. No matter what difficulty we face in this moment, no matter how heavy the burden, we are not alone. He is with us, and so are those who experienced trials before us. He will comfort us through them—through their examples, their words, and their presence. And then He will use us to do the same for someone else.
This is the counterintuitive comfort that we receive. To be comforted so that we may comfort others. So, as we give thanks to Him for so many blessings, let’s also give thanks to Him for that.
- Gregory the Great, Letters, as published in Timeless Truths Bible (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2023), 778.