Sometimes life feels like we are going the wrong way on a one-way street. Or it may be that about the time we think that things are going in the right direction something happens to turn things in the wrong direction.
Someone else put it this way: “About the time we think we have everything in the bag, the bag bursts.”
The truth is, life is full turnarounds, ups and downs, highs and lows, joys and sorrows, mountains and valleys.
Sometimes things seem to go in the right direction and sometimes they don’t.
All of us experience ups and downs in life. The rich and poor, the famous and the infamous, the Christian and non-Christian. No one is immune.
But you may be thinking: I thought Jesus came that we might have an abundant life? Or perhaps at least a better life?
This is true but an abundant and better life does not mean that we will not experience some bitter moments in life. We all do, because this world is not a perfect place. We would like for it to be a perfect place where everything goes well for us, but it isn’t.
How should respond when our world gets turned upside down?
I believe the answer is found in 2 Corinthians 1:3-11.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. 5 For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. 6 If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. 7 And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.
8 We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters,[a] about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. 9 Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. 10 He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, 11 as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favour granted us in answer to the prayers of many.
These are the opening words of a letter from the Apostle Paul to the church in Corinth. Paul wrote this letter after experiencing some incredibly difficult and tough situations – situations that probably none of us will ever have to face.
In a lot of ways, Paul’s world had been turned upside down on several occasions. Listen to his description of some of his hardships in 2 Corinthians 11:24-28.
24 Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. 27 I have laboured and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. 28 Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.
Paul was a man who knew suffering and troubles! Paul knew first hand what it meant to have your world turned upside down.
One of main themes of this letter to the Corinthians is comfort in the midst of troubles. The words “comfort” and “troubles” stand out repeatedly in 2 Corinthians 1:3-11 (“troubles” – 4 times and “comfort” 10 times).
The meaning of “troubles”
“Troubles” or as it is also translated “distressed” means “to be afflicted, to be in anguish, to be burdened.” It also used to describe how grapes were pressed – which is a great word picture.
It’s feeling like life is crashing down all around you.
It is feeling like the troubles and problems of life are crushing you.
The meaning of “comfort”
The Greek word that is used for “comfort” here is more than just a little cheer or friendly word of encouragement. The word basically means “to strengthen” or “to call to one’s side”.
This word is also the same word that is used for the Holy Spirit. The Bible frequently calls the Holy Spirit “The Comforter,” but really it is “The Strengthener,” the “One Who strengthens you” or “the One Who comes to our side.”
2 very important truths that we need to remember when our world feels like it has been turned upside down
1. Who God is.
Paul begins this section on finding comfort in difficult times by reminding his readers of who God is. He was reminding his readers that no matter what destruction, terrible event, or tragedy, God is still God!
In verse 3, Paul reminds us and his readers of two characteristics of God that we need to remember when we find our world turned upside down.
a. God is the God of compassion.
Just as Satan is the father of murder and of lies, God is the Father of compassion. The Greek word that is used for “compassion” here literally means “to feel so deeply about someone that you feel it deep in your bowels.”
When our world is turned upside down we need to remember that God still cares deeply about us.
He hasn’t forgotten us.
He hasn’t abandoned us.
He feels our pain.
He feels our anguish.
b. God is the God of all comfort
Not only does God deeply care about us He is also our comforter. A lot of times we try to find comfort in other things like food, TV, alcohol, drugs, unhealthy relationships, work, etc. and they may provide temporary comfort but God alone is our ultimate source of comfort in our times of trials and tribulation.
Jesus said in Matthew 11:28
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”
God alone is able to bind up the broken-hearted.
God alone is able to heal the most painful wounds.
God alone is able to give hope and joy under the heaviest of sorrows.
God comes alongside us when our world feels like it has been turned upside down.
In the midst of our dark and difficult situations it can be easy to doubt who God really is. I know this can be true of me at times. So it is critical for me when I find my world turned upside that I consciously reflect on who God is.
I have to return to this important truth.
I have to be reminded of the God who transcends my tragedy.
I have to be reminded of the God who is my helper.
I have to be reminded of the God who is my refuge and my strength.
I have to be reminded that God is the God of compassion and the God of all comfort.
2. What God does.
We need to remember what God does and can do for us in our times of anguish and grief. What does Paul say God does for us?
a. He comforts us IN our troubles.
God may not take us out of our tribulation/pain/suffering but He helps us while we are experiencing them. God meets us where we are.
i. God comforts us through His word.
We can reflect and meditate on the promises of God. What are some of the promises of God?
He will never leave us nor forsake us.
We are forever free from condemnation (Romans 8:1, 2).
We cannot be separated from the love of God (Romans 8:35).
We have direct access to God (Ephesians 2:18).
The work that God has begun in us will be completed (Philippians 1:6).
We can find grace and mercy in our time of need (Hebrews 4:16).
There are so many promises of God that we can find comfort in.
ii. God also comforts us through other people.
This has definitely been my experience – especially over this past year. I can’t imagine having to go through a tragedy completely on my own. I am so thankful that God uses other people to bring comfort during our times of trouble.
This is the reason for requests for prayer, for sharing of needs with one another, and for enlisting the aid of others in praying us through difficult times or pressures. It is so that we will be ready to respond to those who are going through pressure with prayer for them.
An image that comes to mind when I think of God comforting us IN our troubles is of a father tenderly bending down to pick up his son or daughter who has just tripped and scraped their knee. This is how I picture God coming along side me to provide comfort in my time of need.
b. God helps us comfort others through our troubles.
I was reading an article by Chuck Colsen not long ago in which he said that he often asked himself why he had to go to prison as a result of Watergate. Legally, there was no reason why he should have been put in prison.
Nevertheless, he ended up there, and, for a long time, he struggled with that. Why did he have to suffer the humiliation, the shame, the disgrace, and the discontent of prison? But then the answer began to come.
While he was in prison he learned what prisoners go through. He saw these forgotten men and women of American society, the awful injustices they often face, the difficulty, even the impossibility of recovering themselves, and there was born in him a great sense of compassion and a desire to help.
Since he has gotten out of prison, he has devoted his whole life and ministry to going back in and helping these men. Now wonderful stories are beginning to come out from prisons all over America of dramatic changes in human lives because Chuck Colsen was sent to prison.
Paul says that God “comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” God can use the comfort that He provided us in our time of trouble to comfort someone else who may go through something similar. I know I have experienced this from both sides.
To me this is another example of the importance of being a caring community as a church. We need to share with one another what we have gone through. We may be the means of comfort that God wants to use in someone else’s life.
This is why Christians ought to share their problems, their struggles, their failures and their successes with each other, freely and openly – so that we can encourage one another – so that we can comfort one another.
c. God strengthens us through our troubles.
James 1:2-4 says:
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,[a] whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
How are we ever going to find the comfort of God, the strengthening of God, if we are not under any pressure or stress?
Sometimes it takes going through these types of things to discover what God can do. We should not try to run from our suffering. Instead, we need to face up to it, and do as Paul does, by seeing suffering and troubles as opportunities to understand and experience anew the strengthening of God.
If I am completely honest, I don’t like being strengthened like this! I would much rather be strengthened through easier circumstances but that is not the way God has orchestrated life.
He has designed life so that we have the greatest opportunity to grow the most when we are going through our darkest times – our most difficult times. This isn’t a guarantee but the potential definitely there.
This is what Paul is talking about in verses 8-9 when he says:
“We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters,[a] about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. 9 Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.”
We do not know with absolute certainty what exactly Paul went through. Most scholars link this with the record of Acts 19 in the story of the great riot that broke out in Ephesus, and the threat to the lives of all the Christians in that city. This was a time when it appeared the whole Christian cause had collapsed in Ephesus, and all that Paul had laboured on for years was falling apart.
Paul must have gone through unusual emotional stress and physical threat during this time because he says that he was “under great pressure, far beyond his ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life.”
Now that is the lowest point the human spirit can come to, the uttermost sense of despair.
He said, “Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death.”
In Paul’s eyes, his situation was absolutely hopeless, he had given up; there was no way out. He could see himself potentially losing his life at this point.
But then he adds at the end of verse 9,
“but this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.”
In other words, God is not going to waste any opportunity to help us to grow and spur us on to grow! God is going to use whatever troubles that come our way to help us continue to grow and mature in our relationship with Him!
I love how Paul ends this passage with hope. Verse 10 says:
“He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us.”
Paul is saying:
God delivered us – in the past.
He is delivering us – in the present.
He will deliver us – in the future.
Paul has learned to trust God to take him trough whatever life throws at him, no matter what it is. My prayer and desire is that we can say this with confidence too!
When troubles, trials and difficult time enter our lives we need to remember who our God is and remember what our God does, for us and through us and in us!
How do you respond when your world gets turned upside down?
***** This is a synopsis of a sermon that I preached at Port Hardy Baptist Church.