For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ.
- 2 Corinthians 1:5 NASB
Recently, I faced a situation which required a certain degree of suffering in my flesh. As I sought the Lord to show me what He wanted me to learn in allowing this circumstance in my life, I was convicted by this verse.
God used this verse to show me that, while I have come to expect suffering as part of God's calling in the life of a disciple, I had been neglecting to also expect my comfort to be abundant in Christ.
Our comfort in Christ is meant to be as abundant as our sufferings in Christ are! It's an amazing promise to know that I should never face suffering without the hope of God's comfort. I have to be careful, because in focusing on the current suffering, it is easy to miss the promise of comfort that each season of suffering contains.
Moses had a similar kind of expectation as the one Paul describes: that he would be made glad in proportion to the affliction that God allowed into his life:
Make us glad according to the days
You have afflicted us,
And the years we have seen evil (or trouble).
(Psalms 90:15 NASB)
Only one thing is needful in times of affliction, and that is that we continue to return to the Lord for all of our comfort, gladness, and strength. As long as we turn to Him and keep trusting Him in the midst of the suffering, we can claim the comfort that God intends to be ours in abundance in Christ. We can say, as the Psalmist,
When my anxious thoughts multiply within me,
Your consolations delight my soul.
(Psalms 94:19 NASB)
When we fail to turn to the Lord for help in our time of need, not expecting His comfort to be abundant, we miss out on an important purpose for which God allowed the affliction into our lives in the first place. Haggai shows us the disappointment that God feels when we fail to turn to Him in times of affliction:
I smote you and every work of your hands with blasting wind, mildew and hail; yet you did not come back to Me,' declares the LORD.
(Haggai 2:17 NASB)
To me this shows that God's purpose in smiting was to get his people to come back to Him. And not only was He disappointed to see that, in the face of opposition, they still did not come back, but it's a double disappointment to Him: not only does He not accomplish His intention of bringing them back, but to add insult to injury, He's now introduced all sorts of difficulties into the lives of His people without the opportunity to provide the comfort and help He intended to give.
When we fail to turn to God in our affliction, we deprive ourselves of the help He intends in sending difficulties. The purpose of opposition is that I might return to God! That I might stop trying and fighting in my own strength, and instead claim the strength which is mine in Christ; the comfort which is meant to be as abundant as my suffering!
God's ultimate goal is to shape and transform me into the image of Christ (Romans 8:29, 2 Corinthians 3:18), and suffering is an indispensable tool in my Master's hand. If even our Lord Jesus Christ Himself was perfected through suffering (Hebrews 2:10, 5:8-9), how much more should we press in to allow God to use whatever means He sees fit to accomplish His purpose in us (1 Peter 4:1-2, 4:19, 5:10). One of the very first steps along this journey is to realize the hope of the comfort we have in Christ even in our afflictions.
This is one reason we can "consider it all joy when we encounter trials of various kinds," because we can expect that, with those trials, we will also be given abundant comfort.
"Lord, let me see all difficulties as a chance to come to my senses and return in whatever way I have left You. May I never think my suffering is abundant without also expecting my comfort in Christ to be abundant as well."