Last week I looked at how comfort helps us to keep an open heart. Today I'm taking this a step further as a comforted heart brings change in us. It enables us to walk as Jesus walked.
Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it—I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while— yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. (2 Corinthians 7:8-10 NIV)
There are two kinds of sorrow. Godly sorrow which leads to life and worldly sorrow that leads to death. How are they separated?
Paul's exhortation does not come from a judgemental or critical heart. He comes to the church in Corinth with an overwhelming desire to encourage them and to lead them back into a right relationship with God. He wants them to know that God is a Father to them and they are sons and daughters. For them to enter into this reality they need to change, they have to allow the sorrow Paul feels to bring them to a place of repentance through which they will have an encounter with the Father.
Too often when we deal with other people we do so from a critical heart and all that does is judge and condemn. That's the worldly sorrow that leads to death, not life. It goes back to the two trees in the garden: one brings life, the other death.
Godly sorrow will lead us to repentance, it will restore relationship and it will bring us to an encounter with the love of God where we know that he is being a Father to us. It brings life! We don't have to fear repentance or change as it takes our heart deeper into love.
I've recently been reading through 2 Corinthians and have seen how the apostle Paul has a soft, tender heart towards the church in Corinth. Despite everything that he's been through he has not allowed his heart to become hard; in fact, his circumstances have not made him rely on his own strength but rather he has discovered the power of comfort and weakness.
We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians, and opened wide our hearts to you. We are not withholding our affection from you, but you are withholding yours from us. As a fair exchange—I speak as to my children —open wide your hearts also. (2 Corinthians 6:11-13 NIV)
Paul has had to write to the Corinthians about some pretty major things and, no doubt, it would have been easy for him to be judgemental or critical. That, however, is not his posture. He appeals to them to change, "to come out from them and be separate" (verse 17), he appeals to them to open their hearts in the same way as he and Titus have opened their hearts to them.
I have often wondered how Paul managed to maintain an open heart after he had been through so much hardship. The key is found in the first few verses of chapter 7: he is greatly comforted. Paul had found the power of living from a comforted heart. He receives that comfort once again as Titus visits him and is able to comfort him with the comfort that he himself has received. The fruit of a comforted heart is also seen in Titus - he has been refreshed by being with them.
Comfort is contagious! When we are comforted we are able to comfort others. I believe we receive, first and foremost, because we need to be comforted. We don't principally receive comfort in order to give it out although that is the natural consequence. Comfort restores us, it encourages us, it enables us to face the hardships of life and, importantly, it is the key to us keeping an open, tender heart.
All too often peace seems in short supply. We live busy lives with so much going on, we face the every day challenges of the world (which these days seem pretty immense) and on top of that we have to cope with all the internal stuff going on in our heart and mind. It can all feel very unpeaceful!
"Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid." (John 14:27 NIV)
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 NIV)
Jesus recognises that trouble will come our way. He knows how easy it is for us to lose our peace and to be caught up with the turmoil of the world. Trouble, hassle - whatever word you choose to use it's inevitable, we are never going to be immune from it.
Along with the recognition that trouble is heading our way there is the wonderful assurance and promise, that in the midst of it we can find peace. A calmness and rest that is a supernatural gift. Jesus lived in peace despite everything that was going on around him and it's that same peace that he gives to us. Not only does Jesus give us his peace but he reminds us that he has overcome the world; he has done what we're unable to do.
It's a peace that takes our fear away. It's a peace that is not based on worldly qualities or events. It's a peace that goes beyond our understanding.
It's the peace that flows from the heart of the Father, it's part of his nature. Today that gift of peace is available to you.
Picture the scene: the people return home to a broken country, they rebuild their city against a lot of opposition, they may be fearful of the nations around them, they're trying to resettle and are no doubt apprehensive. Then they gather together to be reminded of who they are and, more importantly, who their God is.
Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and teacher of the Law, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, “This day is holy to the LORD your God. Do not mourn or weep.” For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law. Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength. (Nehemiah 8:9-10 NIV)
They hear about the goodness and faithfulness of God and that must have re-kindled hope and expectancy within their hearts. I think they could begin to believe that it was all worthwhile, that maybe, once again, they could live in peace and prosperity.
There is someone greater than themselves, someone with bigger resources, someone who will get them through. They are not on their own, nor do they have to get through relying on their own strength.
The situation you may be facing might be daunting, it might feel too big for you to cope with. You may not know which way to turn. Like Ezra and Nehemiah's audience you can turn to your Father. You can be reminded of his greatness and faithfulness towards you. And that supernatural joy which is part of his nature can flow into you and become your strength, enabling you to face whatever is in your path today. It's his joy, not your's!