How To Comfort
What does it mean for Christians to do some comforting? Be there, be physically present. Use encouraging words and positive reinforcement.
Alright, thank you very much, and hello again, dear radio friends. How in the world are you? Yes, this is your friend Bob Cook, and I’m coming to you now from having talked with my Heavenly Father and asked Him for His touch upon the words that we speak from His Word. I treasure these times together with you in the Word of God. I’ve been asking God to fill my heart with His love and my mind with His truth, and my voice with His love and compassion and power, and we’ll just see what God will do as we look now at 1 Thessalonians 5:11.
Paul says, “Wherefore, comfort yourselves together and edify one another even as also ye do.” We’re going to walk around in those concepts for a little while as time serves us. “Comfort”: it’s an interesting word. It’s used all through the New Testament. Our Lord Jesus spoke of the Holy Spirit as “The Comforter”: Parakleitos, from the verb parakaleo, which means, variously, “to encourage, to beseech.” Forty-three times, it’s translated “beseech,” “to comfort,” twenty-three times, “desire,” eight times, “exhort,” nineteen times, and “pray,” six times, among other uses of the word. It’s a common word, important word, and powerful word.
So, what he’s actually saying is, “Encourage each other. Beseech each other,” (in terms of moving toward the will of God) “comfort each other,” (in terms of expressing God’s love and compassion) “desire of each other,” (that they may do God’s will) “exhort each other,” (to obey God.) Interesting word, isn’t it? Comfort.”
Now, this is not an option. He said, “God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus who died for us, that whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him. The last time we got together, we talked about that matter of being “with” Christ, in life, in death, and in the afterlife of the eternal ages, the presence of the Lord Jesus, real in our lives. So he says, “Because of that, I want you to do something.” Because God appointed us to salvation, and Jesus died and rose again to secure that salvation for us, because of the living hope that we have in our Lord Jesus and the certainty of His second coming, and our being with Him through all eternity…because of all that, he says, “Comfort yourselves together.”
Now, I want to just think about what it means, then, for a Christian to do some comforting. He says, “yourselves together.” That means you’ve got to be there; your personal presence. Now, a letter or a card is good, a phone call is good, but your personal presence is better. Both of the people about whom I’m about to speak are now in the presence of our Lord Jesus. Wendell P. Loveless, my good friend of many years, ever since my student days at Moody Bible Institute, back in the late 1920’s, was one of them, and William A. Miller, the Chairman for many years of the board of trustees of the college, is the other. Bill Miller was Chairman when they invited me to become President of the College in 1962, and I learned of something that had happened.
We were talking about Wendell Loveless and I mentioned the fact that he and I were close friends, and Bill Miller said, “Well, an interesting thing happened with him. I also am his friend, and we heard, Martha and I, that Wendell Loveless had sustained a very severe auto accident.” I remember the shock of hearing that he had been so terribly injured in this auto accident, and there was some question as to whether or not he would even live. And I thought, “Well, I’ll just go see him.”
Now, Mr. Miller lived on Long Island, and Wendell Loveless was in the hospital, I think, somewhere near the Chicago area, so it meant an airplane trip, but he took it. He took time off from his job as Vice President of Long Island Lighting, and went over and stood then at the foot of the bed where Wendell Loveless was lying, his eyes closed, but aware of some movement in the room. He opened his eyes and looked at Bill Miller and said, “I knew you’d come.” There is comfort in physical presence.
Now, it’s not always possible; I understand that. But would you give some thought to being there for somebody? I’ll get around to what you say or do in just a moment. But this is a matter of your presence; that you care enough to be there. I went to see a boy while he was in the hospital. I got to the hospital just after he had had his appendix removed. This was a boy who really had rebuffed me; He never would give me the time of day or any indication that he wanted any friendship on my part, and that was tough on me because I’m such a nice guy! Well, here comes the President of the College (I was then President of the College) and I went over to Phelps Hospital and went on up to his room. And he was lying there in some pain because he had just regained consciousness from having had this operation. And I talked with him for awhile; he seemed surprised to see me. Then, I laid my hand on his forehead and prayed earnestly for him. Remember, preachers, your prayer doesn’t have to be eternal to be immortal. Pray short, but lovingly, and earnestly. So I prayed briefly, but with earnestness and compassion for him.
When I said, “Amen,” he looked up at me and said, “Gee, Doc, you do care, don’t you?” Well, yes, I did, and I do. Would you give some thought to this matter of just being there for somebody? Now, you can’t always do that. I know that. You’re busy, and you have commitments. I realize that; we’re not laying down any hard and fast rule, but just remember: there’s an awful lot of comfort in just being there for somebody, when his or her heart may be broken.
We had an occasion when there had been a bad accident and one of our students was badly injured, and finally expired right at the hospital. I was there. The family came, and it was the doctor’s sad duty to announce to us as we were there in the little waiting room that this precious gal had expired. And of course it just broke their hearts, and there was a good deal of almost-hysteria in a moment. But I noticed that there had been a person who came along: Marge Lyons, who was our school nurse and was also in charge of a large section of the women’s dorm. She was there; a trained counselor she was and is, and I just marveled at the quiet way in which her presence and the love she showed helped to quiet those aching, breaking hearts. I have to tell you, there is comfort in being there when somebody’s heart is aching. Do you want to give some thought to that and mark it down as something you want to do when there’s opportunity?
Well, I’ll tell you some things that are important in this connection. Don’t talk; listen. You don’t have to say much. Just be there. Don’t talk; listen. Don’t preach, just show love. When people are hurting, they don’t want sermons. They want someone to love them. So don’t preach. Don’t try to moralize. Don’t try to get some little spiritual lesson that you’re going to put across.
Now I know that that’s the temptation of us preachers; we feel more secure if we’re trying to put something across to people. That’s what our stock-in-trade is. I know. But, people aren’t in a mood to be preached to when their hearts are breaking. They just want somebody to love them and to care.
It’s not only in times of sorrow. I remember a professed atheist to whom I was speaking, and suddenly he burst out and said, “I don’t want this religious stuff.” He said, “I don’t want to be one of your blessed converts.” (I’m cleaning it up a little for your sake.) “I just want somebody to care about me.” There’s the cry of hurting hearts all across the world. Somebody asked Bob Pierce why he brought boatloads of rice to help feed refugees in South Korea after the Korean conflict. He said, “You have to deserve a hearing. You can’t come to a starving person and just preach to him. You have to help him. You have to deserve a hearing.” You have to show, in other words, that you care. Love, don’t preach.
And then, encourage by positive reinforcement. Every person that you ever meet will have something that he does well. Encourage that. It may take a little looking; some of us manage to hide our abilities pretty thoroughly, don’t we? You encourage people by positive reinforcement of what they already have going for them. It is counter-productive to say, “Why don’t you be like your brother? Why don’t you do this or that like somebody else?” Or to point out some place in which they’re lacking. This doesn’t work. All it does is to make me defensive. All it does is set up emotional defenses against what I perceive to be an attack at that point. No, if you’re going to encourage people, you encourage them by positive reinforcement. Find something that is going fairly well for them and encourage them in that. It’s something to think about there for you.
Now, if you’re going to make any suggestions (I learned this from Ben Weiss many years ago, wise old bird that he was; he was Principal of a large Los Angeles high school for many years) you make them by indirection. “What would you think of this? What’s your opinion of this?” I have often told you that the five most important words are “I am proud of you,” the four most important words are “what is your opinion,” the three most important words are “if you please,” the two most important words are “thank you,” and the one most important word in motivation is the word “you.” Suggest by indirection. “Oh, by the way, what do you think of this?” Things taught as though we taught them not, and things remembered as things forgot. I’ll come back to this the next time we get together.
Father God, in Jesus’ name, help us to be encouragers. I pray, Amen.
Till I meet you once again by way of radio, walk with the King today and be a blessing!
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