Sunday, April 21, 2013

God of the Pressed (2 Corinthians 7:5-11)


For even when we arrived in Macedonia we had a wretched time and were troubled all around—wrangling outside and anxiety within. God, who cheers the depressed, gave us the comfort of the arrival of Titus.” (2 Corinthians 7:5-11)
The Greek word for troubled means "to press," like grapes after a harvest. That's how Paul felt. People had been trying to kill him, the churches he started were floundering, and life in general was really beating him down.  
So what does Paul say we do when we are troubled outside and inside? Look to God, who cheers the depressed. How does God to this?  In this case, through the arrival of TitusOf course, God comforts us directly through His Holy Spirit. Jesus himself said,
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28-29)
But we can't overlook the fact that sometimes the comfort He brings finds its power through the presence of others.
After the Boston bombing marathon, a number of moving pictures showed the survivors being helped and comforted by others. The same is true after every large scale event - hurricanes, tsunamis, shootings, fertilizer plant explosions.  

We don't have to go any farther than our own neighborhood. When we hear that a friend or family member died, we reflexively ask, "Who is with them right now?"  Whenever there is a tragedy, we know that the presence of others is important. 

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I think all of us want to experience the supernatural presence of God as well.  It would be nice to feel the nearness of Jesus in the same way his disciples did 2,000 years ago.  We can't, of course.  The promised Holy Spirit resides within us, but it's not the same as having a physical, visible Jesus walking and talking with us.  I am increasingly realizing that these short verses from Paul carry with them a very important truth about sensing God’s presence.

 There is something about the presence of God’s people that helps us to experience the comfort and cheer of God.
The Bible is clear over and over that God meets us in a way that is supernatural. His Holy Spirit connects with our spirit. But even with His presence within us, we followers of Christ are not exempt from the deepest longings of the human heart.  We still long for a tangible sense of connection – which God often fulfills through other people. God is faithful; He gives us a way to experience His presence in a a more visible way.
  • Our longing to feel the love of God is often experienced through the love of God's people.
  • Our longing for direction and purpose is often found in the input of God's people. 
  • Our search for self-discipline and boundaries is often provided by the stability of God's people.
  • Our desire for a manifest presence of God is often experienced by the company of God's people.
Often, when you are wretched and troubled, God is going to send other people to you in times of need. That is good news indeed, but there is more to the story. You can experience comfort and cheer because God sends others to you. Others will experience God when God sends you to them. 
You may need to be Titus to somebody. 
Right now, someone is praying, “God, there is wrangling on the outside and turmoil inside. You give comfort and cheer to those who need help. Help!” This "pressing" can come from a lot of different challenges:
  •        raising their kids
  •        building their marriages
  •        overcoming addictions
  •        getting out of poverty
  •        restoring self-image
  •        finding health
  •        finding work
  •        putting some order in their life
  •        learning life skills
  •        knowing God

And God responds with, “I am a God of comfort and cheer. Don’t worry. I am sending you the Holy Spirit and Titus.” Or Bob. Or Emily. Or you.
God will send the Holy Spirit and you.
Will you be ready?  Are you preparing yourself for those to whom God sends you? Are you living day-to-day in light of the fact that God will call you to be Titus to someone someday?   Are you conscious of your character, your words, and your life experiences are all helping to form you into the kind of person who is ready to rise to the occasion when God taps you on the shoulder to be the answer to someone's prayer?
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God is the Comforter of the pressed, those crushed and drained by life. 
Some days we will  be Paul, crushed and pressed and in desperate need of comfort and cheer. Some days we will be Titus, sent by a God of comfort to represent Him through our presence. 

Be comforted. Be of good cheer. And be ready.

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