Words of Comfort

Psalm 121:1-8
A song of ascents.

I lift up my eyes to the hills–
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot slip–
he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord watches over you–
the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all harm–
he will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore.

Looking Okay

My friend was overwhelmed by a tragedy in his life some time ago. He looks good; you know, like he is coping well and learning to adjust to living in the wake of his heartbreak. So much so, I had kind of moved on from his pain. I stopped asking “How are you doing?”

I assumed things were better and he was, like me, moving beyond the sorrow.

I was wrong.

We had a chance to sit and talk the other day and for the first time in a long time I asked, “How are you doing?”

And I got an honest answer.

“It’s easier to look okay than to be okay. And if you look okay it sometimes keeps people from asking if you are okay.”

While I am still processing this conversation, God has already taught me a lot through this exchange. He rebuked me for my selfishness in so quickly moving beyond someone else’s pain. He reminded me how important living in community is. He demonstrated to me the lengths to which all of us will go to protect ourselves. And He taught me once again the danger of slipping into surface relationships.

Psalm 20:1-5
In times of trouble, may the Lord respond to your cry.
May the God of Israel keep you safe from all harm.
2May he send you help from his sanctuary
and strengthen you from Jerusalem.
3May he remember all your gifts
and look favorably on your burnt offerings.

Interlude

4May he grant your heart’s desire
and fulfill all your plans.
5May we shout for joy when we hear of your victory,
flying banners to honor our God.
May the Lord answer all your prayers.

Like A Father

“For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory” (1 Thessalonians 2:11-12).

Paul did not set out to write this passage to instruct the readers on how a father relates to his children. Instead, he is describing good church leadership in terms easily understood by the Christians in Thessalonica. He is contrasting his loving leadership style with a more heavy-handed approach. He is writing about leadership, not parenting, and yet his whole point rests on the assumption that people know what a father is to do. Paul could make that assumption with the Thessalonians. I am not sure we can make that same assumption today.

So to understand Paul’s illustration can not only be instructive about leadership style, it also can remind us what fathering is all about. So Paul dealt with the church members like a father deals with his children – what does that mean? What does Paul assume is common knowledge about the role of a father?

A father is an encourager. He works to give his children courage to do right things and handle any and every situation without fear. He gives support to his daughter so she knows she has someone behind her as she serves the Lord. He spurs on his son to live for God with love and good works. In an age of “positive action” we must remember not to confuse encouragement with flattery. Sometimes encouragement has a corrective side: “Hey son, that was a harsh tone of voice. Come on, show some kindness!” Encouragement does not mean “all positive talk, all the time!” But when a father encourages, he does inspire, hearten, and cheer his child’s growth in Christ.

A father comforts. He knows when to stand by his child, hold his hand, or embrace him. Life can be tough. One time or another everyone experiences hardship, affliction, distress, challenges and difficulty. A father’s words can be soothing to his daughter. A father’s presence can bring her solace. Of course all this implies this father is aware of what is going on in the life of his son or daughter. There can be no comfort without an understanding of the pain. So a father works hard to be in touch with his child’s feelings about his life experiences. What grief is he facing? What troubles her spirit? What sins have taken their toll? A father receives comfort, assurance, and forgiveness from God and passes them all on to his children. A father at war with God is not going to bring much real comfort to his children.

A father urges. He charges (KJV), urges (NIV, NLT), and implores (NASB) his children to live a life worthy of God. Paul conveys a sense of urgency about this responsibility. A father vigorously and earnestly advocates godly living. Fathers need to consider what they are most passionate about with their children: what do I most often urge my children to do or accomplish? Good grades? A leading role in the musical? Sports? Some fathers constantly urge their children to excel in the classroom or on the field of play but rarely, if ever, appeal for godliness. Paul’s assumption is that a Christian father is going to be urging his son or daughter to be living for God above all else. Eugene Peterson’s translation of this passage reminds us such urging goes beyond mere lecturing to modeling the Christian life for your children: “. . . showing you step by step how to live well before God. . . .”

Paul reminds the Christians at Thessalonica his leadership style was like a father. In doing so, he reminds us what basic fathering is all about.