It is known in history as the Bataan Death March. As the Japanese forces overran the Philippines during World War II, about 75,000 American and Filipino soldiers were captured and brutally mistreated by their captors. Already suffering from malnutrition and disease, the exhausted captives were forced to march 65 miles across the Bataan Peninsula. As they marched, any who fell back were shot or bayoneted. Those who fell down were killed and pushed aside. The sick were left for dead. When the survivors reached the ocean they were locked up inside a stifling hot compartment on a ship. These men were not given food or water. Many died without any consideration or mercy. In Japan they were put in a prisoner of war camp and many more died there as well.
Very few actually made it. One of those who survived was Lynn Torrance. Dr. Torrance was the registrar at Ambassador College when I met him. My acquaintance with him began when I was a student and grew over the years. I came to both respect and love him. Because of this experience, Dr. Torrance lost his health. The vast majority of his fellow soldiers died. But he made it out of there and told stories that I can’t bear to repeat.
When he returned home after the war, he determined as much as possible to never complain again. No matter how bad it got, he believed it couldn’t possibly be any worse than what he had already been through.
Despite his trials, Dr. Torrance was able to encourage and joke. He had a light-hearted perspective on life that made him a pleasure to be around. This wasn’t because life was easy. His life was hard. Few indeed have ever experienced life as he experienced it. But he took life at its best. And he managed with God’s help to turn things around so that he—who had every reason to wallow in self-pity—became one who helped to comfort others.
Perhaps you, or someone close to you, are facing discouraging circumstances. You’re fighting battles. We all do. We can’t pretend that these problems don’t exist. But we can’t afford to succumb to them either. Let me share a graphic way this dilemma was once described to me. Its like holding on to a mad dog by the ears. Everybody knows you have to let go, but letting go is a traumatic thing. It’s not that we don’t know what we need to do. But it’s hard to know how to make that transition. Life is like that. How do we deal with our problems, and yet let go?
Fortunately, we have a God who knows our plight. Christ lived this life in the flesh. He understood what we go through and what we face. Isaiah 53 describes Christ prophetically and says that He was stricken, smitten, afflicted, despised and rejected. Whatever we might possibly face is something that Christ intimately understands, because He felt it as well. But God shows us that—because He understands and because He is not weak as we are—He is there for us, on our side, and standing with us.
When Christ said to the disciples that He had to go away, He told them He wasn’t going to abandon them. He promised them a comforter. Christ was saying “I am a comforter, and I know you won’t see me anymore and you think you’re going to miss me, but I’ll send you another comforter. We will be with you” (John 14:16 John 14:16And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever;
American King James Version×; 16:7).
In 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 3 Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort;
4 Who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted of God.
American King James Version×Paul shows us more about God’s perspective. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort. Who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”
God the Father is the God of all comfort. He comforts us in our tribulation. But it doesn’t end there. God expects us to be able to also comfort others. Paul continues this theme in verse 7, “And our hope for you is steadfast, because we know that as you are partakers of the sufferings, so also you will partake of the consolation.” In effect he’s saying “Look, you suffer. I understand. But God is there with you. Because you suffer, you will be able to be there with others as well.”
It’s interesting to analyze the meaning of the Greek word for comfort in these verses. It means technically “a calling to one’s side.” So when God says that He is the God of all comfort, it means that He’ll be there at our side. Encouragement and comfort will flow into us from God, and they should flow back out from us to others. Is this easy? No. It is a struggle to move beyond self and show concern for others. It can be hard to do what is right. But it really isn’t any easier to do what is wrong. Should we let the anger and the bitterness fester or let the frustration spew out?
Those wrong approaches won’t make life better. “Oh, the weather is lousy and I haven’t had a very good life and my car is a piece of junk and I really don’t like what I’m doing.” That’s negative energy. We have to focus on the positive rather than the negative. Focus on the things that we can do. We need to look to Christ. He is a comforter to us. He eases our minds, He lifts our burdens. And we should be striving to become like Him so that we can be comforters to others.
The society we live in, with its biting sarcasm, ruthless competition, vanity and strife, is not very comforting. But God says that we are to be different from the society around us. In Matthew 5 He calls us “lights.” We need to be people who brighten other people’s lives, are responsive to each other, positive, full of hope. We need to be encouragers. As we strive to do these things, we will find that our lives are a little brighter as well.
Some people have the gift of encouragement. One of those people is my elderly friend Margaret who lives in a convalescent home. When I visit Margaret, I can look out the window and see things that she can’t see. I tell her about the things our church teens or others in our congregation are doing. I tell her about my family. Those are things that she can’t do. And so I sit there and look at things she can’t see and talk to her about things that she can’t do. And yet she is still very positive and she lifts me up in the process. I can do what she cannot. Yet she is the one who encourages me. This gift of encouragement is one that we can all pursue.
The apostle Paul spoke to the Corinthian church about spiritual gifts. One of the gifts he talks about is the gift of healings.(1 Corinthians 12:9 1 Corinthians 12:9To another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit;
American King James Version×) The word “healing” here does refer to healing physical infirmities. But the word can also be used in a spiritual sense. It can refer to a healing of the heart, a healing of the mind, a healing of the emotions. Can you have the gift of healing? I believe you can, if you desire it. You can intercede on someone’s behalf and help him or her to heal emotionally. You can do this by giving the person encouragement and comfort.
Cheer magazine once ran an article about a nurse who took care of a boy who was paraplegic. She regularly read the boy letters from “Aunt Betty” by which he vicariously lived the life of a healthy, active farm boy—jumping fences, tearing his pants, climbing apple trees, running through the fields with his dog at his heels.
One day that nurse was near the town where Aunt Betty mailed her letters. The nurse decided to stop to ask the postmaster if he knew her. He said, “Betty White mails letters every day to children in hospitals. Here she comes now.” The nurse looked in the direction he pointed and saw a lady in a wheelchair, making her way slowly toward them. “Miss White’s been crippled since she was 12,” said the postmaster. “All she does is sit and write. I can’t imagine what it is that she would have to write about.” Here was someone who had so little and yet she was still contributing in a meaningful way. We all need to do that.
Hebrews 10 talks about actively supporting and encouraging others. “And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works.” It’s like salad dressing. A mixture of oil and vinegar, the dressing separates in the bottle. You have to shake and mix it in order to use it. Hebrews 10:24 Hebrews 10:24And let us consider one another to provoke to love and to good works:
American King James Version×is saying that we should stir each other up in a positive way, to love and good works. The reason we assemble (verse 25) is to encourage one another and to strengthen each other. That means we have to swallow hard sometimes and really focus on others. Are we encouraging each other? Are we lifting each other up? Are we carrying each other’s burdens?
We will not always feel good. We will not always have a good day. We will have crises. We will meet disaster. And there will be times when we will emotionally hit bottom. God will comfort us. When we need comfort He may send another Aunt Betty, or Margaret, or Dr. Torrance, to give us that encouragement and comfort. But like those others we must be survivors who are able to encourage and comfort others.