During the Spring of 2004 my husband Dennis lay in the Intensive Care Unit at Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia. Surgery had led to his inclusion in “the 10% who develop complications,” leaving me both bewildered and overwhelmed. As day followed day with little improvement, I thought, “what if I lose him?”
I prayed. I read my Bible. And others shared God’s words of comfort.
Each time a brother or sister in the Lord called or sent a card with a verse on it, it became a blessed assignment for my day. These were the verses that I meditated on day and night. I probably could have found them myself – I have often been the one who shared verses with others – but my emotions were raw, my body was worn out with weeping and my mind was occasionally confused. The blessed assignment for the day directed my soul to a specific passage of Scripture which the Holy Spirit then used to comfort me. It employed my mind, leaving no idle room for despair. It assured me that we were not alone, for others cared about us. All of this infused me with strength.
My mother searched for a suitable card and sent one to me that included her “favorite” Psalm 46. It arrived during a difficult time and I carried it around with me for several days. When worry began, I read it. When despair appeared, I read it. When fear tried to strangle, I read it. God was my refuge and strength, a very present help in my trouble. I was comforted and I lost the fear. When it returned again, I prayed Psalm 46 once again.
During the 29 days that he was hospitalized, I met others who came quite frequently to the ICU waiting room. Three women feared for the lives of their sons. Two men were there often to visit their wives, Betty and Nina. I didn’t know anyone’s background or beliefs, but at times I offered to read my card to them and to pray. God’s Word does not go out in vain, and the Holy Spirit used those instances as He would. One evening I read Psalm 46 with Betty’s family as she lay dying in the next room. Nina’s husband invited me to come daily to read the Bible, pray, and sing to her. Nina had been in ICU for over 3 months, and she was eager to know the Lord. We both enjoyed the 15-20 minute visits.
As it says in 2 Cor. 1:3-4, our Lord is:
“the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”
Never before were these words so clear to me. I was weak and gained strength and then shared that strength with others.
Many people wonder what to do to encourage someone in difficult times. Some hesitate, afraid to err, or certain that “others have it covered.” Sometimes we are just so busy with our own schedules and goals that we don’t make the time to encourage. John Calvin says in his excellent Golden Booklet of the True Christian Life:
We should seek the good of other believers.
How extremely difficult it is for you dutifully to seek the advantage of your neighbor, unless you quit all selfish considerations and almost forget yourself. How can you perform the duties which Paul teaches to be works of love, unless you renounce yourself and devote yourself wholly to others? (see 1 Cor. 13).
If this be all that is demanded, that we do not seek our own, yet we must not exert little pressure on our own nature which is so strongly inclined to love self exclusively and does not easily permit us to neglect self and our own affairs. Let us rather seek the profit of others, and even voluntarily give up our rights for the sake of others.
Scripture urges and warns us that whatever favors we may have obtained from the Lord we have received them as a trust on condition that they should be applied to the common benefit of the church.
Who do you know in your church or family or neighborhood that is undergoing trials right now? Calvin continues:
Let this be our rule for goodwill and helpfulness that whenever we are able to assist others we should behave as stewards who must some day give an account of ourselves…. For we must not first of all try to promote the good of others by seeking our own, but we must prefer the profit of others.
With just a few minutes of time, some paper and ink and perhaps a stamp, you will be, as an old prayer states, “an instrument of God’s peace.” Let us go and “comfort with the comfort with which we have been comforted by God.”
This article first appeared in the October 2005 issue. Sharon L. Bratcher’s “Soup and Buns” book includes 45 of her RP articles. For information contact [email protected].