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Rector's Letter

Comfort and encouragement in weakness.

Which of us hasn’t ever suffered? Suffering is certainly a state we can all relate to. It’s hard to bear, and it leads naturally to asking, “Should it really be like this? And why doesn’t God do something about it?”

We wrestled with such questions at our church AwayDay in Weston in early May, led by the Revd John Shepherd. John reminded us of the influential Christian leader and preacher John Stott. In his older years Dr Stott fell and broke his hip, lying there unable to move. Later, he wrote (“The Radical Disciple”) of that incident in these words: “Do not forget my earlier experiences, spreadeagled on the floor, completely dependent on others. For this is where, from time to time, the radical disciple needs to be. I believe that the dependence involved in these experiences can be used by God to bring about greater maturity in us.” God’s good purposes are always broader and more far-reaching than we can ever imagine.

This is what we ought to expect, based on the apostle Paul’s description of God as “the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort” (2 Corinthians 1 3). And nor was this ever any mere theory for Paul, because he himself suffered a lifetime of torment from what he decribed as a thorn in his flesh (2 Cor 12 7). He writes that three times he pleaded with the Lord to take it away from him. But the Lord’s answer was “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor 12 9) Despite his continuing suffering, Paul goes on to rejoice that, in consequence, Christ’s power rests upon him as Paul himself is preserved from the danger of conceit. Therefore, he says, “when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor 12 10)

And we’re never abandoned by God in our suffering. He’s a God of comfort when we’re under pressure, and a God of hope when we hit the depths. According to Paul, there are three God-given purposes in suffering. First, as we experience God’s comfort ourselves, we learn to comfort others. Second, we learn to trust God instead of trusting ourselves. And third, we learn to pray. (Which of us prays more earnestly in good times than in troubled times?)

So the message John Shepherd left us with was this. Be encouraged in your weakness, because God is full of grace, and be encouraged when life is hard, because God is a God of comfort. Be encouraged!

Rob Thomas

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