A pastor once told me that he considers it his personal calling to “afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.” Those words became more than just a clever catchphrase after a recent business trip to Ohio.
Afflicting the Comfortable Takes Guts
One time, I boarded one of those cramped regional jets that have just enough leg room for a newborn baby. With a pair of headphones covering my ears, I made it clear to the passenger pressing into my left shoulder that I was not a talker.
Apparently, the man was unfamiliar with the unwritten code of air travel conduct because he struck up a conversation with me. As it turns out, he was a small business owner returning from a luxurious vacation in Amelia Island. With only two years remaining before retirement, this man seemingly had it all. He was part of “the comfortable” despite the stingy 17-inch wide seat.
Then in the quiet of my conscience, the Holy Spirit said, “Tell him about Me.” Our conversation continued into politics, vocations and vacations. Then God said it again, “Tell that guy about Me” and yet I continued to resist. My inexcusable lack of obedience was rooted in one assumption; this man had it all together. Surely he wasn’t ripe to respond to the afflicting message that Jesus Christ is Lord and rightfully demands that we abandon the idols of the American dream. The plane landed, I untangled my legs, then said goodbye to the businessman I’ll likely never meet again.
Comforting the Afflicted Takes Compassion
A few days later, I was sitting in the lobby of a posh downtown Cincinnati hotel with my laptop open. As a natural introvert, I kept my head low and smiled at other guests sitting near me if for no other reason than to avoid looking creepy.
One of the hotel guests eventually moved closer to my seat. She was smiling, energetic and clearly seeking conversation. I was none of these. The young lady claimed that she had been stood up by a blind date that never showed. Her next comment made it clear to me why she was loitering in that downtown hotel lobby. Her self-proclaimed goal for that evening was to seek out a “sugar daddy”. If you’re unfamiliar with that term, a sugar daddy is a wealthy man willing to provide money to a younger woman for certain services. You get my drift.
My stomach sunk at the sight of an intelligent young lady willing to give herself over to the next man with enough money in his wallet. I made it clear that I would be no source of income to her and then began to close up my laptop to call it a night. Before I walked away, I asked if I could try to talk her out of this way of life. To my surprise, she agreed to have the chat.
Over the next hour, I discovered that this 22-year old college graduate named Kelly had been beaten down by an abusive father, an overwhelming student debt load, and a badly broken world. Her once confident and casual demeanor surrendered to the weight of raw emotion; the sorrow of her soul evidenced by the tears and mucus she wiped from her face.
Sitting in front of me was the personification of “the afflicted”. I gladly offered her the comforting news of the gospel, telling her that she was uniquely created by God but that sin had tarnished everything. Through blood-shot eyes, she avowed her intention to seek God through prayer when she arrived home that night. Whether she ever did, I’ll probably never know.
That pastor wasn’t exactly right though. It’s not just his personal calling to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted. It’s the mission of every follower of Christ to inject gospel truth as poison to the pride of human comfort or as a panacea to the pain of the human heart. The first takes guts. The second demands compassion. Both require love.