The Most Comforting Words I Know

Apr 12, 2021 | Mentors on Monday

I recently had a great conversation with an editor who has worked in Christian publishing for many years. During our conversation, the editor mentioned something that has stayed with me. In essence, the editor said: The books that are selling the best right now are the ones delivering comfort in some way.

Put another way, what readers are looking for . . . what readers are buying books to get . . . is comfort.

I agree with the editor’s assessment. A popular trend right now in the book-making world is to produce words that bring comfort. Don’t we all want comfort? I know I do. I’m all about comfort.

For me, I like comfort in the form of stretchy yoga pants, even though I never do yoga. I also like wrapping a plush chenille blanket around me, with a book on my lap, while drinking a hot cup of tea. And it’s not just these simple comforts I enjoy. I welcome the comfort that comes with predictable routines, and I especially relish the comfort of being around like-hearted people who totally get me.

To some degree, I suppose I also look for comfort in the books I read. I’m currently reading a book called The Wisdom Pyramid by Brett McCracken. I’m finding great comfort in the words of this book because it’s affirming many of the choices I have made over the years. Just listen to the description on the back cover: This book “challenges us to increase our intake of enduring, trustworthy sources (like the Bible) while moderating our consumption of less reliable sources (like the Internet and social media).” Doesn’t that sound like me?

All that to say, I am probably not much different than the average book buyer, looking for affirmation and comfort in the words I read.

And yet.

Comfort isn’t my only aim in reading. First and foremost, I turn to reading as a way of seeking truth, and I’m convinced the only definitive source of truth is God’s Word. The Bible, however, isn’t always “comforting” to read. I mean, it’s easy enough to cherry pick the “happy verses” that tell us how we are made in God’s image and loved by him. But there are other passages where the author’s primary purpose isn’t necessarily to bring comfort, but to bring conviction.

I dare say conviction may be going out of style these days.

It is far easier — and far more popular — to tell people how amazing they are, how loved they are, and how great they are as moms or friends or whatever. This kind of ultra-positivity is everywhere, both within Christian spheres and without.

On the one hand, I’ll take the positivity over the negativity that is so pervasive on the Internet. On the other hand, a steady info-diet of sweet positivity cannot nourish the soul, just as a steady diet of sugary sweets cannot nourish the body.

As readers, we like comfort. And at times, tender comfort may be exactly what is needed in a particular moment. But we will never grow into the fullness of maturity if we subsist solely on an intake of sweet, comforting words. We need truth — the kind of truth that can only be found in Scripture. For instance, a well-known verse in the Bible says:

“Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty.” (Revelation 4:8)

When I consider the holiness of God, I am simultaneously convicted of my own unholiness. God is holy; I am not. This is a fundamental premise in the story of redemption. We need Christ to save us precisely because we cannot acquire holiness on our own. I appreciate how one author expounded on this:

“Repetition is a form of emphasis. . . . To mention something three times in succession is to elevate it to the superlative degree, to attach to it emphasis of super-importance. . . . Only once in sacred Scripture is an attribute of God elevated to the third degree. Only once is a characteristic of God mentioned three times in succession. The Bible says that God is holy, holy, holy. Not that He is merely holy, or even holy, holy. He is holy, holy, holy. The Bible never says that God is love, love, love; or mercy, mercy, mercy; or wrath, wrath, wrath; or justice, justice, justice. It does say that He is holy, holy, holy, that the whole earth is full of his glory.” (R.C. Sproul, The Holiness of God, Ch.2)

It’s notable that this passage is from a book written 36 years ago. Many books today focus almost exclusively on God’s love and mercy, perhaps in an attempt to offer comfort. But if you are in a place where you desperately need some words of comfort, I am convinced the totality of Scripture offers the truest comfort one can find anywhere, and it’s this:

God is holy, holy, holy.

I am not, not, not.

I am a sinner, completely unable to produce any kind of holiness or goodness in myself. In my darkest days, I needed rescuing, and to God’s amazing glory, he saved me. He lifted me out of a miry pit of despair and gave me new life. And he will do the same for you, which is the truest comfort there is.

So, I’m not saying I think comfort should go out of style. Not at all. The Apostle Paul described God as,

“the 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.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)

Genuine comfort is a beautiful thing, but so is conviction. It’s interesting to me that Jesus never said, “Comfort will set you free.” He said,

“The truth will set you free” (John 8:32).

And that, my friends, is what I want for all of us — to know the truth that sets us free. Nothing could be more comforting than that.

 


 

Today’s article is part of a series called #MentorsOnMonday where I share some insights I’ve gained from authors I’ve read who have been like “mentors” to me. If this article has connected with you in some way, I’d love to hear to about it. You can connect with me here.

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Denise J. Hughes

Denise J. Hughes

Denise writes about “the quiet life” — a phrase found in 1 Thessalonians 4:11. It’s a vision for living counterculturally in a loud and restless world. She is the author of Deeper Waters and the General Editor of the CSB (in)courage Devotional Bible. Denise lives in North Carolina with her husband and three kids.

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