Ever hear of the “bend-over-back-over toe-hold”? If you have you must be from Nackawic. It’s when someone gets you in a hold that there is no escape from. Try as hard as you will, there is no way out. Can’t you just visualize it from the name?
I’ve seen that at the High School level. Elaine and I used to attend wrestling matches at Falconer High School. The places would be packed. The conflict on the mat was entertaining but watching the mothers of the combatants was the best. You could tell the mother’s of the kid who was on the bottom. They would be beating their husbands, losing all sense of dignity. I remember the coaches and other floor officials literally holding mothers back as they would storm the ring to pull someone off their child
Sometimes life locks us up in the same way. In the old “bend-over-back-over toe-hold”. Try as hard as you might, there’s just no evident way out, you’re pinned to the mat and your mother is no where in sight. You wish it were as simple as a physical wrestling match.
Paul the apostle, one of the greatest figures in the history of the church, writes a record of his own extremes struggles in 2 Corinthians 1:3-11:
" Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort. We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many." (2 Corinthians 1:3-11, NIV) 
I think that there is great knowledge and awareness to be gained when we face life’s “bend-over-back-over toe-holds”. This struggle that Paul mentions is severe.
“We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death.”
“. . . . we despaired even of life.” The times when life hits us with such force that we ask ourselves whether or not we want to live or whether or not we can endure. I’ve seen that with some dear folks in particular who have had trouble stacked upon trouble. They have a Job experience when where all news seems to be bad news and it just doesn’t stop coming.
I think that there may be some insight for us in the scripture that will help us to face the problems that we are currently bound by and perhaps help for those that await us.
1. First of, Paul tells us that He is the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles.
He is ever present and ever active in our lives. I don’t know about you but I talk a lot to God when I face difficulties. I breathe prayers constantly. Some of my prayers are questions as to why I should be facing this or that. Some are cries for direction as to what steps I should take. But I feel like the Apollo 13 crew when things go askew and the essence of the cry is: “Houston, we have a problem.” I watched that movie again a few weeks ago. It wasn’t a fictional story you know. This really happened and those in distress were not merely those in the space capsule. In the control room there were an army of people who were helping the astronauts in peril through every unexpected twist. I remember the one assignment where they were given a collection of materials available in the space capsule and were instructed to construct a device that would filter the carbon dioxide out of the air so that they could continue to breathe. I remember watching them labor over the preservation of battery power, calculating which systems to shut down and which were necessary to maintain so that they would be able to re-enter the earth’s atmosphere.
You know there are problems that we have to find our way through in life. They don’t go away, they have to be navigated. None of it is fun but life holds those challenges for us. We have to find answers with what we are given. God gives us what we need. With direction we can do much with little. Often the answers come from what we already have not what we don’t have and God’s role is to “comfort” us or “coach” us through the situations that we encounter. He will not take away every problem that we face but He will provide “comfort” as we work our way through. Some of you have been in tight situations before and you have watched and listened and tried to act on His direction and you found your way home.
2. Secondly, he tells us that there is no wasted experience in our lives.
“. . . so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.”
He comforts us so that we can be a comfort to others. I know that there are for me, those areas of deep hurt that have produced in me a passion to help others find their way through pain.
I have a passion for kids whose parent’s divorce. There are times when divorce happens and I have to say that there are times when it should. It’s not God’s perfect plan or intention any more than it is the intention of any couple to divorce when they marry. No one likes divorce and no one wins. I don’t know what it is like to face that as a spouse. I want you to know that I feel pain for people who experience it. But I do know what it is like to experience it as a child in a home where your mother and father are destroying one another day after day. It is a miserable experience and I have over the years, extended myself to people who are facing this obstacle.
For me the experience of God’s help through that time is something that I want to allow to overflow through my life to others.
And you as well have learned through painful experience and you have felt God’s help and touch in these times. What you have experienced is meant to be passed on to others. To partner with God in mission control to reach out to someone else stranded in space.
3. Sometimes we have to be forced to take a step back to find the help that we need.
“Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.”
There are times when our trials remind us of our own limits and our limitations. They provide accurate information about the kind of shape that we are in. One of the worst things in the world is to be blinded by pride and to overestimate or sufficiency.
I taught Tae Kwon Do for several years. One of the things that I learned quickly was that earning a black belt did not mean that you could single-handedly take the world on. It didn’t mean that you could conquer any enemy. What it taught me was that if someone wanted to damage me physically, they had to want to do it badly enough to get hurt themselves. I have discovered that most of life’s bullies don’t want to hurt people that bad. We used to say that when you were a white belt you were nothing, and when you were a black belt you were a dangerous nothing. The bottom line in TKD was that a person who earned a black belt had mastered the basic skills and techniques so that with continued practice they would find continued improvement. But you could always see the ones who had the attitude that once they earned the black belt, they had it together.
As I read about the life of Christ, I am reminded that he was continually in a pattern of engagement and withdrawal. He would minister to people intensely and then try to disappear – to become inaccessible. I think this was out of necessity. You can only grab the bull by the horns and hang on for so long. The bull will outlast you if you try to outmuscle it. The same is true with our problems if we don’t learn this same pattern of engagement and withdrawal.
"Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed." (Luke 5:15-16, NIV) 
I think that Jesus stepped back in order to be better. Just some brief thoughts for your consideration:
- In order to be effective with people there have to be times when we are inaccessible to people.
- In order to be a “problem-solver” there have to be times when we are not problem conscious.
- Some of the greatest answers to our problems are found when we back away from them.
- The life that you live apart from your work will determine the quality of your work and the degree of your success.
4. And lastly, Paul reviewed the history of God’s faithfulness in order to sustain himself.
“He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers.”
God has a history of faithfulness more so than anything or anyone else in this world that I know of. When I look back at the rough points of my own life and ask myself how I made it through, the constant in each difficulty was the presence and the faithfulness of God. There were anxious moments, times of emotional distress and pain, and there was God and I have discovered that He sustains His people.
Andrae Crouch wrote a song years ago called through it all. No one sang the song better than Patti Brown. She sang it better than Andrae. It wasn’t her voice but her credibility that brought waves of blessing and encouragement to me the many times that I heard those words sung.
I’ve had many tears and sorrows,
I’ve had questions for tomorrow,
there’ve been times I didn’t know right from wrong.
But in every situation,
God gave me blessed consolation,
That my trials come to only make me strong.
Through it all, through it all,
I’ve learned to trust in Jesus,
I’ve learned to trust in God.
Through it all, through it all,
I’ve learned to depend upon His Word.
I thank God for the mountains,
and I thank Him for the valleys,
I thank Him for the storms He brought me through.
For if I’d never had a problem,
I wouldn’t know God could solve them,
I’d never know what faith in God could do
What made her credible. She was sincere for sure. She held the microphone in a gnarled, malformed hand and she sang from the wheelchair that she was confined to for life. Whenever I hear her sing, my own problems diminished and I found new faith in God’s wonderful love and care.
Today, many of you know God’s faithfulness. He’s proven it to you again and again and He longs to help you and to continue to do so. To bring you to the place where you live in this comfort and you seek His help to find your way.
Just to re-cap:
- Receive God’s Comfort
- Comfort someone else with the same comfort.
- Take a Step Back
- Review His Faithfulness
 The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
 The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.