The great risk of living with a Dangerous Consolation Deficit

Are you suffering from long-term CD? 

It seems to be the season for an outbreak of DCD, Dangerous Consolation Deficit. This is a common condition, which occurs when people in ministry face disappointment, suffering, rejection, frustration, pain or opposition, and do not find the consolation which only God can provide. What happens is that they soldier on and try to be brave, or else try to find the consolation which only God can provide from other sources, and so become angry, resentful, bitter or discouraged.

Peter Adam | April 2019 |

Step One

Paul praises ‘the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation/comfort/encouragement’ [2 Corinthians 1:3]. ‘All’ means as much as you need, and every kind you need! And we need the three words ‘consolation/comfort/encouragement’ to convey what Paul means here. 

Whenever you meet trouble in life or in ministry, go to God first.  And whenever you meet trouble in life or in ministry, go to God quickly.

I love Hannah’s words to Eli in 1 Samuel 1, when she has been praying to God, and Eli thinks she must be drunk! ‘I have been pouring out my heart before the LORD … I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation’ [vv. 15,16]. No trouble is too small, and no trouble is too great to bring to God: we should pour out our hearts, tell God what has happened, tell God what we feel about it, and ask God to comfort and console us.

A friend of mine in ministry recently received a very unpleasant letter. I told him about Hannah, and also the story of Hezekiah receiving a very disturbing letter from Rabshakeh of Assyria in Isaiah 36,37. We read ‘Hezekiah received the letter … went up to the house of the LORD and spread it before the LORD’, and then prayed to the LORD [37:14,15]. What a great way to cast your burden on God! ‘Cast your burden on the LORD, and he will sustain you’ [Psalm 55:21].

Dangerous Consolation Deficit is a problem for single people in ministry, because there is no one at home to chat about the frustrations of the day. The solution for single people is to know the consolations of God, to know the consoling God.

But actually Dangerous Consolation Deficit is a problem for everyone in ministry. For passing on our frustrations to our sympathetic spouse is not a good solution. When we do so, we feel better, but our wife or husband will feel worse! And they are powerless to act, and may still be carrying the burden when we are feeling OK again. Long-term bitterness and anger is a problem in those who are married to those in ministry. But actually the problem is deeper than that. Because a spouse, however sympathetic, cannot provide the consolation that only God can provide.

Trying to find the consolation that only God can provide in someone else or something else is a disaster. Either we will be satisfied with this consolation, and this person or thing will become our god; or we will not be satisfied, and we will become angry, resentful and bitter. 

Only God can provide what only God can provide! Spouse, friends, colleagues, alcohol, TV, success, busyness, distractions, pets, illicit sex, pornography will not and cannot provide it. Nor can the appreciation or adulation of the people to whom you minister. 

You misuse any of these people and things if you try to make them meet a need which only God can meet. We will pressure others and/or get angry with them when they don’t take the initiative in consoling us, or don’t provide it the consolation we want.

We need God’s consolation because: only God knows us on the inside; only God knows why we are hurt; only God knows if we have contributed in any way to the pain we are suffering; only God knows how he is using these things for our good; only God knows how he is preparing us for future trials by refining our faith; only God has an infinite supply of consolation; only God is strong enough to carry our burdens without weariness; only God knows the larger pattern of our lives; only God has the right to ask us to continue suffering for him; and we are only answerable and accountable to God.

Here are wonderful words from John Calvin:

But this simplicity will, in my opinion, be more agreeable to Scripture, if we say that the Son of God, having clothed himself with our flesh, of his own accord clothed himself also with human feelings, so that he did not differ at all from his brethren, sin only excepted. In this way we detract nothing from the glory of Christ, when we say that it was a voluntary submission, by which he was brought to resemble us in the feelings of the soul. Besides, as he submitted from the very commencement, we must not imagine that he was free and exempt from those feelings; and in this respect he proved himself to be our brother, in order to assure us, that we have a Mediator, who willingly pardons our infirmities, and who is ready to assist those infirmities which he has experienced in himself. Calvin, Commmentary on John 11:35

To depend on someone else or something else for the consolation that only God can provide is idolatry. ‘Little children, keep yourselves from idols’ [1 John 5:21].

Here is the witness of the Psalmist: ‘When the cares of my heart are many, your consolations cheer my soul’ [Psalm 94:19]

Eliphaz challenged Job: ’Are the consolations of God too small for you, or the word that deals gently with you?’ Job 15:11

Peter tells us: ‘Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you’ [1 Peter 5:6,7].

When you want God’s consolation, then first of all praise him as ‘the father of mercies and the God of all consolation’; then tell him that you trust him as the consoling God; then ask him for his consolation; and then pour out your heart to him, telling him what has happened and what you feel about it. 

Echo the words of Psalm 31.

In you, LORD, I have taken refuge; 

let me never be put to shame; 

deliver me in your righteousness. 

Turn your ear to me, 

come quickly to my rescue; 

be my rock of refuge, 

a strong fortress to save me. 

Since you are my rock and my fortress, 

for the sake of your name lead and guide me. 

Keep me free from the trap that is set for me, 

for you are my refuge. 

Into your hands I commit my spirit; 

deliver me, LORD, my faithful God

Psalm 31:1-5

Step Two

Once we know that God is ‘the father of mercies and the God of all consolation’, and once we turn to him first when we are in trouble, and once we wean ourselves off making other people or things our chief source of consolation, then we can rightly receive God’s consolation through other people.

For Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 1 that he consoles others with the consolation he receives from God:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all consolation, who consoles us in all our troubles, so that we can console those in any trouble with the consolation we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our consolation abounds through Christ. If we are distressed, it is for your consolation and salvation; if we are consoled, it is for your consolation, 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 consolation [1:3-7].

And he writes in 2 Corinthians 7 of the consolation he received from Titus and from the Corinthians:

For when we came into Macedonia, we had no rest, but we were harassed at every turn—conflicts on the outside, fears within. But God, who consoles the downcast, consoled us by the coming of Titus, and not only by his coming but also by the consolation you had given him. He told us about your longing for me, your deep sorrow, your ardent concern for me, so that my joy was greater than ever 7:5-7].

When we know and remember that it is God’s consolation that we received through others, then we rightly praise him for that consolation, and so learn to depend on him, not on other people.

Of course the consolation that God provides through others is wonderful, moving, powerful, sustaining, and precious, and we are all enriched by it. But we must value the giver, not the gift. And the real giver of that consolation is God, the God of all consolation. We rightly thank those who understand us, listen to us, and support us in times of difficulty. But they know, and we should remember, that it is God’s consolation we are receiving, and that he does not share his glory as the God of all consolation with anyone, or anything [Isaiah 42:8].

When we need consolation from others:

 * Go to God first! [Do it straight away, before you go home!]

 * If you are reluctant to ask for it, then don’t be! Others will be blessed as they console you, and so will you as you receive God’s consolation through them.

 * Be wise and discerning in the choosing who to ask. Recognise if you are in danger of developing an unhelpful dependency. And choose someone who is mature, and will maintain confidentiality, and not use what you tell them against you!

* If we do ask for consolation from others, then we need to realistic, honest, open to correction, and the conversation should be soaked in mutual love, respect, prayer, and confidentiality.

 * It is good to share the burden, and not depend on just one person for consolation.

 * Recognise that others have their burdens, and may not be able to help us at this time.

 * Recognise when you are beginning to depend on people not on God.

Remember these words of God:

For the LORD comforts his people
   and will have compassion on his afflicted ones [Isaiah 49:13].

The LORD will surely comfort Zion
   and will look with compassion on all her ruins …
‘I, even I, am he who comforts you’ [Isaiah 51:3,12].

May you experience the consolation of God. And may these words become your words:

For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation.

He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken …

For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him.

He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken.

On God rests my salvation and my glory; my mighty rock, my refuge is God.

Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him;

God is a refuge for us [Psalm 62:1-2, 5-8]. 

Other useful resources:

I recently published this on the danger of neglecting our createdness:

On dealing with sexual abuse in church:

On the Christchurch massacre:

On the Sri Lanka massacre:

With warmest good wishes for your own lives and ministries,