At the time, it was the highest and fastest roller coaster in the Southeastern United States. Rising above the city like a giant, green silly straw, The Kumba reached 65 miles per hour in the initial drop and continued into a maze of track wrapped and woven through the trees and walkways in the amusement park. It was the first roller coaster I had ever ridden. I rode it once, went back through the line again, then again. On the third trip, like the previous two, I sat in the same car, but I sat in a seat that had been vacant on the other trips.
As the cars began the slow climb up the initial ascent, I pushed against the padded safety collar that had been lowered over my head and shoulders before we started to move. When I pushed, the collar lifted away from me, pivoting on the hinge at the top of the seat’s headrest. It didn’t open completely, but it did swing up until it was above the 90 degree mark; I could lift it up above my sightline, quite far enough for me to be ejected from the seat in the loops. I slammed the collar against me, hard. It didn’t lock. I tried again and again to force the harness into the proper position, but to no avail. I looked at the stranger next to me. He was a heavily-tattooed motorcycle-type. He said only one sentence, “You, my friend, are about to die.”
Usually, when people go over the top of the ascent and begin the initial drop on those rides, they yell out in excitement. There were yells from me, but not from enthusiasm. I did have the forethought to lace my arms through the metal handles on the safety collar and brace my feet against a tiny metal lip near the edge of the car’s floor. This ride, this 45-second ride, seemed to span hours. With every loop, I lifted from my seat into a half-standing stance. When the ride finally ended and went into the station for unloading, I slumped down in my seat and dropped my arms. The collar rose up (while all the other’s remained locked). The attendant looked at me wide-eyed and said, “Your collar didn’t lock?”
“No, it didn’t,” I replied. He shouted out to another attendant to block off the seat until repairs could be made. I staggered out of the car, right behind Mr. Motorcycle Guy. His friends met him on the sidewalk, “How was it?” they asked.
“It was incredible!” he responded.
What made the difference? What was the difference between his experience and my last ride? We were on the same row, in the same car, on the same ride. But the two feet from the center of my seat to the center of his made the difference. Two feet over and he would have been yelling for his life. As a matter of fact, I had sat in his seat for the two previous rides and whooped with enjoyment. Now, two feet to the left, it wasn’t the same.
How many times do we sit two feet from someone in need of encouragement and didn’t recognize it (or worse, recognize it, but fail to offer encouragement)? We go along enjoying the ride, while a fellow passenger, white-knuckled with buckled knees, looks on at the same ride with terror. What’s the difference in us? Two feet.
Isaiah refers to God on a number of occasions in the context of the comfort he offers (Isaiah 40:1; 51:3; 66:13). Too often, when that comfort from God is given to us out of his great mercy and grace, we see it as completed action: “Now that I’m comforted, I never have to consider that problem again.” We move on and promptly forget the circumstances that brought us to the point where we needed the comfort. Paul writes, Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and 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).
Those verses show clearly the right response to God’s comfort. When God offers us comfort and consolation, when he brings us to the point where he speaks truth to our hearts through his word and his work, I am then to turn and offer that same comfort to others who find themselves in the seat that is only a couple of feet away.
Who can you reach out to and encourage and comfort today?
We would find our strength in the power of Christ in all our weaknesses. –
2 Corinthians 12:9-10 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
We will seek to fulfill the law of Christ to love one another by supporting each other in difficulties. – Galatians 6:2 Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
We will desire to build up others instead of tearing them down. – 1 Thessalonians 5:11 Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.