How God Comforts and Nourishes Our Souls


Chicken Soup for the Soul has sold more than 100 million books in the United States and Canada and has been translated into more than 40 languages. After the first book was published 23 years ago, it was so successful that more were written. And now, there are over 250 titles in what has become a Chicken Soup for the Soul series.

The book was developed by motivational speakers Jack Canfield and Mark Victor, who used inspirational stories in their talks. When people repeatedly asked if the stories were written down somewhere, Canfield and Victor decided to compile their best 101 stories in a book — and they called it Chicken Soup for the Soul. Their hope was that they could help others by sharing stories and provide comfort and encouragement, much like a bowl of hot soup on a rainy day.

While the stories of others can be inspirational and motivational, and we connect to others through story and can be soothed by reading or hearing what others have gone through, our souls need to be fed by the Word of God and time spent with God. Just as our bodies need food and water, our souls need spiritual nourishment that can only be found in walking with God.

The Bible speaks of receiving our “daily bread” each day (Matthew 6:11). When tempted by Satan in the desert to turn stones into bread, Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). In other words, Jesus pointed to the reality that man needs spiritual nourishment and that our souls are designed to feed on the sustenance God provides.

We Find Nourishment When We Go the Way God Leads

Isaiah 49:9 says this: “[I will say] to the captives, ‘Come out,’ and to those in darkness, ‘Be free!’ They will feed beside the roads and find pasture on every barren hill” (emphasis mine). To give us the context of this verse, earlier in Isaiah 49, the Messiah is the speaker and is addressing the nations. He tells of His purpose in restoring Israel to himself and being a light to the Gentiles. Here in this section of the passage, the verses speak further of the Messiah’s purpose in bringing captives out of their slavery to sin and into freedom in walking with Him. Certainly these verses can speak of unbelievers becoming saved, but also can be representative of our Christian journey when we have put our faith and trust in Jesus and follow where He leads.

However, this verse also speaks of the Israelites in captivity to Babylon and talks about how they will be led by a Savior back to their home in Israel. (Side note: Obviously, at this point in history, Jesus had not physically come to earth yet as the Messiah, but was still very much present in the story of the Old Testament.) If we look at the history of Israel, the Israelites were taken from their homes and put into captivity in Babylon when they fell into idolatry and disobedience and broke the terms of their covenant with God. God allowed them to suffer the ruin of Jerusalem and their temple and be taken from their homes, but then, in his loving kindness, after a time period of 70 years, He allowed them to return back to their homes.

We can further observe 2 things:

The passage tells us that “they will feed beside the roads.” Here, the passage gives us a picture of the captives being led home. Like sheep following a loving shepherd, they were given nourishment and taken care of when they went the way that God led. In a similar way, we will receive nourishment when we walk in the path God has for us. In some translations it reads, “They shall feed in the ways” (emphasis mine).

We can’t miss that the food showed up alongside the roads. It wasn’t given beforehand. They were actually underway on the journey when they encountered the needed sustenance. As Alexander MacLaren points out, they were fed as they went. While we may hesitate to follow Jesus when His way looks hard and we don’t like what He tells us to do, we can be assured that we will be refreshed and strengthened when we make time to listen to His voice and follow Him. Though another way may be easier and more comfortable initially, if it’s not God’s way, it will lead to spiritual stagnancy and starvation.

Also, along those lines, as MacLaren also explains, the ways will feed us. Those things we do in obedience to Him will be those that give us strength:

If you wish to weaken the influence of any principle upon you, do not work it out, and it will wither and die. If a man would grasp the fulness of spiritual sustenance which lies in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, let him go to work on the basis of the Gospel, and he ‘shall feed in the ways,’ and common duties will minister strength to him instead of taking strength from him. We can make the smallest daily incidents subserve our growth and our spiritual strength, because, if we thus do them, they will bring to us attestations of the reality of the faith by which we act on them.

Secondly, we should note that not only will we feed beside the roads, we will “find pasture on every barren hill.” We can easily miss the contrast here if we don’t examine the words closely, but a juxtaposition exists between the pasture and the barrenness of the hills in which they walk. To understand this, we need to know that the landscape described is such where the pastures in which the flocks feed are down in the valleys, or low parts. There is no grass or landscape to speak of on top of the hills or mountains.

We can be encouraged that not only will we be fed in the ways God leads, even when God leads us to a place that appears to be a bare place or wilderness, He will provide for us in those places and keep us sustained. Though we all want our walks with Jesus to lead us to places that are trouble-free, that isn’t the reality of what will happen as Christians. In many ways, our lives may get more difficult when we become Christians because we will encounter more stress and trouble when we attempt to live out the counter-cultural mandates of the Bible. In addition, we live in a fallen world where we have sadness, sickness, and many trials.

Yet, even in those places of trouble and hardship, though God won’t necessarily take those trials away, God will be with us providing strength and encouragement. We may be lead to barren places where we are in great pain, but in those places of pain, we will have the help of God. Though it may be a struggle every day for us to get out of bed, when we turn to God, we have a place where we can take our anxiety, depression, guilt, sadness, anger, frustration — whatever ails us. Scripture tells us that God is close to the broken-hearted and crushed in spirit (Psalm 34:18; Psalm 147:3). It is better to walk with Him in those hard places than look for the comfortable path where we may have all we think we want, but be destitute in our souls.

Drawing the Sustenance God Offers

Friend, through our everyday trials, God is with us. He nourishes our souls in a way that only He can. And yet, we have to reach out and grab hold of the nourishment He offers. As MacLaren points out, “It is only an active Christian life that is a nourished and growing Christian life.” We have to intentionally draw close to God each day and read from His Word, and also obey His precepts. When we walk after Him and complete the tasks that He asks of us, He offers refreshment and strength and instruction to us in the process. We grow spiritually dry and stagnant when we neglect to carve out time for Him and His Word and ignore His voice or don’t attempt to hear His direction for us at all.

And what if we are far away at the moment? We can turn to Him and ask Him to help us get back on the right path. We can’t miss that the Israelites led were former captives — captives because of their sin and rebellion. And yet, God freed them from captivity. Just as the Jews are depicted in this passage as sheep led by a shepherd, we, as Christians, are also depicted as sheep elsewhere in the Bible (Psalm 100:3, Luke 15:4-7, John 10:11). When we allow God to lead us, He takes to places where there is an abundance of “food” for our souls. This truth can give us hope no matter what place we walk through — whether fertile valleys or barren heights.

Related Bible Verses:

Psalm 42:1: “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God.”

Philippians 4:19: “And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.”

Related Resources:

This article is the second in our series “Finding Hope in the Midst of Disappointing Circumstances.” Check out Part 1: “Work That Truly Matters” on finding meaning and purpose when you are disappointed in the work God has given you because you aren’t seeing the results you want or you feel hidden in your place of service. Stay tuned for the next two weeks as we will continue through the series.

Podcast Notes and Corrections:

Proverbs 11:25 says: “A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.” Many scholars and Bible teachers recognize the proverbs as providing principles, rather than sure-fire promises. However, because this idea can be found as a guarantee in other places of Scripture, we can refer to it as a promise.

For more study on Isaiah 49, and provide some great free commentaries. I referenced Alexander MacLaren’s, in particular.

In reference to Canfield and Victor, founders of Chicken Soup for the Soul, they used the inspirational stories of others in their talks — not their stories.

*Updated February 9, 2019



Carol Whitaker

Carol Whitaker is a coach's wife, mom, writer, and singer. She left a career in teaching in 2011 to pursue a different path at God's prompting. While she thought that the path would lead straight to music ministry, God had different plans -- and Carol found herself in a crisis of spirituality and identity. Out of that place, Carol began writing about the lessons God was teaching her in her desert place and how God was teaching her what it meant to be healed from a painful past and find her identity in Him rather than a title, a relationship, a career, or a ministry. These days, Carol spends her time shuttling her little ones back and forth from school, supporting her coach-husband on the sidelines, and writing posts. Carol also continues to love music and hopes to pick up piano playing again. Carol is a self-proclaimed blog junkie and iced-coffee lover. She resides in Georgia with her husband and three children.

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The Good That Can Come From Our Pain


A few years ago, when I went through my second miscarriage, I slipped into a deep period of grief and suffering that lasted several dark months.

In the midst of that season, I didn’t know if I could ever feel joy again. I felt confused as I looked around me at the healthy, happy people. How could others smile and enjoy life while I was too sick to stand on my feet for long periods of time?

While my physical health was on the mend and my emotions in an even more precarious state, I felt during that season that I was falling in a deep black hole. When I cried out to God for relief, He stitched across the divide and created a bottom to that bottom-less well. There would be an end to the grief, I found. I would climb out of the hole and find light and happiness once again.

A year after I had the miscarriage, I regained my health and was in a place where I could try again for another baby. However, I didn’t know if I had it in me emotionally and physically to go through another pregnancy. Before I had the chance to decide whether or not I could try again, I got the surprise of my life: I was pregnant!

I couldn’t believe it when I began to feel the tell-tale signs of a pregnancy. God, in His goodness, had allowed me to conceive again. And just because He is God, I got pregnant with my daughter Ansley exactly one year after my miscarriage date. I saw her on an ultrasound screen for the first time when she was 11 weeks — exactly the age of the one I had lost.

God Is Still Good When We Hurt

If only I had had the perspective following my pregnancy loss that I have now. It’s easy in times of intense suffering to believe that circumstances will never get better and assume God doesn’t care. While I don’t know everything entailed in your journey, I do know this: He is still good even when it hurts, and we can’t understand.

Recently, an unexpected medical situation popped up in my life. Doctors gave me a diagnosis of an internal tear, and it brought me to a place of pain for several weeks. Medical staff informed me painkillers would aggravate the problem, so I wasn’t given any. I was sent home with the same excruciating pain I felt going in and a small tube of numbing crème that didn’t numb anything at all.

And though the physical suffering was on a much smaller scale than the suffering I experienced after my miscarriage, I still suffered. And the questions still came: Why is this happening? Have you forgotten me, God? Why am I not getting better? Really? Did I have to get sick with a condition where they can’t give me any painkillers?

There was a point the morning after I spent the night in the urgent care where I was in so much pain (and so overwhelmed by the lack of pain management they were able to provide) that I burst into tears with the morning supervising nurse, saying: “I am a mom. I have three kids to take care of. How am I supposed to function?”

She surveyed me calmly, “What do you want me to do?” She wasn’t being rude, but she obviously had never suffered from this particular malady.

“I want you to fix me! I want a solution!” I felt like screaming these words, but instead I took a moment to edit them and present them in a much calmer manner. She gave a few suggestions, and I eventually stumbled out of there with a prescription for more crème and promises that a surgeon’s office would call me.

Why Suffering Can Be a Blessing

In retrospect, perhaps my grief in the urgent care was such because there was no easy fix. Suffering — physical or otherwise — takes us to that realization: Our bodies fail us. Our health isn’t forever what it was when we were teenagers. We realize again that our world is broken. We need only look around to survey the epic suffering all around us — and in us — and assess that things aren’t the way they should be.

Matthew 5:4 tells us, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”

Certainly, as many theologians assert, this verse refers to those who become aware of their own sin and the sin of others and weep over that. In their repentance and remorse for sin, Jesus comforts by taking away their guilt. However, a second application exists as well. For those of us who mourn because life’s trials become too much, Jesus is there to comfort us then as well.

So, you might say, “Well, Jesus may be there for us in our sorrow, but isn’t it still a bit of a stretch to say a person is ‘blessed’ if he mourns?” That is a really great question, and I have a great answer for it. The word “blessed” means “fortunate.” It sounds completely upside down in all ways to say that a person who suffers is “fortunate.” However, suffering can at times be viewed as a very good thing. Here’s why: It points us back to our Creator.

C.S. Lewis wrote this: “Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” What he meant is for the person who lives a life of ease and experiences very little pain, he may feel he can get along fine leaning on his own strength, but it is suffering that awakens him to his need of a Savior.

I once read a story about a proud atheist. He had a Christian grandson who tried unsuccessfully to witness to him. The grandfather lived as he pleased with great wealth, health, and happiness. However, in his later years, his health broke down. It was only in that place that he could receive the good news of the Gospel, sick on his deathbed, when all his worldly supports had failed him.

Similarly, sometimes our suffering is that which reminds us how weak we are on our own. Blessed are we in our suffering when we can look through our pain to the One who made us and call out to Him. God didn’t create the suffering on earth. He intended that we not live with sin or sickness.

However, He can use the suffering in our lives to help us reach a deeper awareness of Him. We may never find ourselves in such a position of utter dependence unless we first experience suffering.

Conclusion: God’s Grace Is Sufficient for Us When We Suffer

What can we conclude, then? In times of great affliction, a human solution doesn’t always exist: medicine that will take away the pain or a doctor that can make our body or mind go back to perfect health with a snap of a finger.

But no matter the diagnosis or circumstance, we can rest as believers in the truth that Jesus never leaves us, and He knows what we’re going through.

Admittedly, Jesus doesn’t always give us the physical healing we want right away. Some of us have to wait for eternity for that. But what He does give us is comfort and the strength to make it through each day relying on His power and not our own. In Him, we have a hope we can anchor ourselves to when everything has gone askew, and we can’t be sure of anything any longer.

In my most recent situation, I’d love to say that Jesus immediately took away my medical ills. But that’s not what happened. I improved slowly over a several week period. Some days I called out to Him in desperation to speed up the process — but did not get the immediate resolution I wanted. Rather, in one prayer time when I asked Him how he expected me to get through another day, these words came to mind, “ ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

More time passed where I experienced this same level of desperation. As more days went by, the pain lessened. And one morning, I woke up without pain. God had healed me.

I realize that not every story ends this way. And, certainly, I have had other situations that have had less desirable outcomes. However, Matthew 5:4 reminds us that we’re blessed when we mourn. Not just when the healing comes or life is going great.

We’re also blessed when we let our suffering remind us of our need for our Maker and allow His grace to be sufficient in our pain.


Carol Whitaker

Carol Whitaker is a coach's wife, mom, writer, and singer. She left a career in teaching in 2011 to pursue a different path at God's prompting. While she thought that the path would lead straight to music ministry, God had different plans -- and Carol found herself in a crisis of spirituality and identity. Out of that place, Carol began writing about the lessons God was teaching her in her desert place and how God was teaching her what it meant to be healed from a painful past and find her identity in Him rather than a title, a relationship, a career, or a ministry. These days, Carol spends her time shuttling her little ones back and forth from school, supporting her coach-husband on the sidelines, and writing posts. Carol also continues to love music and hopes to pick up piano playing again. Carol is a self-proclaimed blog junkie and iced-coffee lover. She resides in Georgia with her husband and three children.

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