How do we so abruptly move on? The current topic from the pulpit is just too difficult to leave. Actually, we never leave this essential understanding in the Christian life, but after preaching on Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” from 2 Corinthians 12, I just have to give it some more attention – if not for you, at least for myself!
I have a confession. I struggle to effectively live the Christian life. Sure, I’m not committing any of the “big sins” and to the average onlooker (even to those who know me the best within my family and church) I might appear to have my spiritual act together. The sad reality is I don’t. God knows it and so do I. As a work in progress, I’m still convicted of Christian behaviors that are far too detached from my daily lifestyle. It’s the stuff that’s removed from the public eye and sadly, even further removed from the lukewarm Christian culture of today.
- James 1:2 calls us to “consider [our trials] all joy”. Because God uses our trials to “perfect” us into Christlikeness, we should “endure” them (literally – “remain under their weight”) until they accomplish God’s purpose in them for our lives (Jas. 1:4). Too often my attitude toward trials is one of discouragement and my primary aim is instant relief.
- Jesus Christ experienced His most agonizing time in Gethsemane. There He prayed regarding His imminent sacrifice. He had a definite desire and request that He brought to the Father. Yet He closed His prayer with the words, “Yet not as I will, but as You will” (Mt. 26:39). Too often God’s response to my prayers is met with disappointment when they are not precisely answered in the way I have already deemed best.
- There are certain traits that we acknowledge as being distinctively Christian. We admire them and to different degrees aspire to experience their fulfillment in our lives. Things like contentment and gratitude and joy and peace. What we fail to realize is that our Lord expects them of us continually. Too often I have substituted the frequent display of these traits for the convenient display of these traits.
Have you too, like me, fallen short in these areas? Does it bother you? The problem is not with the impotency of God’s Spirit or the articulation of God’s Word. The problem is not necessarily with your desire and ability to be all that the Lord wants. I’m convinced the primary issue is with a faulty view as to how we should approach the Christian life. The problem is in our way of thinking. Let me explain.
Paul wasn’t a big fan of his “thorn in the flesh” (2 Cor. 12:7). He claimed it tormented him. As a matter of fact, the Bible says he prayed three times to have it removed. God heard his prayer. God answered his prayer. And the answer Paul received was not the answer Paul desired. The thorn would stay, but grace sufficient to rise above the trial would be provided for the apostle.
We all have a tendency to exalt ourselves through the domains of pride or comfort. Trials are a significant barrier in that pursuit. Trials humble us. They make us uncomfortable. They wean us from self-reliance and self-sufficiency and cast us into the arms of the Savior. With no strength of our own, we find ourselves depending on God’s strength. With fewer opportunities for pleasure, we find ourselves pursuing holiness.
You see, God has a good plan for each of His children. His primary goal is to progressively conform us to the image of His Son (Rom. 8:29). Once that becomes our primary goal as well, we find ourselves more submissive to His agenda; an agenda that is always executed from the perfections of His divine wisdom, strength, goodness and love.
So instead of viewing the sins we are to avoid as separate entities of their own, perhaps we need to see them more as indicators that we are chaffing against our Lord’s primary purpose for our lives – holiness! This is the right perspective once we understand this concept and implement it by the grace He supplies. Only then will our lives will dramatically change for our ultimate good and His glory. Christian distinctives will begin to emerge and be sustained more consistently.
Instead of escaping weakness, it will be embraced as a means to divine strength. Instead of complaint, there will be contentment in whatever situation we find ourselves. Instead of anger, there will be praise. Instead of supplementing our lives with humanistic remedies, there will be sole dependence on the sufficiency of God’s Word and God’s grace. Instead of running away from God in trials, there will be a longing to run to Him. Instead of only asking for God’s comfort, there will be a fervent hunger to receive God’s holiness.
May we also learn and emulate the words from the apostle Paul: “And He has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’ Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:9-10).