Have you ever walked through a time in your life when you felt mentally, emotionally, physically, or spiritually drained? Maybe you are in a season where you are suffering from physical difficulties or ailments. Maybe you are a new parent and you are physically exhausted. Maybe you are moving, or starting a new job and you lack strength. Maybe you are emotionally exhausted from conflict with your family, children or friends. Maybe you have been hurt by the local church and you are too tired to try again. Maybe this is how you are feeling right now. If this resonates with you, let’s read together.
The Apostle Paul walked through much difficulties in his lifetime. He was shipwrecked (Acts 27:27-44), blind (Acts 9:1-9), bitten by a poisonous snake (Acts 28:1-5), lashed (2 Cor 11:24), beaten (2 Cor 11:25; Acts 16:22), stoned (2 Cor 11:25), imprisoned (Acts 16:23), starved (2 Cor 11:27), rejected by Christians and the early church (Acts 9:26), suffered from a chronic illness (1 Cor 12:7), and was beheaded for his faith. I don’t know about you, but when I read that list it makes my problems seem much smaller.
And yet, even in spite of all these difficulties, Paul did not turn his back on the church, or on God. So, when we are facing difficulties in life how can we overcome them? What can we learn from Paul?
When Paul was battling with the thorn in his flesh, which many biblical scholars believe was a chronic illness, he says that he begged the Lord to take it away three times. Paul was doing all of the right things. He was serving God, he was a missionary, preaching the gospel, baptizing people, praying, and writing the Bible (YES, literally writing not reading it people). So, God saw all of Paul’s good works and took away his illness, right? Wrong.
Instead, God tells Paul this. “Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness’” (1 Cor 12:8-9).
God does not heal Paul. God does not take away Paul’s pain or affliction. God never promised us an easy life. In fact, he promises us the opposite. Jesus tells his followers in John 16:33, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” So what does God do? He empowers us with his strength and he works all of our afflictions for good. David writes about this in Psalm 34:19 saying, “The righteous person may have many troubles, but the LORD delivers him from them all.” Paul echoes this in Romans 8:28 saying, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
Okay, maybe that is not what you wanted to hear. Maybe you are thinking one of these things. “Well God, I prayed and I read my Bible and my car broke down,” or “I prayed for my mom every day and she still didn’t get better,” or “I am a good person so this should not be happening to me. I mean why do good things always happen to bad people?” You see, we are saved by grace through faith and not by works so that no man can boast (Eph 2:8-9). But, if we are NOT saved by our works why do we use our works to justify our anger towards God for the difficult situations in our lives? We use our works to create expectations for God and we become embittered when our expectations are not met.
In Proverbs 19:3 Solomon states that, “Some people ruin themselves by their own foolish actions and then blame the LORD.” How often is the source of our suffering found in our own actions? How often do we blame God for the negative impacts of our choices? How often do we let trivial daily events steal our joy, cause us distress, and lead us to exhaustion? For me, it is more often than I would like to admit. Maybe our suffering is not trivial, but even if it is not should we allow it to rob us of our future, our hope, or our joy? Should we allow it to drive a wedge between us and God?
May we be a community of believers who trust in the promises of God. May we be a community of believers who wait on the Lord to renew our strength. We have a promise that, “The Lord gives strength to his people” (Psalm 29:11). May we walk in his strength and not try to muster up our own strength in order to conquer life’s difficulties. For, “in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us” (Romans 8:37).