Lesson 13 -- fourth quarter 2008
November 30, 2008
© Copyright 2008
What was Paul's point in reviewing his sufferings and misfortunes?
What does God hope to accomplish in us through suffering?
How can we maintain faith despite "no" answers from God?
Are we supposed to enjoy and be proud of our weaknesses?
If heroes or spiritual giants mix well with suffering, then I don't fall in either category. I also have a hard time maintaining a balanced, objective perspective while I am in the middle of suffering. I go to great lengths to avoid suffering. Sometimes I even make ridiculous choices -- putting up with prolonged allergy symptoms and painless medication rather than enduring the brief "trauma" of a cortisone shot!
In my early teens, a special friend killed herself with rat poison. As a missionary, I battled the mumps. In my early fatherhood I resigned myself to losing my second child to heart problems. I could only stand by and wait for paramedics when a young mother from our school was badly injured in a horrific car accident. During a six-hour glucose tolerance test I discovered I have a low tolerance for chain reaction blood drawing. I have had to live with the uncertainty of being under surveillance in a foreign land. My desire to return to full time mission work has been denied. So I have suffered some here and there in my lifetime.
Many others have suffered much more than I; perhaps you are one of those. The Apostle Paul's load of afflictions (2 Corinthians 11:23-28; 4:8-10) looks heavier than mine, yet he referred to it as "our light affliction, which is but for a moment" (2 Corinthians 4:17)! If his rate "light," mine surely score somewhere in the range of "weightless"! How could Paul have such a healthy view of his rough times? More importantly, how can I attain to that?
I need to learn to refocus. When I suffer, my problems become the sun in the solar system of my thoughts. I find it so difficult to think on something other than myself and my difficulties. I get so hung up on the immediacy of things personal, present, and problematic. God uses Paul to challenge us to look beyond the temporal things which are seen, to the eternal things which are not seen (2 Corinthians 4:18). Then we can see that our afflictions are "but for a moment" and can work "for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory" (2 Corinthians 4:17).
I must learn to say "Blessed be God" right in the middle of the situation, rather than waiting till its all over. I need to turn my thoughts toward "the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; who comforteth us in all our tribulation" (2 Corinthians 1:3). This could be a time of Bible study, meditation, and special prayer. Despite (and maybe even because of) my sufferings, God wants my "inward man . . . renewed day by day" (2 Corinthians 4:16) -- but I am too busy feeling bum!
God wants our sufferings to bring us closer to Himself, to experience the comfort and consolation of Christ. God also wants our sufferings to bring us closer to our family of faith so "that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God" (2 Corinthians 1:4).
When others are aware of my difficulties and sufferings, are they aware of distress and despair? Do they get the impression that I have been forsaken and destroyed? Or do they become aware of the life of Jesus made manifest in my body (2 Corinthians 4:10)?
"We count them happy which endure" (James 5:11)! Jesus endured the cross knowing that all kinds of joy would follow (Hebrews 12:2). I want that perspective; I want to look more to Him.
Grace: the desire and the power to do God's will. "For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure" (Philippians 2:13). Keep that in mind as we look a bit at a few verses focusing on grace for us.
"Thou therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus" (2 Timothy 2:1). Our ability and strength to please God comes only from Him. I believe we need to do better at appealing to Him for His grace for daily living. That exercise will keep us focused on Him, which will surely lead us to victory. Oh, and speaking of exercise, this verse suggests that we must continually exert ourselves in purposefully doing those things which we know please Him. How strong are you in that department?
"And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified" (Acts 20:32). I so easily forget that the Bible is the Word of His grace. God's Word needs to be my daily choice and focus if I wish to grow and be strong in grace. God and His Word will not only give me the spiritual maturity and strength I want, they will also give me a place among those who are His chosen ones.
"And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work" (2 Corinthians 9:8). In every situation and under all conditions, God's grace will enable you to please Him. So despite your weaknesses and failings, don't give up. Rather, let them remind you to call on God for His abounding grace. Never forget that His "grace is sufficient" and His "strength is made perfect in weakness" (2 Corinthians 12:9). Instead of giving way to despair over your humanity and sin, take hope in His "grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear" (Hebrews 12:28).
"But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble" (James 4:6). When I choose humility, God chooses grace for me. Putting God and others first in your life will free the grace of God to work in your life.
"Grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord" (2 Peter 1:2). Here you have another way to experience God's grace: Develop your relationship with Him.
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