We had a wonderful day at our church yesterday (Sunday). In the morning service we baptised Simon, who has only recently become a follower of Jesus, and he told us his moving testimony about his life and becoming a believer. We also had Sylvia, who was baptised in 1959 but didn’t have the opportunity to share her story at her baptism, so she shared about God’s faithfulness over all those years. We had Silvia who reaffirmed the promises she made at her baptism a number of years ago and told us of her journey of faith and how God had been with her and spoken to her. And we had Leisa, who is going through all sorts of difficulties but wanted to reaffirm her baptismal promises as a way of declaring that God has been with her throughout. And in the evening we were blessed when John, one of our members, led the service and preached about the cost of following Jesus.
As I said, it was a wonderful day.
Last night I opened a bedroom window to get some fresh air into the room on a muggy night. In the very early morning I was awoken by the local birds who were getting very excited about the fact that the sun was coming up again and were telling everyone about it. I decided to close the window to reduce the volume. As I walked to the window in the gloom of our room I trod on an upturned electrical plug (prongs up).
And what was the first thing I thought about this morning? Not the blessings of yesterday but the pain of last night. It may be just me but isn’t it true that pain, hardship, difficulty, troubles or whatever negative experiences we have seem to override the positives for us? It may be just me but many words of encouragement can be drowned out by one word of criticism.
It may be just me, or it may be human nature. If it is I am sure that evolutionary biologists will have an explanation for it – perhaps that we need to deal with negative experiences and events in order to overcome them: we can’t spend all our time laughing and rejoicing if we need to fight off a bear or run from attackers.
And it may not just be one-off events or experiences. Long term pain can drain and debilitate. Lengthy adversity can rob us of satisfaction and peace. Ongoing difficulty can destroy moments of joy. I know that too from my personal experience.
In those moments I have found immense satisfaction and strength from these words:
Pull yourself together. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
No. Actually not those words. Those words are unhelpful and inaccurate. Try these:
But [God] said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’
That may seem trite, but I have found immense encouragement and strength from God when I am going through tough times. Look at those words in the wider context of Paul’s second letter to the Corinthian Christians:
…in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 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 about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
We don’t know what or who the ‘thorn in the flesh’ was. But it was clearly something significant and dreadful for Paul to describe it in those terms and to plead for God to take it away. God’s response was not to take it away but to reassure Paul that he would have enough grace to cope, and find that God would make up what he lacked.
So whatever difficulties or hardships you face I would encourage you to plead that the Lord would take them away, but be ready for his response that may not be to take them away but instead to give you what you need to cope – even treading on an upturned plug!
Be blessed, be a blessing