A couple weeks ago at church a story was shared about the persecution of various pastors in Uganda. These pastors were blindfolded and lined in front of a firing squad. The particular pastor this story is about heard the gun fire but was miraculously not shot.
I in no way want to over simplify this story but for the sake of brevity, this pastor was the only survivor. As the awesomeness of God’s protection and this man’s dedication to Christ washed over all of us listening, I couldn’t shake the images of all the other pastors who had not survived. Why had God not saved them?
As a pastor I have lots of conversations with people who struggle with their faith. Some of these struggles are mental, some are emotional, and some are even physical. There is no easy way to explain to someone hurting why God seemingly lifts these burdens off of some people while other are forced to suffer. For most people, the reason to come to God is to suffer no more.
Paul seemed to struggle with this very thing as well. Paul claimed, “a thorn was given me in the flesh”. There is no way to really know what “thorn” Paul suffered with but his desperation in the verses that follow is very clear.
8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave 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 of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
2 Corinthians 12:8-10
Think about this for a second. The early church is seeing the power of God displayed in tremendous ways. Even through Paul’s own ministry many are being miraculously healed and delivered. And yet Paul himself is not delivered from something he calls “a messenger of Satan” in verse 7. He pleaded with God for freedom. Paul was struggling, why wasn’t God doing something?
But you’re not the Apostle Paul and most likely you’re not an African pastor facing a firing line. You’re not struggling with an unknown “thorn in the flesh” or death because of your faith. You’re an alcoholic, addicted to drugs or pornography. You were abused. You are fighting thoughts that fill you with increasingly deep shame. You are finding it difficult to resolve your faith with your sexuality. You feel isolated and alone. Sometimes… you just want to give up.
You, like Paul, cry out to be released from these daily battles while it seem all around you people are finding peace and strength. But what if I told you that everyday you and everyone around you are being freed from some struggles while others remain? I wonder if we don’t all have a “thorn in the flesh” that remains with us throughout this life. If there were no struggles, no suffering, no weakness there would be no need for grace. Where these things abound grace abounds all the more. Grace is revealed in suffering.
Our world has been shattered by disobedience and pride. This devastation has impacted everyone who has ever lived. We suffer, this is a fact. But God did not merely watch from afar removed from our suffering. No, He came to us in our own tortured lives and suffered with us. He felt the pain, torment, and desperation that we feel now. He faced rejection and hatred. He experienced temptation and the sting of betrayal. He saw first hand a world that was broken and gave His own life so that grace could comfort and sustain us.
We ask, “God, why don’t you do something while I’m suffering?” He responds, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
In suffering our weakness is revealed. Our need is made more evident in our struggles. Christ, having experienced it all, is never closer than in our suffering.
When we are weak, then we are strong.