Life is filled with so much pain from sickness, suffering, and disappointments. While there are many blessings as well, no one can deny the heaviness many experience through seasons of suffering. When you hear of a mother battling cancer while trying to care for her children, a child fighting for his life against leukemia, the mass amounts of people struggling with debilitating auto-immune diseases or just the many disappointments that often seem to come all at the same time; how do we not just survive but experience contentment and peace a midst all the pain?
Lately there have been many days which I have battled thoughts such as “I can’t do this anymore;” “This is too much for me to bear;” or “I am feeling crushed beyond what I can withstand.”
For example, when I get a phone call from my husband telling me that he won’t be home till late because he’s on call for work, I am immediately faced with a battle. While I desire to respond graciously knowing how much he’d rather be home, many ongoing physical problems make me feel like crawling into bed, rather than facing the reality of another night alone dealing with circumstances that feel impossible to handle.
Many times each day I plead with the Lord to give me the strength to just keep going. When everything in me wants to quit and check out, I am learning what it means to need the strength of the Holy Spirit to just make it to the end of the day.
By God’s grace, I have surrendered my life to Jesus Christ. I desire to obey Him and follow where He leads me. But in all honesty, constant physical ailments and pain have tested my faith more than any other circumstance in life. If I feel strong physically then I feel much more capable to handle the other storms of life. However, God has allowed every area of my life to be taken to a breaking point and my body has been wearing away under the weight of it all. Anyone who suffers with chronic pain understands how quickly it brings you to the end of yourself. How do we handle the many hardships of life when our bodies fail us? I know God can bring healing in an instant, but what if He has chosen not to?
Paul says in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10
“So to keep me from being too elated by the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I pleaded with the the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 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. 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.”
There are 5 truths God has been teaching me through these verses.
1. The enemy uses suffering and pain for his own destructive purposes, but God still allows them and uses them for our good and His glory. We see the same thing in the account of Job. Satan wanted to destroy Job to prove that he only served God for the blessings and protection God had given him. However, God used his painful suffering to reveal Himself to Job more fully and open his eyes to things far greater than He’d ever seen before. Job proclaimed during his suffering, “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear; but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” Job 42:5-6
2. We can plead with the Lord to remove the thorn from our flesh. It’s not wrong to seek answers for what ails us, as long as we put our ultimate hope in Christ alone, and not solely in finding relief and answers. We can pray for direction while at the same time surrendering to God’s will for our lives, even if it means we don’t get the answers we are seeking in our timing. As we bring our requests to Him in confidence of His goodness and love for us, we can find rest that He will sometimes choose to change our circumstances, but He will always choose to change our hearts first and foremost. So the question we need to ask ourselves is; “Is my sole desire to get relief from my pain or is it of greater value to me to allow Christ’s powerfully changing work in my heart, whether that comes through relief or pain until the day I am called home?”
3. Sometimes God chooses to allow the thorn in our flesh in order to reveal our weaknesses and need for complete dependency on Christ. “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” v.9 In our flesh, our tendency is to fall back on our own sufficiency and strength. So it’s God’s grace when he allows things in our lives that make us depend on him more and learn that He is all that we need. When we can’t rely on ourselves, we are driven to rely more on Him.
4. When we recognize, acknowledge, and even boast in our weaknesses, that is when the power of Christ will rest upon us in a heart-changing and God-glorifying way. Over the last few years, my prayers for answers and relief have gradually changed into prayers of desperation for Christ to carry me through in His strength and not let me go. He has been changing my heart through the pain. “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” v.9b Seeing the power of Christ rest upon us will increase our faith and help us see purpose in our pain. It reveals His glory to us and those around us.
5. Contentment and joy come with acceptance of our weaknesses and boasting in Christ’s strength instead of our own. Sometimes God’s answer is in the form of healing and relief, but other times His answer is “My grace is sufficient for you, and my power is made perfect in weakness.” Paul pleaded with the Lord three times until God answered. Once God answered, he didn’t keep pleading and arguing with the Lord because He didn’t like the answer. He instead accepted God’s answer and chose to obediently follow His eternal purposes for the thorn in his flesh. I have struggled with finding joy as I endure the trials in my life and I yearn for heaven a little more each day. But what I’m learning as I read through Paul’s response, is that we will not find joy until we accept what God is allowing in our lives and see greater value in becoming more like Christ than in our circumstances changing.
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have it’s full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” James 1:2-4
As I continue to pray, asking for relief and answers, I am also daily learning to stop striving in my own strength and grow in understanding of what it means to “boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” God has allowed everything in my life for a reason, and while I may not understand a lot of it, I do have His promises that He will equip me for everything that He calls me to.
So let us stop striving with fear and anxiousness to change what we don’t have the power to change and, cry out to the Lord in our weakness that He would be our strength. Every breath we take is dependent on His sustaining power.
Let’s pray that Jesus will increase our faith so that we desire more of Him than anything else in this world, even if it means His answer to us in times of pain is not a solution to our problems but a faithful promise that His power will be made perfect in our weakness. May we experience a greater joy and satisfaction in Him than we ever would without the weaknesses He has allowed in our lives.
“My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” Psalm 73:26
Clinging to Christ,