Thursday, May 8, 2014

Therefore I Am Well-content: Living in God's Grace

Our nation will forever feel the effects of 9/11. We are reminded daily of the current terrorist threat level. We are sending our loved ones off to war. Our economy is in a slump. Some of us are sick. Some of us are unemployed. Many of us are at the end of our rapidly fraying ropes of security. Surely, Paul couldn’t have been referring to situations such as these when he exhorted us to be content in all things. What was Paul thinking?

Paul was thinking some of the same things that we are. Paul suffered with some type of physical ailment that he referred to as “a thorn in the flesh” (2 Corinthians 12:7). Like us, Paul would have welcomed an escape from his suffering. In fact, in 2 Corinthians 12:7-8, Paul asked God to remove it. Paul wrote, "7 Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me—to keep me from exalting myself! 8 Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me." In addition to this thorn, Paul had been beaten, persecuted, imprisoned, and was facing death. How did God respond? In 2 Corinthians 12:9 Paul wrote, "And He has said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.'” Paul found this grace. What was it? How did he find it? What did he do with it? 

Grace is God’s unmerited favor. It is the extension of God’s hand to His undeserving child. To receive God’s grace is to receive what you do not deserve: redemption through Jesus Christ. According to Romans 5:1-2, faith is the key that releases God’s grace. Through his faith in Christ, Paul received the gift of God’s unmerited favor. God reminded Paul that His grace was sufficient. God did not remove Paul’s thorn, yet Paul not only accepted God’s answer, but in 2 Corinthians 12:9 he wrote, ” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me."

To boast means to glory or to exult over. Am I to exult over my “thorn in the flesh,” my weaknesses, my distresses, and my sufferings as did Paul? Clearly, God’s answer is yes. For only when I boast about or exult over these things, can I recognize my total dependence on God and my need for my Savior. Without Christ, my weaknesses are just weaknesses. With Christ, my weaknesses are opportunities for me to seek Him and to allow Him to do His work in me. Surely that is something to be gloried! I easily understand this principle, but applying it has often been difficult.

“But this is too big,” I said. “This is too painful. I will never be able to boast over this.” I was convinced of those words. My heart was cut too deeply to boast. The pain was too much to bear. The change in my life was too big to overcome.

A simple sprain followed by a simple surgery to remove tiny bits of scar tissue that had formed between my carpal bones. Then the nightmare began. An aggressive, destructive tumor took my right hand captive. In two-and-a-half years I endured nine operations, countless hours of occupational therapy, four months of wearing a cumbersome machine attached to my hand, and radiation treatment. There is not an established protocol for the treatment of my condition. I prayed incessantly about this hand. My husband prayed. My friends and family prayed. My church prayed. Elders anointed me with oil and prayed over it. The emotional ups and downs throughout this time were unrelenting. Each corner promised a new and hopeful solution. However, nothing stopped the tumors. I quickly lost most function of my hand. There was nothing I could do but pray.

I’d always known that God would answer, but I wasn’t seeing it. Then He guided me to 2 Corinthians 12. This passage became a lifeline for me. I read and prayed it more times than I could count. Through Paul, God taught me how to respond to my situation. He showed me that Paul did, in fact, boast about his weakness. What was the result?

In 2 Corinthians 12:10, Paul wrote, "Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong." To be content means to be well-pleased. Paul knew that by boasting in his circumstances, he allowed the power of Christ to dwell in him. That power not only made Paul content with his weaknesses, but also provided Paul with the strength to face them and to use them as opportunities to glorify Him. 

My hand remains my thorn. It will never function as it should. The pain may never cease. The scar will never go away. Yet I am well-content with my hand because it keeps me from exalting myself.  It keeps me on my knees. It keeps me looking upward. It no longer matters whether God’s answer is yes, no, or not yet. I choose to accept and appropriate God’s grace and that is sufficient. 

Paul’s contentment was a by-product of his heart for God. The collection of his experiences helped mold his heart: the thorn in his flesh, his weaknesses, his insults, his distresses, his persecutions, and his difficulties. Each of these experiences independently and collectively created Paul’s heart for God. He accepted God’s grace and appropriated it. My heart for God is molded from the collection of my experiences. Yes, my hand has been an extremely difficult experience, but it brings me to my knees where I can honestly thank Him for allowing it to happen. The emotional scar on my heart and the physical scar on my hand keep me looking up to Him. These scars allow me to bear witness to others about the reality of my faith, the sovereignty of God, and the sufficiency of Christ. In my weakness, God has made me strong. He uses my thorn to bring glory unto Him.

What experiences have molded your heart? Do you allow these experiences to bring you to your knees? Go. Pray to Him. Seek Him. Search for Him with all of your heart, and you will find Him and His gift of grace. Accept it. Appropriate it. Experience it. You, too, can be well-content.

No comments:

Post a Comment