Talk about a blast from the past, the other day a friend quoted an old song from our youth: “War! What is it good for? Absolutely NUTHIN!” (If you are good at math, you will figure out that I was a teenager in the early 70s. Didn’t want you to be distracted from the article trying to figure that out!!) As I thought about that this weekend, I came across, once again, the words of Paul that put “absolutely nuthin’” into perspective, especially when talking about trials and adversity.
“So to keep me from becoming conceited . . . a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with 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.”
Wow, what a statement, and, at first glance, what a downer! Being content with problems? I don’t think so! After all, I am a child of the King, a resident of heaven with a promise box so full that it is overflowing! How can I be content with weakness, calamity, a thorn in the flesh? More so, how was Paul so content, the man who performed miracles and survived shipwrecks?
When adversity or struggle comes my way, my absolute first response is to ask for deliverance, as was Paul’s. He pleaded with God about the problem, but God’s answer was to wait. We might say that a different way, or as I say to my kids at times: That’s just the way it is right now, deal with it!” Okay, my attitude obviously isn’t the same as God’s answer, but the base concept is the same.
If we are redeemed, saved, changed, etc., why do we struggle with adversity, pain, calamity? Our first response is to rebuke the problem, to pray for deliverance, to reject even the concept of struggle. We want God to fix it, right now, like a small child with a boo-boo wanting it to go away immediately.
Do you believe in miracles? I do. I have seen miracles, and I believe in God’s healing power. I have seen deliverance from terrible hardships. I know that Jesus promised to hear us when we pray and to answer our prayers. James tells us that the “prayer of a righteous man [or woman] is powerful and effective.” Jesus even said we could move mountains with just a tiny bit of faith. Wish I would have remembered that when I was cleaning out my basement!
But I have also seen the metal, tried through the fire, becoming stronger as the dross is melted away. I have seen God’s hand working in lives to not only bring them through a problem, but to strengthen them and make them more into the image of Christ our Savior. As James said, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance” (James 1: 2,3).
So trials develop perseverance and other great character traits in my life, and going “through the fire” makes me stronger, so how do I know how to pray? How do I know whether to pray for deliverance and when to just buckle down and walk through it? The answer is “always.”
Like Paul, our first response to adversity, illness, etc., should be for deliverance and/or healing. A wise teacher once told me, “My first prayer is for healing and health knowing, however, that God’s will and purpose is always the best and highest purpose in my life.” I pray for healing and for strength, but it doesn’t come. Do I cease praying for healing? No. Has God answered my prayer? Yes. I keep praying, but I also pray for God’s good and perfect will, that through the process God will bring both me and the person for whom I am praying, into a place of grace and strength by His might.
God told Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” I think that sometimes we cursorily avoid the tough trails in our lives, taking the easier path, and stunt our growth as believers in Christ. The Christian life is not an easy one. By its very nature, living the Christian life as God intends will cause adversity as we stand against the culture that seeks to envelope us. Paul was stoned, imprisoned, beaten, all for speaking the Word of God. Yet he continued to preach, continued to witness, continued to influence those around him.
Did Paul lack faith? I’m sure he did at times, as we all do. But he continued to pray, even when his faith was lacking. He continued to believe, even when God answered contrarily to Paul’s wishes. He recognized that in our trials, frustrations, pains “God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Therein is the answer: Those who love him and who have been called to God’s purpose. And what is God’s purpose? To quote the Westminster catechism, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.”
Living life on purpose, finding God’s purpose in every part of our lives, that is the way to find strength and healing, to find deliverance and contentment. So we pray for deliverance and healing as we live our lives leaning on the One who can bring us through the fire. God has not forgotten you or left you destitute. As a parent who loves us, God sometimes takes us out of the trial and sometimes takes us through. To quote a current song, “Sometimes He calms the storm with a whisper, “Peace be still.” He can but it doesn’t mean he will. Sometimes He holds us close while the wind and waves roll by. Sometimes he calms the storm, and other times he holds his child.”*
Mary Kay Glunt, Pastor
*Sometimes He Calms the Storm, Scott Krippayne, Words and music by Kevin Stokes and Tony Wood.