2Corinthians 12:7-10 (ESV): “So to keep me from becoming conceited because of 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 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.”
Philippians 1:21 (ESV): “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”
This past Sunday I attempted to preach a sermon on God’s grace and his power being made perfect through weakness…..unfortunately, I was unable to do much talking due to spending much of the message attempting to reel in my emotions. By nature I’m a passionate individual, but I do not display much emotion outside of excitement and happiness. On Sunday however, I couldn’t get the tears to stop flowing. I spent two days preparing a message that, as the Lord impressed the truths upon my heart, caused me to weep. Granted, I also had thoughts of the recent passing of an old friend as well as the passing of a lifelong friend a year or so ago, but those thoughts were not the cause of my emotional reaction to the words of the passage of Scripture listed above. Rather, as I studied this passage I was confronted with the truth that, for one to truly experience God’s grace in full measure, there may have to come a time of deep despair, anguish, hardship, tragedy.
To see the change that the Apostle Paul underwent between verses 7 and 9 above is astonishing. He goes from earnest, fervent, "kneeled-prayer" pleading for Christ to remove this excruciating thing from his life to gladly embracing it because it allowed him to rely more and more on the grace of God. This caused me to face some things in my life in a more tangible way than I ever have.
Often I’ve said that I want to experience God’s working in my life and molding me into what He needs me to be, but I’ve never really comprehended the fact that part of the molding and shaping process might just mean some serious breaking. This last week I faced things in my life that caused me to pause for a second and ask myself if I was really willing to pay the price that absolute surrender might carry with it. I’ve seen the tragedy of parents losing children and husbands losing wives unexpectedly – I’ve seen God’s grace manifest itself in a marvelous way in those situations. I’ve marveled at how He worked through both the dead and the living in those seemingly tragic situations and yet somehow I’ve never caught that those situations might just be a part of absolute surrender to God.
As these truths were being printed more firmly on my heart I began to bend under the weight of it all and I began to understand that I’d never fully surrendered to God and I found myself terrified to do so now. I just wanted to hold on tightly to everything God had given me – my wife, my children, my health – I found myself clinging to these things as if to say, “No, God! You can have everything, but you can’t take the things that might cause me pain. I trust you and I love you, but I need these things”. That’s when I broke.
“When I am weak, then I am strong”.
“My grace is sufficient”.
“For me to live is Christ and to die is gain”.
These three truths – these three promises – are more real to me than they’ve ever been. While I may not have been able to adequately convey this in the sermon yesterday, the Holy Spirit certainly worked me over with this one. I’ve got a peace in my soul and a satisfaction in my spirit today that I’m not certain I’ve ever had before!