By Randall Pressnell
Senior Pastor, Oak Grove Baptist Church, Mount Carmel
Focal Passage: II Corinthians 4:16-18; 12:7-10
After living as a quadriplegic for 45 years, Joni Eareckson Tada reflected on the diving accident that changed her life. Immediately after the accident, Joni told God, “You’ll never be trusted with another of my prayers.” But after struggling with anguish and anger Joni said, “I prayed one short prayer that changed my life: ‘Oh God, if I can’t die, show me how to live.’ That was probably the most powerful prayer I had ever prayed.” [Source: Marvin Olasky, “Loving Life,” World (1-12-13)]
I am amazed and encouraged by the bold faith of Christ-followers that have not only survived some of life’s greatest trials — but have thrived in their spiritual life as a result. However, the greatest of my spiritual heroes are those who suffer with no earthly end in sight.
How do you maintain your faith when physical afflictions come into your life that leaves your life in a state of painful limbo? It is one thing to stare death in the face as a believer. Terminal illness usually terminates one’s suffering sooner rather than later. However, it is another thing altogether to stare physical suffering in the face with no accompanying expiration date. Non-life threatening sickness or injury sometimes interrupts the life of a Christ-follower and only God can help them endure. Joni and many others make my spiritual hero list in this regard.
Paul certainly knew about persevering through physical suffering. In his second Corinthian correspondence Paul wrote about a physical affliction that he prayed God would remove on three distinct occasions. However, God allowed Paul to suffer in the affliction for His eternal purposes. In this context, Paul was forced to consider the temporal versus the eternal standing of physical suffering. What did Paul know that permitted him to look at suffering in this context?
Paul knew that troubles are temporary compared to an eternity of glory God has for believers (4:16-18). He believed that God raised Jesus from the dead and that He would raise him and his fellow believers as well. That means that we do not give up even though our outer person is being destroyed because our inner person is continually being renewed. And even though our suffering is a momentary light affliction — if we are faithful it is producing for us an indescribable eternal weight of glory. And since this is true we choose as an act of our will to focus on the eternal unseen rather than the temporary seen.
Paul knew that troubles are opportunities for God to be glorified and for a believer’s faith to be increased (12:7-10). Satan desires to derail a believer’s faith and is the immediate source of the thorn in the flesh — a messenger of Satan. God uses the trial to do just the opposite in getting the believer’s faith back on track. God’s grace as seen in, “My grace is sufficient for you” allowed Paul to trust Him. God’s power is perfected in weakness. So, when Paul realized God’s grace and purpose for his trials he could then say in Romans 8:28, “We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God: those who are called according to His purpose.” Paul was honored then to gladly “boast all the more about my weaknesses.” He realized that when “I am weak, then I am strong.”
Yes, Paul knew that troubles are temporary compared to an eternity of glory God has for believers. He also knew that troubles are opportunities for God to be glorified and for a believer’s faith to be increased. And when we know this as contemporary Christ-followers, we too can be ready when sickness comes to stay.
— Pressnell is senior pastor of Oak Grove Baptist Church, Mount Carmel.