Let me ask you a question: are you just about done?
Are you seriously tempted to throw in the towel? Maybe on your faith? Maybe on family? Maybe on church? Maybe, dare I say….on life itself?
Hear me out for just a second; I first became a Christian one night as a primary school kid, reading through 1 Corinthians 1 at a time when I was being bullied at school. As my eyes fell upon the verses like ‘God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, the things that are not to put to shame the things that are,’ I realised that this was literally from another world.
Thus I have always been a bit of a Paul fanboy as he has this amazing ability to bring out the raw truth of the Gospel as set against the backdrop of how the world usually works. Isn’t it strange that so much of his writing and hence so much of the New Testament came out of these exact things trying to penetrate into the small and vulnerable church and its teaching?
I guess the point is that at the moment I am focusing on 2 Corinthians in my daily devotional time and it almost feels like ‘coming home’.
The other day, my eyes stumbled upon this:
2 Cor 1:8-11 We think you ought to know, dear brothers and sisters,[b] about the trouble we went through in the province of Asia. We were crushed and overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure, and we thought we would never live through it. 9 In fact, we expected to die. But as a result, we stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely only on God, who raises the dead. 10 And he did rescue us from mortal danger, and he will rescue us again. We have placed our confidence in him, and he will continue to rescue us. 11 And you are helping us by praying for us. Then many people will give thanks because God has graciously answered so many prayers for our safety.
Firstly, let me remind us all that this is the apostle Paul writing this. This is the guy who had some of the extreme experiences of God’s presence and reality. It’s so tempting and easy to think that he somehow floated through and past all the situations that he encountered with some sort of detached, airy attitude somewhere between stoic and monk.
But right here, in a letter where he is about to defend his ministry, leadership and authority, he is saying something that we’d do well to listen to he’s saying: I know what despair is.
If I was Paul, I’d probably start by listing my credentials and throwing my weight around. But thank God I’m not Paul. Paul says, “you know what guys, you need to know something, I know what it is to look at the future and see only black, only a dead-end, only…..death.”
What about you?
When you try to look forward to something, do you see only nightmares?
Are you, do you feel….past it?
You’re not alone.
That phrase is thrown around a lot these days, and usually it means that someone else knows what you’re going through. Which in the long term, isn’t enough. Just because others are experiencing the same thing, doesn’t mean that they can do anything objective about it.
This is not my point when I say ‘you’re not alone.’ The point is, as borne out by Paul’s testimony, is that God really is in it with you and there ready to help.
In fact, Paul goes further, he notes that with the benefit of hindsight, that this was the best thing that could have happened to him and his team.
But maybe not that weird. We tend not to really rely upon God and his grace until we have no other option. In that case, the most loving thing that God can do is bring us to the place/allow the situation where God is the only option.
Therefore, in the narrative of the gospel, despair can become a doorway to delight, because and only because the narrative if the gospel flows inevitably, relentlessly toward what we really need: Resurrection. We don’t just need to be saved, we need to be saved in an irreversible way.
The actual Resurrection of Christ, re-expresses and re-peats itself in the lives of those who are option-less. Those who have nothing left to lose. Those who devoid of all other mental, emotional and physical resources hold to this sole truth: God is mighty to save.
I’ve you’ve got nothing left to lose…..you’re ready to throw yourself on Jesus.
Paul concludes by mentioning that many people will give thanks because God has answered so many prayers regarding him and his companions. This makes me wonder if God allows Paul’s situation so that He may be so much more fully revealed to those who are praying for him and his team.
I admit genuine surprise when God clearly answers my prayers about a person, followed by repentance from my doubt. Here’s my point: what if your journey, and your casting yourself on God-reliance is not simply about you? What if God is using it to bless, encourage and even transform those whom you love most?
Believe that he can and does.
In fact if you have received any encouragement at all from the past 10 minutes reading this, you’re automatically agreeing with what I’m saying. For I would not be typing this, indeed still doing ministry, if during my darkest moment I hadn’t finally learnt to rely on God and await a resurrection.
That’s what I want you to know, brothers and sisters.