“And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” 2 Corinthians 12:7-9
I have been coming back to these verses a lot lately.
It’s hard when you pray and pray for something and the answer is different to what you had hoped. I don’t know about you, but I’ve been there, in fact I’m there right now. Living with chronic illness is incredibly hard, but learning to live with it is harder. There are so many changes to grapple with, so much physical debilitation and suffering, so much disappointment and “missing out,” so many trials and struggles of various kinds, not to mention the many limitations and the challenge of learning to live within those, especially when over stepping them a little can worsen the symptoms a lot. It can be very trying.
It was very difficult beginning this year still sick. I had improved a lot it is true, but still hadn’t made it out of bed. March rolled around and brought with it my third birthday while ill. And the new year also brought with it some other trials including a painful friendship situation that I had been desperately praying for God to resolve and heal, but which was only getting harder. I initially found myself plunged into feelings of hopelessness and discouragement. Would things ever get better? How do I hope when all hope seems to do is open the door for disappointment? What do I do when God doesn’t answer the way I’d hoped and prayed? What do I pray for? What should I believe for? Perhaps you’ve asked yourself and God similar questions. Or maybe it’s just me. But I believe God wants us to bring our questions to Him, not in a doubting or acusatory sort of way, but in faith trusting Him to answer, get this – believing that He Himself is the answer.
God Himself is the answer.
That is what the Lord began to reopen my eyes to. He kept bringing me back to those precious verses in 2 Corinthians that I quoted above.
What I’ve been thinking specifically about lately is Jesus response to Paul. It was two fold: first, He reminded Paul of who He is (Jesus is Grace in person) and of His sufficientcy (He is our All-Sufficient Saviour); and second, He revealed to Paul the secret of true strength, which is weakness. Paul’s weakness was something through which God could reveal His strength and make Himself known.
Paul desperately wanted his trial removed. It says he besought the Lord thrice, but apparently in the Greek this has the meaning of asking continuously. Paul asked and asked God that his thorn, whatever it was, might be removed. We don’t know what it was, but it was obviously something painful and hard. I imagine Paul thinking, “Lord, I could serve you so much better if I didn’t have this weakness.” Mm that sounds familiar. But it’s as if the Lord is gently saying, “No, I can’t take this away, but I WILL BE ENOUGH FOR YOU. I can better make myself known through you with this weakness than without it.”
This morning I pulled out John 15, the chapter where Jesus describes Himself as the Vine and we as the branches, and teaches us to abide in Him, and got a related thought. The branch that is connected to the vine doesn’t worry that it’s needs won’t be provided for, that the vine won’t have enough sap to sustain it. As long as it abides or remains in the vine it knows the vine will be enough for it. So it is with us. As long as we abide in Jesus Christ, we can be sure that we will have everything we need. As the vine is sufficient for the branches, so Jesus Christ is sufficient for us.
“But my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:19
I’ve also been thinking about grace this week and what that is. Grace is not just unmerited favour, though that’s certainly part of it. Grace is “The work of God on our behalf; the power to do it” *(“it” being that which is impossible for us to do on our own, i.e. the Christian life). Not only is Jesus Christ Himself enough, but that which He has done for us is enough. I think of Christ’s final words on the cross, “It is finished.” He purchased full and complete salvation for all who believe. We are saved, not by our work, but by the work of Grace through the avenue of faith (Eph 2:8-9). That which He does for us and works for us every day is enough also. We are to live by Grace through the avenue of faith (Col 2:6). I can’t live the Christian life. But more specifically, I cannot live with chronic illness. I cannot be a good friend or handle the grief of loss. I can’t do this. Oh I know it. But the good news is, I don’t have to, and neither do you. My weakness and inadequacy are no problem for God. They make me realise that I can’t, but also that HE CAN. In fact, I write this from a place of weakness in the middle of a relapse. I know the reality of “I can’t,” but I also know the reality of God’s grace. He calls me to come to Him, weaknesses, brokenness, messiness, inability and all, and lay it all at His feet. When I surrender them to Him and trust Him, He is then able to be strong on my behalf. He is able to make Himself known through me. His job is to work on my behalf. Mine is simply to trust and obey His leading. I can rest in His sufficientcy knowing that His grace will always enough for me.
Let me close with this thought. Though we definitely can and should pray for difficulties to be removed, I think a lot of times in doing so we miss the point. Yes, God desires to answer our prayers, and He does, but He sees things very differently to how we see them. As a friend recently challenged me, God wants relationship with us more than giving us the answers when we want them. His heart is for us to know Him, truly, deeply and intimately. He desires to make Himself known through us to a world that desperately needs to see Him lived out through the lives of true believers.
In not giving us answers right away He gives us the far greater blessing of a journey of intimacy with Him that we might not otherwise have.
Friend, are you upset by the Lord’s seeming silence on something or by a prayer not answered the way you’d hoped? Can I gently encourage you to let it drive you closer to Jesus. Come to Him in faith with open hands and a willing heart. Let Him take you by the hand and lead you to greater depths of intimacy then you ever thought possible. When we get to Heaven I’m sure that we will not regret one step, one trial, that led us closer to Him.
With love, ❤
* “The Power to Do It” sermon series by Eric Ludy braveheartedchristian.com