What would you change about your life? What would you like to remain the same?
During the course of our lives, we're granted all kinds of experiences. Some of those experiences are welcomed and enjoyed, while others tend to stretch and test our faith.
In the midst of all of this, the Lord invites us to be grateful. What does His word tell us about how to begin to gratefully accept what He grants us? Consider some of the principles outlined in 2 Corinthians 12:1-10...
I. God will show you great things
I was watching a police drama with my family a few nights ago. During the episode we were watching, a 1968 Ford Mustang that had been used in a famous movie had been stolen and was being tracked down. The main characters were all enamored with this vehicle and at the end of the show, when they found it, they were in awe of it. They stared at it and couldn't believe what they were seeing. They also had their picture taken with it.
Have you ever seen something that you were completely stunned by? Something that left you speechless? The Lord showed some amazing things to the Apostle Paul, and the truth is, He's got some amazing things in store for us as well. At some point, we're going to see things that we have often wondered about. For those who trust in Christ, we will see relatives that we knew on earth - people who were sickly and unwell - healthy and energetic in Heaven. We will see creation restored and the curse of sin lifted. And above all, we will see God, face-to-face, and we will live.
Sometimes, God has given certain people glimpses of these things ahead of time. We call these "revelations." The false teachers in Corinth were certainly claiming to have had them, although it's more likely they didn't. In fact, they were boasting of having received divine revelations as if they were special for having received them. This, by the way, is the type of thing that false leaders often boast about because it can't be easily challenged. But Paul was actually granted visions and revelations by God.
Fourteen years prior to writing this passage, Paul states that he was caught up to the "third heaven." People debate what he meant by that, but it's not overly complicated to figure out. During his era, people called the earth's atmosphere the first heaven. They called the universe filled with stars, planets, and galaxies, the second heaven. The terms "third heaven" and "paradise" were references to the place where God Himself lives.
It's believed by many that Paul may have had this experience when he was thought to be dead when people stoned him outside of the city of Lystra.
But even through great pain and trials, the Lord used this kind of experience to motivate and encourage Paul and likewise remind him of the glorious things He had in store for him once his service was complete. Things so wonderful, Paul couldn't yet share them.
By the way, the Lord is also using this revelation given to Paul as a glimpse into the future for us as well. When we make the mistake of walking by sight and keeping our heads buried in our current circumstances, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed and to start feeling like what we're experiencing is all there is and all there ever will be. But God has great things in store for all who have experienced redemption through faith in Jesus.
II. God is willing to invest in your humility
I just referenced something that my family watched on TV, but I have noticed something about myself during the past few years. I have lost interest in watching TV. I watch some things, but I'm usually happier when the TV is off than when it's on. Instead, I have come to enjoy reading or listening to the teaching of others. I feel better about making investments in myself. I do like to turn my brain off sometimes, but life is too short to leave it in the off position too long.
God is highly interested in making investments in us as well. As followers of Christ, the Holy Spirit is fostering Christ-likeness in our lives. He's developing our maturity, strengthening our faith, and investing in our humility to help prevent our hearts from growing hard or our heads from puffing up with conceit.
From the time Paul came to know Jesus, he had quite an interesting life. He was the Lord's chosen messenger to bring the gospel to many people. The Lord showed him miraculous things, did a few miracles through him, and taught him directly so he could pass along that teaching to the young church of the era.
To keep Paul from becoming too impressed with himself, he was given a thorn in the flesh. We don't know exactly what this thorn was, and that's probably intentional so we could see an application here in a broader sense. His thorn could have been a physical problem. It could have been people who made life difficult for Paul, people who challenged Paul's ministry, or maybe some area of temptation that Paul was wrestling with. Whatever it was, it caused Paul frustration and had the ability to keep him from doing what he wanted to do without interruption.
The Lord permitted this thorn to come into Paul's life to keep him from becoming arrogant. Human nature is such that when the Lord does so many major and miraculous things through a person, it would be easy to begin to think too much of yourself. This thorn helped Paul remember his need to remain dependent on Christ, not on himself.
What has the Lord given you or me to keep us humble? How is He reminding us to remain reliant on Christ? How is He showing us that Christ's strength is shown to be perfect in the midst of our human weaknesses? The truth is, we don't have to be strong for Christ to work through us. He delights to do His miraculous work through people with weaknesses, like us.
God is happy to invest in our humility and to do more through our lives than we might have ever assumed was possible.
III. God's grace and power is sufficient for you
How often do you pray? When you come before the Lord, I'm assuming that a major portion of your prayers include requests that you're making of Him. How quickly do you expect Him to answer? What do you expect Him to say? What do you do when He doesn't answer you the way you hoped? How do you act when His answer is revealed to you immediately?
Paul was a man of prayer. He prayed repeatedly for the Lord to remove the "thorn in his flesh" because he believed it was holding him back from doing the work of ministry he was called to do. But the Lord's answer was, "No." Specifically, the Lord told Paul, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness."
The work the Lord was seeking to do through Paul wasn't about Paul's natural exertion. It was about the grace of Christ empowering Paul to accomplish what he could never accomplish on his own anyway. Since this work didn't depend on Paul's abilities, the Lord was more than able to do His work in and through Paul, in spite of this irritating thorn.
Eventually, Paul came to accept this. He accepted that Christ had His purposes for what Paul was experiencing. He accepted that this mission never came down to his personal strengths anyway. What do you suppose Christ wants you or me to make peace with and come to accept? Is there something we've been fighting Him about? Is there an aspect of our circumstances that we're frustrated with and desperately trying to change that maybe He doesn't want changed just yet? Is there something we want Him to give us or do for us that He would rather us not have or experience just yet? Can we be content with having the power and presence of Christ in our lives just the same?
Earlier this week, I read something about a man named Nicholas Ridley.
We may not have everything we'd prefer to have in this world, but that's OK. The grace and power of God that we receive through faith in Jesus is sufficient for us. We can fight God about what we don't like all we want, but that doesn't amount to much. Or, we can gratefully accept whatever He grants us, knowing full well that He always has our best interests at heart.
© John Stange, 2017