Have you ever experienced suffering? This almost seems an unnecessary question to ask. After all, this world is full of suffering and, chances are, if you’ve lived in this world very long, you have experienced suffering in some measure. Suffering and pain are an almost universal experience among humans. The interesting thing about going through these experiences, however, is that they have the uncanny ability to make us feel alone. It seems, as we’re going through painful experiences, that we are completely alone, trudging through the pain. Suffering, though universal, takes on many forms in our lives. For the Christian, who has been promised through God’s Word that he or she will be provided for and will never be forgotten, these periods of suffering can be confusing and trying to their faith.
In Paul’s second epistle to the Corinthian Church, he gives readers a very personal glimpse into his life. Paul goes into great detail about the things that he has suffered for Christ’s sake. II Corinthians 11 gives us a laundry list of the things that Paul suffered at the hands of people for preaching the gospel of Christ.
- He received 39 lashes from the Jews on five different occasions (vs 24)
- He was beaten with rods three times (vs 25)
- Once he was stoned (vs 25)
- He was shipwrecked three times (vs 25)
- He was betrayed by supposed brothers in Christ (vs 26)
- He suffered many sleepless nights (vs 27)
- He was left hungry often and exposed to the elements (vs 27)
- He suffered with anxiety and pressure from the churches he had planted (vs 28)
What a laundry list! If anyone knew about the problems a person can go through in this life, it was Paul. To make matters seem worse, Paul was receiving this suffering because of the good work that he was doing for Jesus! He was planting churches, preaching the gospel, and helping provide for christian brothers and sisters. Apart from all these things that Paul suffered, in Chapter 12, he tells us of spiritual suffering that he endures from Satan:
… 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.”II Corinthians 12:7b-8 ESV
In the face of this suffering, Paul did what any christian should do. He went to God with his petitions. The text tells us that Paul asked God three times about this messenger of Satan that was sent to harass him. We’re not sure what kind of harassment Paul was enduring, but we know it must have caused immense turmoil for Paul. Note how he asked three times! Paul may have wondered why God was not answering his pleas for help. Have you ever felt that way in your life? Have you been enduring great suffering and felt as if God was not hearing you or just didn’t care?
I am a firm believer that God always answers our prayers. His answer doesn’t always have to be the one we want though. In my personal experience, the hardest answer to swallow from God has not been yes or no. The hardest answer to be content with has been when God simply tells me to wait. Paul telling us in his epistle that he pleaded with God three times is an indication that God was not giving Paul an immediate answer. God was telling him to wait until the answer came. The times of greatest stretching and trying of my faith have often been the moments in which I’m simply waiting for an answer from God.
As God has promised to do for all believers, He answered Paul’s prayer. The answer that God gave may have not been the answer that Paul expected, however. Let’s look at what God says to Paul:
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”II Corinthians 12:9 ESV
At first, this sounds like a hard answer to accept. Paul had already given so much for the gospel of Jesus Christ. This almost seems like too much! Verses like this one right here urge me to slow down and pray that the Holy Spirit will show me the greatness of this seemingly disappointing answer. When we take the time to see what God is really saying to Paul, we realize that this was absolutely the best answer that he could have received.
God was telling Paul that he didn’t have to depend on his own strength. When it comes down to it, even the apostle Paul was incapable of making it through the struggles of this life on his own. I’ve often heard people say that God will never give us more than we can handle. This is just not true. I haven’t seen this supposed promise anywhere in God’s Word. Passages like the one right here in front of us tell us quite the contrary. We are weak. We are fallen, sinful people after all, but the beauty is that God doesn’t require us to depend on our own strength. We are required to depend on His!
God’s grace is sufficient! In our weakness, God’s power is allowed to work in its fullness! There have been far too many times in my life that I’ve looked on my suffering and taken ownership of it. In doing so, I laid awake many nights grappling with fears and pain. I wore myself out, physically and spiritually. I reached the end of my strength and was still found wanting! If I had accepted my weakness rather than depending on my supposed strength, I could have claimed God’s power and allowed Him to use it so greatly in my life!
Paul’s response to God’s answer has often moved me. It has been an example and an encouragement to me when I have felt utterly broken and weak under the pressures of life’s suffering. Read with me what Paul’s beautiful response is to God’s amazing answer:
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.II Corinthians 12:9b-10 ESV
I imagine what Paul must be doing as he responds to God. I imagine him on his knees with his hands raised up and tears in his eyes as he acknowledges God’s power in his life. Not only does Paul acknowledge God’s power and grace, he claims it! It’s almost as if he says, “Alright God, since Your strength is made perfect in weakness, make me weaker!” He not only will accept the suffering that God allows to come into his life, he will gladly glory in the suffering, knowing that when he is brought lower, the Name of Christ is lifted higher. If you read the earlier portions of this epistle, you will see how well this attitude aligns with Paul’s position (and our position as well) as a bond-servant of Christ.
Are you experiencing suffering today friend? Are you feeling weighed down with the great burden that has been placed upon you by your struggles? If you are a child of God, you must not forget who your father is! Go to Him! Go to God in prayer in the name of Jesus Christ and bring your cares and burdens to Him! Then, go to His Word and see what answers He has provided for you already. One of those encouraging answers can be found in the Scripture we’ve just read. God’s grace is sufficient for you! When you are weak, He is able to be strong in you.
If you have never confessed your sin to God and claimed forgiveness through the blood of Jesus Christ, this is the first crucial step to walking through suffering. Jesus died, shed His blood, and came back to life, not only to allow you to spend eternity with Him in heaven, but to give you the opportunity to walk with Him through this life. If you have never given your life over to Christ, I invite you to do so today. Do you have more questions about how to do this? We would be happy to show you what God’s Word says about our sinful condition, and how to be saved from it. When you join God’s family as a follower of Jesus Christ, God’s Word promises us that you won’t have to walk through the struggles of this life alone.
Claim God’s grace today friend! Don’t try to take on the suffering of this life on your own. I am not ashamed to say that I am too weak to be enough in myself. Humble yourself. Hand your life, your sins, and your struggles over to Jesus and see what happens when His strength is made perfect in your weakness.