2 Corinthians 12:1-7
How do you handle pain?
How do you respond when God doesn’t answer your prayers and remove painful situations in your life?
In the last few chapters of 2 Corinthians, the apostle Paul makes a case for his apostleship. In chapter 12 he outlines some of the incredible experiences he has had with the Lord. As a result of these incredible confirmations from God, Paul could easily have become proud. But God was gracious to him, keeping his life in balance.
God allowed Paul a thorn in the flesh, “So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited” 2 Corinthians 12:7.
God allowed Paul to experience a form of suffering, something that caused him physical pain to keep him weak and humble. We don’t know what the thorn in the flesh was, and we don’t need to know. The mystery of suffering will not be understood by us in this life.
We see throughout the scriptures that while we don’t fully understand the origins of evil, we do know that Satan and his demons do not have free reign, they can only act with the permission of God. This is not easy for us to grasp, or to counsel someone with when they have been a victim of some horrible trauma. But I firmly believe that the Bible teaches us that God is in control.
Paul pleaded with the Lord to remove the “thorn” on three occasions, and probably with extended seasons of prayer and fasting. But the Lord allowed Paul to model for us how to suffer well, how to endure when God doesn’t give us the answer that we want.
As Paul prayed, God was not silent, and in verse 9 we read the Lord’s response, “But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”
God promised Paul something better than instant healing, it was God’s power in Paul’s life. What we see is that the grace of God is a gift that enabled Paul to endure well, it was strengthening grace.
The paradox is that the weaker Paul became, the stronger the power of Christ would rest on him. That is something that we must wrestle with in our first world culture where strength is celebrated, and weakness is demeaned. The Kingdom of Heaven is very different to the kingdom of the world where the overarching theme is pride and self-sufficiency.
Paul’s suffering doesn’t go away, but he is changed through it.
Warren Wiersbe wrote, “In the Christian life, we get many of our blessings through transformation, not substitution.”
We ask God to substitute the pain, to make it go away, but sometimes God gives us transformation, changing us by His grace.
“It is a greater thing to pray for pain’s conversion than its removal,” wrote P.T. Forsyth
When God answered Paul, He gave Paul a promise,” My Grace is sufficient for you.”
As Christians, we are not people who live on explanations from God. Rather we live on the promises of His word. As we meditate on the promises, our faith grows and so does our hope.
As we are transformed by the grace of God, we can display peace and joy during suffering to the world around us. At the end of verse 9, Paul writes, “so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” The Greek word used for “rest” is a complex word that means to shelter or to cover over like spreading a tent over someone. What a beautiful picture of the power of Christ resting over you when you are going through the trial of suffering.
On January 25, 1736, John Wesley was sailing in a wooden vessel across the Atlantic, and they sailed into what can best be described as a hurricane. The vessel was being torn to shreds by the vicious winds and the huge waves. If you don’t know John Wesley’s story, at this point he didn’t know that salvation was by grace through faith in Jesus. He was terrified of dying and along with him, everyone else onboard including the captain and the sailors.
However, on the ship at the time was a small group of Moravian Christians, and they displayed a supernatural calm. In fact, they were singing praises in the bottom of the ship. Wesley quizzed them because he was so puzzled by their calm demeanor.
After speaking to them Wesley wrote this, “from them I went to the crying, trembling sailors, and pointed out to them the difference in the hour of trial, between him that feareth God and him that feareth him not.”
Wesley was so moved by their peace that eventually he was led to true faith in Jesus Christ as Lord.
How we respond during suffering can be the most powerful testimony of our lives.
One of the greatest promises in the Bible is Revelation 21:4, “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” We long for that day, but the same one who will wipe away every tear said these words in John 16:33, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
If you are going through a trial of pain right now, you know that the pain and the tears are very real. Our Heavenly Father is not removed from the pain, He hears the cries, and he feels the pain. God is deeply moved by the pain an suffering in this world. When the Father turned his back on His son on the cross, it cost Him everything.
But we have the incredible promises of God that nothing He brings us through will ever destroy us, rather it is preparing us for glory! (2 Corinthians 4:17)