Paul’s Secret Power by Keith Giles
*(taken from the book-in-progress- "The Power Of Weakness")
If I’ve learned anything in my spiritual journey, it’s that God often allows us to go through challenges, difficulty, sorrow and pain so that we can learn the deeper lessons of faith and life in the Kingdom.
I know that many Christians struggle with this concept of God as one who is good, and yet still allows suffering for his children.
I mean, aren’t we the “King’s Kids”? Don’t we have the promise of blessing and plenty as devoted followers of Jesus? Didn’t God promise that we are healed by the stripes of Jesus? Isn’t it always God’s will that we be healthy and happy?
The short answer is, “No, He doesn’t”.
Perhaps one day I will write a book about how God, who is good, allows us, His children, to endure suffering in this life, as part of His mercy to us. For now, let me suggest that we stop and consider the original “King’s Kid” and how God allowed Him to suffer when He walked upon this Earth. The crucifixion notwithstanding, Jesus was born into a poor family (see Luke 2:24 and then Leviticus 12:8), endured the death of Joseph, his earthly father, walked everywhere, and was homeless (Matthew 8:20). What more should we expect as adoptive sons and daughters of the King?
As A.W. Tozer declares, “Our great honor lies in being just what Jesus was and is. To be accepted by those who accept Him, rejected by all who reject Him, loved by those who love Him and hated by everyone who hates Him. What greater glory could come to any man?” (“Born After Midnight” pp. 58-59, 1959, Christian Publications, Inc., Camp Hill PA.)
If this isn’t enough, Jesus himself promised us that, “In this life, you will have trouble” (John 16:33) and Paul the Apostle, who yearns to know the “fellowship of sharing in his sufferings” (Philipians 3:10), spent most of his ministry cold and starving in prison, as did many other disciples. Even those considered “Super Apostles” gladly shared in the sufferings of Jesus here in this life.
Hebrews has an astounding verse which declares that many of our heroes in the faith went to their graves having never received what was promised to them by God. “All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance.” (Hebrews 11:13)
My own spiritual journey has proven this to be true; that God allows suffering in order to teach us how to walk by faith and to trust in Him alone. God has our eternal happiness in mind, not our temporal comfort.
Paul the Apostle knew this to be true.
In 2 Corinthians, chapter 12, Paul begins to tell us how God allowed him to suffer in order to teach him an awesome truth.
Paul was living with a “thorn in the flesh” and desperately wanted God to remove it.
We don’t know exactly what this “thorn” was, but most scholars believe that it had something to do with his eyes, perhaps cataracts or partial blindness. There are numerous clues throughout the letters of Paul that suggest that his eyes were failing him. In Galatians 4:14-15 he refers to this illness by saying, “my illness was a trial to you” and “you would have torn out your own eyes and given them to me”, further suggesting that his thorn was connected to an eye problem. He remarks that he has written in “large letters” as he wrote with his “own hand” the closing portion of Galatians chapter 6. This, say scholars, was indicative of his failing eyesight. It also makes sense that Paul’s eyes were weak due to the nature of his conversion, where he was knocked from his horse by a blinding light and later had to be healed in order to regain his sight, as recorded in Acts 9.
Whatever Paul’s thorn, we know from the second letter to the Corinthians that it was something he dearly wanted to be healed of.
So, Paul the Apostle, one of the giants of the Christian faith, who lead the first missionary expeditions to the nations of the Gentiles, who wrote most of the entire New Testament, who healed the sick and performed miraculous signs and wonders in the name of Jesus, gets on his knees and pleads for God to heal him.
God, who is good, says “No”.
Not once, not twice, but three times. God’s answer was “No”.
And then God adds this sentence in reply to Paul’s plea for healing, “My Grace is sufficient for you, and my power is made perfect in weakness.”
We have missed this incredible truth, for the most part. Especially when we listen to and embrace doctrine that says that God always wants us to be healthy and happy and wealthy and prosperous by this world’s standards.
When we endure hardship, we attribute this to Satan. We must be under some sort of spiritual attack. We come to God but only to beg him to take away the pain and remove the thorn from our side because we cannot imagine that God, who is good, might have a lesson of trust that He wants to walk us through.
The first chapter of James is one of my favorite sections of scripture. In this passage, James, the half-brother of Jesus himself, teaches us to “consider it pure joy, my brothers, when you endure hardships of many kinds…for we know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
I used to think that James was saying we should just smile through the pain. Grin and bear it, if you will. But, over time, I have come to really understand how we, as followers of Jesus, can seriously consider it pure joy when we endure hardships of many kinds.
What James is speaking of is a simple trust that all things, including our hardships, come from God, who is good, for the purpose of making us who we want to be in our heart of hearts.
When we endure hardships, our faith is tested. This is when we discover if what we say we believe is really what we believe or not. If we never have an opportunity to put our faith to the test, we’ll never know if we can stand on it or not.
When I was out of work for over a year and a half, with a wife and two small boys to car for, I learned more than I ever thought I could about my own, real faith.
I knew through that experience that God was really near to me. That He really heard my prayers. That He would really give me daily bread if I would simply sit back and trust in Him alone.
Faith, says James, develops something called perseverance. Perseverance is the kind of faith, the quality of faith, that will not let go of God, no matter what.
It’s the quality of faith we see in the life of Job, who endures the most traumatic suffering allowed by God, who is good, and finds the words to say, “Though He slay me, yet will I praise Him.” (Job 13:15)
That’s perseverance, and it is this quality of faith that we can only develop as we endure hardships of many kinds. As Job did. As Paul did. As you and I do.
I can’t speak for any of you, but as for me, I dearly want that kind of faith. I want the sort of faith in God which, tried in the fire, emerges as pure, refined gold.
James tells us that we can’t have that kind of faith unless we endure trials and hardships “of many kinds,” and so, we can honestly and sincerely count it pure joy when those opportunities come to test our faith and burn away the doubt and the fears of our flesh, to reveal the sort of faith that trusts in God no matter what.
James goes on to say that this process of enduring hardship, with joy, is the path to maturity where we will truly “not lack anything”.
So, in a way, it is true that God’s ultimate plan is to lead us through our life and eventually to bring us to the place where we “want for nothing”, however His path and His plan doesn’t always involve earthly wealth and a life of leisure. Instead, God’s plan is to perform the greatest miracle of all; to transform someone like you, someone like me, into the image of His own son, Jesus.
Until we let go of the worldly twist on the Gospel, which says that God’s plan is to give us a rose garden life flowing with ease and comfort, we will never have our own eyes healed to see what Paul saw that day when his prayer for healing went unanswered.
Until we are able to see that we can honestly count it pure joy to endure suffering and refine our faith in Him we’ll never understand the mystery that God’s power is made perfect in our weakness.
Luckily for us, Paul gets it. He is able to see something with spiritual eyes that his own failing, physical eyes, could never hope to view, the power of Christ revealed in our flesh.
“I will boast all the more in my weakness for it is the power of Christ working in me!”
(Read: 1 Corinthians 1:27, 1 Corinthians 1:18-31 and 2 Corinthians 12:9)
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THE GOSPEL: FOR HERE OR TO GO? - The six-part series is running over at both Neil Cole's CMA Resources (www.cmaresources.org) and also at Ginkworld.net. If you've missed this series, I'd encourage you to check them out online. You can read up to part 4 over at Ginkworld.net and CMA has up to part 3 so far. Enjoy!
CHURCH IN THE PARK- Several of us will be meeting next Sunday morning to begin praying for wisdom and direction as we look towards starting a new Sunday morning church that will meet and worship and share food and read the Gospels together in a local park. More as things develop.