I am able to be content

Contentment in Weakness and Trials

Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me—to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with  insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 NASB

When I started writing this post, I began just with Paul last sentence here: “I am well content with weakness, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties …”  I thought I could come up with some great insights about being content with hardships.  I came up dry.  Because, um, I’m not content with insults and difficulties.  Really.  I’m not.  I spend a lot of time praying that God would take those suckers away – not praying that I’d be content in them.

So I went back to my Bible to get some context for Paul’s radical statement.  It’s sort of vague, but the gist of it is this: God had given Paul some mighty revelations.  Paul had walked on a spiritual mountaintop, and to keep him from thinking too highly of himself because of it, God allowed Satan to give Paul some sort of affliction.  No clue what it was, but it was bothersome, and Paul (like me) prayed that God would take it away.

And God said, “No.” 

He allowed Paul to keep struggling with this unnamed hardship, this weakness that tripped him up, so that the glory for all Paul accomplished would go to God Himself and not to Paul.  It would be obvious that God was moving and bringing people to Himself, because Paul’s mastery of that African language was so poor that no one could ever credit him for the success.  (Oh, wait … that was me in Africa, not Paul.)

What is it for you?  What are you inept at?  That may be where God can be most glorified – right there in your weakness, as He moves inspite of you flubbing up your part. Go plunge into ministry despite your weakness. That way God gets the credit instead of you. I think this is at least part of what Paul is saying here. 

But there’s more.  He’s not just talking about personal inaptitude.  He’s talking about honest-to-goodness trials, things that assail us from the outside.  Contentment, he says, can be found when God gets the glory as we suffer through them.

A man in my Sunday School class had a massive and unexpected stroke a few weeks ago.  As his life ebbed away there in the ICU, his family stood around his bed and sang hymns. Because musical talent runs deep in their genetic pool, they sang them in four-part harmony.  A hush fell over the hospital.  Nurses, doctors, other patients, and other visitors stopped their bustle to listen to a grieving group of believers praise their God in the midst of their trial. 

My friend died.  His family is heartbroken.  But they gave God glory in their suffering, and who knows how many hearts were moved closer to God’s kingdom because of it?

Yes, I am weak.  Yes, I will face hardships, persecutions, distress. And when God uses me despite those things, when He brings people into His kingdom even though I am tangled in my afflictions, He gets the glory – not me. 

In that, I truly am well content.

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Life, Abundantly

 I have come that they may have life and have it in abundance. John 10:10

Life. Pulsating, throbbing, vibrant life.  Jesus declared that was his whole reason for his visit to Earth – to give us life in abundance.

He didn’t mean life would be easy, or even that it would be pleasant.  Only that it would be full – full of Him, full of grace, full of peace, full of purpose and mission.

Some of the hardest experiences in my life have been the ones that have given it the most meaning.  I had to climb mountains that left my legs aching only to spend hours at the top under the African sun weeding rice.  I had to give birth to my first baby in a hospital where I didn’t speak the language of the doctors and nurses.  I had to flee a country I loved because of civil war, leaving behind my dearest friends and the work I had poured myself into.  None of those things were fun.  On the scale of difficulty, they ranged from annoying, to frightening, to absolute heart break.  But I wouldn’t trade any of them.  They are part of the fabric of my abundant life.  God gave me those challenges because he’d also given me a mission – to spread his message across Africa.  I was living a life of meaning, as well as one of sweat and frustration.

I’ve endured conflict and hurt at the hands of others.  I’ve had failed friendships just like you. And, I’ve found forgiveness and healing and restoration, because the God of grace has breathed his life over my hurts.

I’ve also had adventure and variety.  I’ve laughed so hard my sides ache. I’ve tasted Asian and African and South American cultures.  I’m married to a man who shares my passion for the missions and ministry.  We have two incredible kids. All these things are blessings from the abundant-life giver Himself.

Abundant life doesn’t mean abundant money.  It doesn’t mean abundant easy circumstances.  It means that through life’s storms, we have purpose.  We have passion.  And we have peace, only a faith-step away, if we will reach out and take it.

Jesus came to give us life, and to give it abundantly.