Learning to Lean.
2 Corinthians 1:1-11
We were crushed and overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure, and we thought we would never live through it. In fact, we expected to die. But as a result, we stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely only on God, who raises the dead. – 2 Corinthians 1:8-9 NLT
Going through difficulties is, well, difficult at times. No one enjoys trials and troubles, in spite of James’ admonition to “consider it all joy…when you encounter various trials” (James 1:2 NLT). Trials can be trying. Difficulties are difficult. Suffering can be insufferably hard. Unless we share Paul’s perspective on the subject. And there are few people who understood suffering as well as he did. In this follow-up letter to the Corinthian believers, Paul provided them with a primer on how to handle suffering, and he spoke from first-hand experience. He wrote of the trouble he had encountered somewhere in Asia during one of his missionary journeys. He didn’t provide any details, but simply said that it was a life-threatening experience. He and his traveling companions fully expected to die. So whatever it was, it was bad. Paul wrote that they were “crushed and overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure” (2 Corinthians 1:8b NLT). And yet, the result of this overwhelmingly difficult circumstance was positive. Paul learned to give up and look up. His strength and self-confidence at an all-time low, Paul understood just how much he needed God to see him through the trial. He learned to rely on God, instead of himself. One of the fascinating things about trials is that they can reveal to us just how lousy we are at being god. Through trials, we discover our weaknesses, fears, ignorance, inadequacies, and vulnerabilities. We are no match for life. And yet, small personal victories over trials and troubles along the way can lull us into a false sense of confidence and cockiness. We can begin to believe that we are our own savior. We can deliver ourselves from any and every difficulty – with a little ingenuity, creativity and determination.
But Paul knew better. He had encountered a trial that was beyond his personal capacity to endure. And it drove him to his knees and into the arms of God. “We placed our confidence in him,” Paul wrote. And guess what? “And he did rescue us from mortal danger, and he will rescue us again” (2 Corinthians 1:10a NLT). Paul gave up, looked up, and God showed up. He delivered. He rescued. And Paul learned an invaluable lesson: That God who rescued once, will do it again. He learned to trust God, because God is trustworthy. And that wasn’t just some academic understanding, gleaned from a book sermon, or seminar. Paul had learned it first-hand and up close and personal. Paul’s God wasn’t some ethereal, disembodied deity who lived in some invisible realm and watched over His subjects with disinterest and disdain. He was transcendent, but He was also eminent. God was involved in the lives of His people. He got His hands dirty. He saw what was going on. He heard the prayers of His people. And He did something about it. And Paul had learned to rely on God. He had learned to place his confidence in God.
But there was one other thing Paul had learned and attempted to pass on to the Corinthians. Paul had experienced the comfort of God in the midst of trials. God doesn’t always deliver. At least not on our terms or according to our time table. A big part of trusting God is being willing to let Him do what He knows to be best for us, regardless of whether we particularly like it or not. It’s interesting that Paul had to endure difficulties that practically crushed and overwhelmed him. From his perspective, his difficulties were bad enough to make him believe he was going to die. And yet, God was in the midst of it all. And while it was going on, God was not distant or disinterested. He was providing comfort. The Greek word Paul uses for comfort is parakaleo, and it means to “come alongside, to console, to encourage and strengthen.” God had been there. He had provided them with encouragement, exhortation and comfort – even in the midst of all the difficulties. Sometimes we fail to see God in the middle of our messes. He is there, speaking to us, encouraging us, teaching us – but we are so busy staring at our difficulty or scheming how to get out of it, that we fail to see or hear God.
And Paul had learned one more valuable lesson about trials. Not only does God comfort us in the midst of our trials, He expects us to pass on that comfort to others. One of the most beneficial things about enduring the difficulties of life is that we get the opportunity to come alongside others in their times of trouble, comforting them just as God did us. We can share our intimate knowledge of God’s love, compassion and mercy. We can encourage them to trust in the midst of trials, because we have learned to rely on God. We have seen Him prove Himself faithful in our own lives. So we can speak from experience and “come alongside” those in need and encourage them to wait on the Lord. We can become a source of comfort to them. God never wastes our suffering. He uses it to reveal our weaknesses, expose our pride, dismantle our self-reliance, and increase our faith. He shows up when things are looking down. He comes alongside right when we think He is nowhere to be found. He provides comfort and strength to endure. And He rescues right when He knows it’s time. All so we will learn to place our confidence in Him.
Father, the trials of life are real and regular. They come without warning and, sometimes, in waves. And the tendency is to miss You in the midst of them. Open my eyes so that I can see You in my trials. Help me to hear Your words of comfort and encouragement. Patiently pry my hands off the rudder of my life, so that I will allow You to direct my path and set my course. Forgive me for my self-reliance and stubborn self-sufficiency. I want to rely on You more and me less. I want to experience Your comfort and pass it along to all those You bring into my life who need it. I want to place my confidence in You – at all times and in every circumstance. Amen.
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men