This week at the Irvine Christian Students Sunday Fellowship, I was struck by 2 Corinthians 12:7-10. These verses, as with so many other passages from the New Testament, completely overturns our expectations and instincts regarding suffering and conflict in our Christian lives.
In our lives as Christians, we want everything to go our way. We expect that, because we are faithful servants of God, we will be blessed with prosperity and good fortune. However, a closer look at 2 Corinthians reveals a different story, one in which what truly matters is our personal relationship with the Lord and not the solving of the problems in our human life.
In these verses from 2 Corinthians, Paul mentions his “thorn in the flesh,” perhaps a physical ailment, and he entreats the Lord to take this malady away from him. And why wouldn’t God do this? The apostle Paul is probably God’s most productive servant on the earth during the first century, preaching the gospel throughout that part of the world, from Judea to Greece to Rome. Our initial thought might be that Paul deserves to be blessed, that God would deem Paul to be a good Christian and worthy servant, and thus take away the thorn in his flesh.
However, the verses sharply subvert our natural concept. Rather than healing Paul, the Lord tells Paul:
“…My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is perfected in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9).
This is a stunning turn, because it means that it is actually our weaknesses that allows us to experience the Lord’s grace and power, and which bring us into a closer relationship with Him. Paul came to realize this. Instead of becoming depressed by the Lord’s not removing the thorn, his realization causes him to be pleased in his weaknesses and to even boast in them.
This only makes sense when we consider God’s larger goal. God’s goal is not that His believers would have a comfortable, relaxing, untroubled life. If that were God’s plan, He would most definitely have cured Paul and would have prevented him from being persecuted. Rather, God is after a personal relationship with His believers. When our lives our going blissfully, when we have moments of strength, we are less likely think about the Lord. But when we experience moments of weakness, when our lives are full of persecution or suffering, then we are compelled to turn to the Lord and to develop an even stronger relationship with Him.
The Christian life is inevitably one that involves some suffering. But from this week’s meeting with Irvine Christian Students I learned that these moments of suffering are opportunities to turn to the Lord and become closer with Him. Hopefully we can all learn to apply this message to our lives every day.