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How St Paul responded to intense hardships, pressure and suffering?
Some people are under the mistaken idea that as faithful Christians, God would or should protect them from intense hardships such as cancer, nasty bosses or retrenchment. Nowhere does the Bible promise that. But what the Bible does promise is that if we turn to God and believe, He will keep His promise to strengthen us under all such circumstances. As St Paul said, “I have the strength to face all conditions by the power that Christ gives me.” (Philippians 4:13 TEV) And “God has given us a spirit of power and of love and of a sound mind"(2 Timothy 1:7 TEV).
Indeed, very few individuals have experienced the degree of suffering that St Paul has endured. As a professing Christian, St Paul suffered greatly: “I have worked much harder. I have been in prison more times, I have been whipped much more, and I have been near death more often. Five times I was given the thirty-nine lashes by the Jews; three times I was whipped by the Romans; and once I was stoned. I have been in three shipwrecks, and once I spent twenty-four hours in the water. In my many travels I have been in danger from floods and from robbers, in danger from my own people and from Gentiles; there have been danger in the cities, danger in the wilds, danger on the high seas, and dangers from false friends. There has been work and toil; often I have gone without sleep; I have been hungry and thirsty; I have often been without enough food, shelter, or clothing. And not to mention other things, every day I am under the pressure of my concern for all the churches. When someone is weak, then I feel weak too; when someone is led into sin, I am filled with distress.” (2 Corinthians 11:23-29 TEV) Although St Paul loved God very dearly, his sufferings in witnessing for Christ were not reduced: “We are often troubled, but not crushed, sometimes in doubt, but never in despair; there are many enemies, but we are never without a friend; and though badly hurt at times, we are never destroyed.”(2 Corinthians 4:8-9 TEV) Paul never once blamed God for his affliction. He never shook his fist at God in frustration. We Christians should never ever forget this!
Paul allowed the hardship and suffering to strengthen his trust in God. He writes, “So in the hardship we underwent in Asia, we want you to be quite certain, brothers, that we were under extraordinary pressure, beyond our powers of endurance, so that we gave up all hope even of surviving. In fact we were carrying the sentence of death within ourselves, so that we should be forced to trust not in ourselves but in God, who raises the dead. He did save us from such a death and will save us---we are relying on Him to do so.” (2 Corinthians 1:8-10 NASB)
Notice, Paul said, God has delivered us, He is delivering us and He will deliver us. He concentrated on Gods ability to help him to endure what would otherwise be unbearable. Paul has reached the point where he realized he wasn’t competent in altering anything. He couldn’t fix the pressure. His confidence in himself has drained to the point where he has lost all hope of surviving. At that critical juncture he found supernatural strength by looking up to God and God came through. He confidently relied on his Lord. He learned that God was trustworthy. He wrote, “We hold this treasure in pots of earthenware, so that the immensity of the power is Gods and not our own.” (2 Corinthians 4:7 NJB)
Paul is always confident of Gods grace and power to help him to carry his load. “In all our troubles, I am still full of courage, I am running over with joy.”(2 Corinthians 7:4 TEV) “In all our hardship, I am filled with encouragement and overflowing with joy.” (2 Corinthians 7:4 NJB) “In addition, to keep me from being puffed up with pride because of the many wonderful things I saw, I was given a painful physical ailment, which acts as Satan’s messenger to beat me and keep me from being proud. Three times I prayed to the Lord about this and asked Him to take it away. But His answer was: My grace is all you need, for My power is greatest when you are weak. I am most happy, then, to be proud of my weaknesses, in order to feel the protection of Christ’s power over me. I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and difficulties for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”(2 Corinthians 12:7-10 TEV) St Paul finds that he can do all things through Christ who strengthens him and he learns to be contented and satisfied with whatever he has: “For I have learned to be satisfied with what I have. I know what it is to be in need and what it is to have more than enough. I have learned the secret, so that anywhere, at any time, I am content, whether I am full or hungry, whether I have too much or too little. I have the strength to face all conditions by the power that Christ gives me.”(Philippians 4:11-13 TEV) St Paul also knew for certain that nothing could separate him from the love of God, “Who, then, can separate us from the love of God? Can trouble do it, or hardship or persecution or hunger or poverty or danger or death?” (Romans 8:35 TEV)
What about us? Are we afflicted and burdened excessively? Do we feel as if we are under such intense pressure that we, too, are close to despair? Are we cowed and fearful? Are we feeling crushed and confused, misunderstood and beaten down, hurt and suffering? Nothing around us gives us strength. Not even our closest friends seem reliable. Our situation is bleak. Our future is threatened. We are all alone. We are at a loss. We don’t have the power we need to face life’s worst blasts. Left to ourselves we cave in. The kind of power we need comes from God only. Therefore, resist the temptation to roll up our sleeves and plan the recovery by only our own effort. This is our opportunity! Look up to God. Rather than fighting back, surrender. Embrace our weakness. Tell our heavenly Father that we are trusting in the strength of His power. If Paul could do it, so can we.
Now that we are beginning to grasp what Paul said, strength in weakness, we should truly try to embrace it. We have slugged our way long enough. Let us come before the Lord and say, “Lord, I’m sunk. I’m not in control. If you don’t open that door, it isn’t going to open. My situation is in Your hands. I’m tired of pushing and shoving and relying on myself. I surrender. When we do that, we hear Him say, ‘My grace is sufficient. My strength is perfected in your weakness.’”
Instead of returning to our same-old method---talking ourselves into looking strong and acting brave, putting on the gloves and stepping into the ring with swagger, relying on our own strength to win and succeed and impress---stop and surrender. Drop to our knees and cry out to God. Admit our inadequacies and declare our inability to keep going on our own. We need to face the fact that we will never be able to handle some of these pressures, hardships and sufferings alone. Unless we acknowledge this, Gods strength will not be released in us.
If we are finally ready to step aside and
let God has His way, tell Him so and then do it. He will honor our admission of
weakness by showing Himself strong through us. But if we don’t surrender, He
won’t force Himself on us. We have the free choice to admit Him into our lives
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