Being Faithful. Day six...
Picture yourself driving down a dirt road in Kansas… and you come upon a farmer just finishing up in his hayfield. When the last bale drops out of the baler, the farmer steps down from his tractor and trades his hat and boots for a football helmet and sneakers.
As you stop your car—wondering what he's up to—the farmer begins to run up and down the hayfield as if he's dodging bullets, occasionally running headlong into a bale of hay. He keeps this up for several minutes, until he collapses under a shade tree on the edge of the field.
Obviously, this guy is completely nuts. Otherwise, why would he endure such punishment? But lay out chalk lines on his field, give him a football, trade the hay bales for a defensive team, and you have a football game.
It's all about perspective.
And the perspective we have about suffering makes all the difference in how we deal with it.
Paul had a tremendous amount of revelation from God. After all, God used Paul to write about a third of the text of the New Testament. Because of all this revelation, Paul was dangerous to Satan's efforts. And Satan tried countless times to kill him or discredit him, in an effort to cause the people to believe that Paul's life didn't measure up to his revelation.
And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. (2 Corinthians 12:7 KJV)
Please note that God did not give this thorn in the flesh to Paul, but it was given to him by Satan. Consequently, the thorn was not meant to keep Paul from becoming conceited (there would be nothing Satan would like better than to have Paul get caught up in his own glory).
The thorn was given to keep the people from thinking Paul was anyone special—anyone worth listening to. Paraphrasing what Satan might have hoped the people would think: “Well, this Paul has more trouble than we do. All the stuff He says about Jesus must not be true… it's certainly not working for him.”
What was this thorn in the flesh? It was not a physical ailment, although Paul may have had some physical side effects from his persecution. It was Satan hassling Paul because Paul was serving God. It was the fallout Paul experienced because He loved Jesus and represented Jesus on this earth.
Please note: Paul had done some really bad stuff before his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus. But this suffering had nothing to do with his past. I'm certain Paul had his weaknesses of character just like you and I, but this suffering was not the consequences of any imperfections in his human nature. This suffering was just the crap Satan dishes out to stop the spread of the good news of Jesus Christ. And this kind of suffering has a different remedy than the suffering we bring on ourselves.
Paul apparently did not like the persecution (as mentioned in 2 Corinthians 11:24–27 NLT):
- Five different times the Jewish leaders gave me thirty‐nine lashes.
- Three times I was beaten with rods.
- Once I was stoned.
- Three times I was shipwrecked.
- Once I spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea.
- I have traveled on many long journeys.
- I have faced danger from rivers and from robbers.
- I have faced danger from my own people, the Jews, as well as from the Gentiles.
- I have faced danger in the cities, in the deserts, and on the seas.
- And I have faced danger from men who claim to be believers but are not.
- I have worked hard and long, enduring many sleepless nights.
- I have been hungry and thirsty and have often gone without food.
- I have shivered in the cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm.
He apparently didn't like it because he asked God three different times to take it away from Him (see 2 Corinthians 12:8).
Paul was suffering and he didn't like it at all… until God helped him put it in perspective:
And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ's sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9–10 NKJV)
When God gave Paul this revelation, do you suppose the persecutions stopped? Of course not. So what could possibly cause a man to go from the position of dreading persecution to embracing it? What could cause a man to be so unaffected by the resistance coming against him in ministry, that he would be able to say, in effect, “Bring it on! It'll just make me stronger!”
For the love of the game.
In the 1999 movie by that name, the hero willingly endured a great deal of pain for many less than noble reasons, but one of the reasons was his love of the game. Athletes regularly ignore pain for love of the game. Soldiers risk life and limb for love of country. Police officers and fire fighters put their lives on the line for love of the people in their communities. Mothers and fathers endure great hardship for love of their children.
Is it so difficult to imagine that to a man with such a passionate love of the game (spreading the good news of Jesus), taking a few hits now and then would seem like nothing?
“May we be so focused on serving the Lord that we become a threat to the darkness in this world. And may we take every hit in stride, knowing that with each one God is increasing His power flowing through us. May we find comfort in God's faithfulness to us. In Jesus' name.”
Have a good day,