2. Paul’s Ailment
The Apostle Paul, a faithful servant of the Lord’s, had his share of suffering, all of it incurred doing God’s work. Numerous times he had been arrested, beaten, shipwrecked, and suffered deprivation and dangers. Once he was even stoned by an angry mob and left for dead, but he miraculously survived. Probably as a result of the stoning, he had a physical problem that he asked the Lord to remove. God had lavished his grace on Paul so that he was able to persevere and get through all these misfortunes.
However, God chose not to remove his physical ailment despite Paul pleading with him to do so. Why didn’t God remove Paul’s thorn? I don’t know, but I think most times God does not remove a problem, but by his grace helps us to get through it. We get some insight into the role of God’s grace from 2 Corinthians 12:8-10 in which Paul writes:
Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. NIV
I think the key points that we need to keep in mind from this passage are:
-God’s grace is sufficient.
-God’s power is made perfect in (our) weakness.
-When we are weak, we are strong (by God’s power working in us).
Difficult times provide us with an opportunity to draw closer to God, to depend on God for help, and to acknowledge we can’t do it alone.
3. John’s Arrest
Even with those having a deep faith, doubts inevitably creep in. John the Baptist was arrested by Herod, and he probably expected to be rescued by Jesus – which I believe was a reasonable expectation. As he languished longer and longer in Herod’s dungeon without being freed, he began to have some doubts. He sent messengers to Jesus with this question (Matthew 11:3b, NRSV):
“Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”
What he was really asking was, “Jesus, why haven’t you rescued me if you really are the Messiah?” Good question: Why didn’t he rescue John the Baptist? The only answer I can think of is that God had his own reasons – God’s plan was not John’s plan. The same often holds true for you and me: God may have other plans for us, plans we may never have considered. Circumstances may put us into a whole new situation that requires us to lean more on God and discern God’s plan for us. While we may not like change thrust upon us, it happens and so we must look to God for help, direction, comfort, and strength to deal with it. I am reassured by Jeremiah 29:11-13, which says:
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. NIV
Notice that part of God’s plan is for us to call upon God, and God will listen:
Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.
What a promise – so go ahead and call on God. He’s waiting at the door.
IV. Reassuring Hymns
With God’s help in mind, let’s quickly take a look at the two hymns.
1. “What a Friend We Have in Jesus”
The hymn “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” encourages us. We should not hesitate to take our problems to Jesus, because…
What a Friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer!
O what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.
Have we trials and temptations? Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged; take it to the Lord in prayer.
Can we find a friend so faithful who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness; take it to the Lord in prayer.
We can take our problems to Jesus because he’s lived among us and has suffered as we have, as we read in Hebrews 4:15-16:
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. NRSV
2. “Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah”
Another hymn of assurance is “Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah”:
Guide me, O Thou great Jehovah,
Pilgrim through this barren land.
I am weak, but Thou art mighty;
Hold me with Thy powerful hand.
Just as a child holds his parent’s hand when crossing the street or in a crowd, so we should hold God’s hand to guide us through this life. When you are going through a tough time, keep that image in your mind: you holding hands with Jesus as you travel down life’s road together.
We may never know why something happened to us, but we should realize that it didn’t happen because God is punishing us. I say that because many people ask, “Why is God punishing me? What have I done to deserve this?”
If you’ve put your faith in Christ, you have been cleansed and made righteous before God. You may have to suffer the logical consequences of your bad choices, but that is different from punishment. The good news is that God uses our tough times to build us up in faith, in discipline, and in character. Although this verse is over-used, we should still keep in mind the truth that is found in Romans 8:28:
And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. NASU
Do you love God? Have you been called according to his purpose?