Saturday, December 31, 2016

2 Corinthians 4:8-10 - Chicken Soup for the Soul

2 Corinthians 4:8-10 - Chicken Soup for the Soul

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.

We are a realistic people for the most part. Most of us know that being a Christian does not insulate us from life’s problems. In fact, sometimes we suffer BECAUSE we ARE Christians. SO, I have a question: How are we to find comfort, peace, and understanding when our world is falling apart? How can we face difficult losses with unflappable joy???

As a pastor, I often find myself in the unenviable position of being asked hard questions by hurting people. And to be frank with you, I often don’t know what to say. I see things, heartaches, for which there seems no logical answer. People look to me for clarity, and sometimes, I feel utterly helpless to offer it.

I mean, what do you tell a mother whose child has just died?

What do you tell a man whose wife has run off with another?

What do you tell a teenager whose dad is an alcoholic and they are being abused by the very one who is supposed to protect them??

As much as we tell people “We understand what they are going through,” we usually don’t have a clue.

No one is in a better position to offer comfort than the one who has been there himself. 

Take Paul as an example. Over in chapter 11, he tells the church all the things he had suffered as a preacher of the gospel. He wrote,

“Five times I received at the hands of the Jews forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.”

Paul wasn’t complaining… but he didn’t want his readers to have any romantic fantasies about serving the Lord. Living for God had not spared him trouble – in fact, his love for the Lord had led him right into the teeth of the evil one. His suffering was a direct result of doing the very things God wanted him to do. Yet, through it all, he was able to say to the Corinthians,

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort, Who comforts us in ALL our affliction so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God!”

What was Paul’s secret for overcoming hardship? Was he SO DIFFERENT from US that it is IMPOSSIBLE to be joyful in times of loss?

Thankfully Paul tells us HOW we can have joy even when suffering. Paul did 3 things that enabled him to find peace and purpose in the midst of life’s storms. And the wonderful thing about it – is – we can do these same three things:

1. First, if you would navigate the troubles of life with joy, you need to Remember God’s Promises.

Throughout this chapter (and the whole book, really) Paul reflects on the faithfulness of God in every situation, through every hardship he experienced. The Lord was faithful to provide comfort and wisdom... to give Paul an opportunity to witness… to give him peace.

When you remember the promises of God to his people, you will understand that NOTHING, no trial, no persecution, not even DEATH can rob us of the joy that God has given us!

What ARE some of those promises??

  • How about His promise to “never leave us or forsake us” in Hebrews 13:5? No matter how bleak the situation, even when abandoned by man, God will NEVER cut and run in our time of need. 
  • What about His promise to give wisdom when we ask Him in James 1:5?? The ability to see things through God’s eyes… to make right decisions… to know how to respond to adversity with grace. 
  • Or that He will never allow us to be tempted beyond what we can handle in 1 Corinthians chapter 10?? The Lord will never put us in a position where we have no other option but to sin. 
  • How about His promise to hear and answer our prayers in 1 John chapter 5 
  • or to give us peace that passes all understanding in Philippians 4:7?? 
  • We have the promise of the Holy Spirit to come to our side and shoulder the load with us according to Jesus in the gospel of John. 
  • Or consider the promise of God’s family to bear our burdens WITH us in Galatians chapter 6?? 
  • Or how about the fact that God has a plan for my life, Jeremiah 29, and has determined to bring good to me EVEN THROUGH what seems - at the time - like calamity, Romans 8:28. 
  • When I am weary, HE gives me rest – Matthew 11:28. 
  • When I need protection, God says “I am your shield” Genesis 15:1. 
  • “No good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly” Psalm 84:11. 

Paul teaches me that when I go through trials, I have got to go back to the Word of God and remind myself that He is faithful. Though chained to the floor of a damp prison cell, Paul could sing. Though driven out of town, beaten to a pulp, stoned and left for dead, Paul had learned to Remember God’s Promises.

I tell you what you need to do – every time you come across one of God’s promises, write it on a post it note and put it where you will see it every day. Whether it is your bathroom mirror…as you are brushing your teeth, you can meditate on God’s promise. Your computer monitor at work – you can fill your mind with encouragement while you are working. Or your dashboard as you drive to work... THINK on God’s Word to you. You will be encouraged EVEN while going through very discouraging things as you remember God’s Promises.

2. NEXT Paul had learned to Reflect on God’s Purposes.

As you go through things YOU don’t understand, start looking for the purpose of God in this thing. Listen to vv. 12-15, “So death is at work in us, but life in you. Since we have the same Spirit of faith, according to what has been written ... Knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus, and bring us with you into his presence. For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people, it may increase thanksgiving to the glory of God.”
Could it be that God has a purpose for our suffering?

Could it be that He allows us to experience things so that we can minister to others in need?

As I said in the beginning – no one understands what others are going through quite like the man or woman who has experienced the same suffering.

One day in 1932, musician and song-writer, Thomas Dorsey, left his pregnant wife in Chicago, and drove through snow to St. Louis – where he was asked to sing some of his anointed lyrics in a great Revival Crusade. The trip was a success. The services were moving. Many came to the Lord.

After the meeting, Dorsey went to his hotel room and found a message waiting for him with tragic news. His wife had gone into labor shortly after he had left, and through a series of complications, both wife and child --- had died.

Filled with grief, Dorsey fell to his knees seeking answers. Riddled with guilt for not being there for his wife, his mind jumped from blaming himself to blaming God.

Had God failed him?

Days after the funeral, through countless tears and heartfelt prayers, the peace of God invaded his darkness, and he sat down at his piano from which scores of worship ballads had been written, and the words of a new song flowed from his heart.

Maybe you know it? “Precious Lord, take my hand, lead me on, let me stand… I am tired, I am weak, I am worn… Through the storm, through the night, lead me on to the light… Take my hand, precious Lord, lead me home.”

How many times have those words soothed the broken heart - ministering healing and hope to God’s people down through the years?

You see? No one is better prepared to offer clarity and comfort than one who has walked that dark road themselves.

Paul tells the Corinthians, “I have suffered all these things – FOR YOU!” He is saying, in so many words, “I stand before you as a living testament of the faithfulness of God - that JUST AS He has helped ME – He will also help YOU in your time of crisis.”

In chapter 1 and verse 4, Paul spoke of the Lord “Who comforts us in ALL our affliction so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort ... we ourselves … have received.”

I can be victorious in my suffering WHEN I surrender myself to God and ask Him to be glorified through me – when I allow Him to use my hurts to help others.

I know the tendency is for us to be selfish and only think of ourselves as we go through hard times. And you know what??? There’s time for that. There's a place for that. But once you’ve gone through your suffering and have had time to process your emotions, you need to comfort others with the comfort YOU have received.

How do you do that?? I mean, after all, we are usually at a loss for words – we don’t know what to say when people are hurting. Sometimes the BEST thing is to be quiet. To show up, put your arm around the person, and grieve with them.

Christian physician and counselor, Dr. Paul Brand, wrote a book called “Fearfully and Wonderfully made,” in which he said, “When I ask patients and their families, “Who helped you most in your time of suffering?” I often hear a strange and imprecise answer. The comforter rarely has smooth answers or a winsome, effervescent personality. It is usually someone quiet and understanding, who listens MORE than he talks, who doesn’t judge or offer much advice. They offer a hand to hold… a compassionate shoulder to cry on… and a shared lump in the throat.”

THOSE are the people we want around us in times of suffering and loss. People who get it… who have gone through it… and realize that just BEING THERE is all that is needed.

Paul had surrendered his suffering to the purposes of God, in the hopes that God might use him to comfort others in their times of distress. People who saw him received encouragement… because he was willing to do ANYTHING, EVEN SUFFER, that others might be helped.

I have shared with some of you how just two days before the fire, I had prayed that God would do WHATEVER IT TOOK to help me connect with this community. And I meant it.

Have you surrendered to the purposes of God in YOUR trials? Have you asked God to make you more like Christ through this and to use you to be a help to others who are struggling? That’s what Paul did. That’s how HE could have joy in his pain.

3. But not only did Paul Remember God’s Promises and Reflect on God’s Purposes, he also learned to Rest in God’s Perspective. Listen to vv. 16-18,

“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen, but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are temporary, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”

It was testimony time in the small church, and the pastor asked his congregation to share their favorite passage of scripture. Many of the old favorites were mentioned – like John 3:16 and the 23rd Psalm. Verses promising salvation, assurance, and strength were all shared. THEN an elderly gentleman stood and said that his favorite words in the Bible were, “And it came to pass.”

He continued, “when I am sick, those words remind me it won’t last forever. When I am in trouble I know it will come to an end. When lonely I know I will soon be able to say, “it came to pass.”

How wise! No matter how severe the suffering or how long the trial, the day will come when it will END. In fact, Paul says, in light of eternity, even the WORST of his problems were but “light afflictions.” Trials only SEEM heavy because we aren’t looking at them from God’s perspective… because we are wrapped up in the temporary.

We need to focus our lives, our plans, our priorities on eternal things. From the way we spend our monies to how we spend our lives… we need to remember that the GREATEST things are GOD’s things. THIS ISN’T heaven. THIS isn’t home. When we learn to hold loosely the things of this world, losing them won’t be so devastating.

Are you going through things that are threatening your peace?

  • Remember God’s Promises 
  • Reflect on God’s Purposes 
  • and Rest in God’s Perspective.