Life was so hard – Leaving our home, and ministry, and not being able to help our family or babysit our grandkids was painful. All the while, Gary was growing more confused about who I was.
What is distressing to you? What about your life is difficult, impossible to fix? Do you feel helpless? What do you dread? Are you Rejected, Alone, Persecuted? No one is exempt from the hard seasons of life, those times when you are at the end of your own abilities. Everyone here has a story to tell. Everyone’s suffering is intense TO THEM. I get to tell you how God worked through our trial, but we are in this together ladies.
Today, we get to look at someone who has gone before us, into the valley of suffering, weak and helpless and found strength there. So let’s go together to the One who loves us, to God’s holy word, where all the answers lie.
We’re going to be mostly in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 so as you’re turning there, a little background. The Apostle Paul wrote this particular letter during the most painful time in his life. He needed to defend his authority and ministry to the Corinthian church, because false teachers were lying about him, and discrediting his ministry and were preaching some kind of a “different” and therefore false gospel. The people he loved and had poured his life into, were questioning his motives and what he had taught them. In order to protect them from error, he had to defend himself, even though he hated to do it.
THROUGHOUT CHAPTER 11:
Paul gives multiple reasons to trust him because he was afraid they would be deceived. (v.3) His character, humility, honesty, love (v.9-11) contrasted with the false teachers who “enslave, devour, take advantage and exalt themselves.” (v.12-20) His suffering for the sake of the gospel, proved his integrity (v. 23-27), and his daily concern for them showed his caring heart (v. 28).
FINALLY, IN CHAPTER 12:
In order to convince them, he BOASTS. Boasting is "to glory in", "be proud of." Why would this humble apostle be boasting?
In v. 1 he said, “Boasting is necessary, (to protect them), though it is not profitable; but I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord.”(v.1)….” Fourteen years before, (v.2) he had been “caught up into the third heaven, (v.3) paradise, and heard inexpressible words…” (v.4) He could have boasted in all these things, but he wouldn’t.
Being transported to Heaven set him apart from all of the false teachers. But even though the vision experience was amazing, it was all God’s doing, and not his, so he refers to himself in the third person, saying “On behalf of such a man will I boast; but on my own behalf I will not boast except in regard to my weaknesses.”(v.5) The only thing in HIS LIFE he WOULD BOAST about, was his WEAKNESSES. That’s where God’s power was displayed most clearly, and the best evidence that Paul could be trusted.
2 Corinthians 12:7-10
Here’s where Paul begins to boast about his weakness…and I’m going to boast about mine too as we look at this passage together. Paul’s situation was unique to him. Mine was different, but I want us to follow Paul’s example and glean principles to help us in our trials. There is much for us to learn from the Lord, as we face difficulties, and even though trials come in different forms and for different reasons, if we seek Him, the reward is the “peaceful fruit of righteousness.” Heb. 12:11
Humility From Pain
v. 7 “Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me – to keep me from exalting myself!"
Paul could have easily become proud because of his vision so God gave him a thorn to keep him from exalting himself. In particular, a messenger from Satan influencing and driving the false teachers in this church. This thorn was painful. Greek for “thorn” indicates “sharp, painful, irritating; like a splinter or even a stake. It was extremely painful for Paul.
When things are going well, we are all susceptible to pride. We love our autonomy and self-sufficiency, but God hates pride. He’s “opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (1 Peter 5:5b) He gifted us with a trial. Our painful thorn was dementia. Gary gradually lost all control and I needed to accept help and seek advice. Not easy for a couple of ‘do-it-yourselfers.’ Our self-reliance gave way to beautiful ways to display grace in our lives.
ADMIT YOUR NEED FOR HELP:
There were so many big decisions to be made, and my husband couldn’t lead or help me. For example… Should I continue going to church without Gary? Should my parents move to assisted living? How many caregivers could they afford to hire? What about “end of life” planning? What would Gary want? How long should my mom be on life support? After my Mom died, should my Dad live with me? etc., etc. Hooray for James 1:5. “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach and it will be given to him.” Absolutely true! Every time I faced a big decision, the Lord gave me the wisdom I was asking for.
GO TO YOUR SHEPHERDS:
In the early stages, Gary was confused about my identity, and was unsure if he could trust me to sign a Social Security form I’d asked him to. He went missing one day and 45 minutes later I got a call from one of our pastors. Gary was in his office getting his advice, making sure it was ok to sign. Pastor Rick reassured him and Gary signed and came home. That incident, laid the groundwork for me the following years. I will never forget it. GO TO YOUR ELDERS! (Heb 13:17) “they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account.”
INTIMACY WITH GOD
v. 8 Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me.
Paul begged God to remove the painful trial 3 times. For Paul to ask repeatedly, and then mention it, it must have been extreme.
I too, prayed intensely for God to please remove our “thorn.” The Alzheimer’s would not go away, but we both prayed for relief and strength to endure. I repeatedly poured out my hurts to the Lord and was reminded of His incredible love for us. I too was driven to deeper intimacy with Christ. Others were drawn close too.
Gary’s “I love yous” eventually stopped, and when the feelings of loneliness rose up, I called a family member or friend, to ask for prayer. God heard every cry of my heart and provided encouragement every time I needed it; in the form of a special verse, note from a friend, or remembrance of something Gary had said in the past. God gave me more love than ever for Gary and reminded me that He loved Gary even more than I did. And now as a widow, God is my husband. God is replacing the loneliness in my heart with Himself.
(1 Peter 5:6-7) “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.” God is planning to lift us up as result of our hard times, (either by removing the thorn or giving us grace to flourish) so bring all your hurts to Him, because He cares.
GRACE FOR WEAKNESS
v. 9a And He has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you for power is perfected in weakness.’
God answered Paul’s prayer. Not with “OK, your trial is ending now,” but with more than enough grace to strengthen Paul in the MIDST of it.
What exactly is Grace? In greek: charis. Defined: God’s undeserved favor to us through Christ freely given to us for salvation, and for every other spiritual blessing. (Eph. 1)
Paul was no stranger to Grace. He wrote...
- We are saved by grace… (Eph. 2:8) “For by grace you are saved, through faith; but that, not of yourselves, it is the gift of God...”
- We are glorified by grace…(Eph. 2:7) “...so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”
- In between, we live by grace... (Titus 2:11-12) “…the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age…”
We are completely dependent on GOD’S GRACE to live our Christian lives.
It’s MULTI-COLORED grace: (1 Peter 4:10) “manifold [multifaceted] grace of God." We need...
Grace to believe the Gospel
Grace to understand the Word
Grace to trust God instead of ourselves
Grace to be assured of our salvation as we persevere
Grace to obey
Grace to endure with joy, and more
My pastor, John MacArthur, says ‘Grace is like the air we breathe.’ Sometimes God sovereignly intervenes in some way independent of our actions, but Paul told Timothy to “…be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” (2 Tim. 2:1) We are expected to live lives pleasing to God. But how do we do that in the midst of difficulty, confusion, and sleepless nights? The Holy Spirit is in us, infusing us with grace as we engage with Him in four ways.
TAKE HOLD OF GRACE – In the following 4 ways…