Our pastor shared this scripture with us yesterday. It was God’s timing (which is always amazing to me) because this year I have felt burdened excessively. It’s been one of those years when there wasn’t one burden, one tragedy, one suffering, but rather one after another after another after another until I’ve felt that I could barely breathe. I certainly have become rather gun shy, wondering what possibly could happen next and knowing that, in all likelihood, what will happen next will be painful, unpleasant at best.
2 Corinthians 1:8-10 NASB
For we do not want you to be unaware, brethren, of our affliction which came to us in Asia, that we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life; indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves in order that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead; who delivered us from so great a peril of death, and will deliver us, He on whom we have set our hope. And He will yet deliver us.
Interestingly enough, our pastor shared that this passage demonstrated that suffering can be beyond what we can bear within ourselves. Notice that Paul says, “we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life.” He told us that there is suffering that is beyond what we can bear to the point that death seems the only outcome, the pain is so severe. I can relate with that, with the idea that life has lost its flavor and that heaven becomes that only thing I want.
Perhaps that’s what the Lord wants for us. Not that He wants for us to be in pain, but that He is, like a shepherd, herding us toward the safety of His arms rather than for us to continue to believe that we can trust in ourselves. “We had the sentence of death within ourselves.” Why? “In order that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead.” For me, the death of dreams, the death of future plans, the death of knowing where to turn to trust has been the most difficult of all losses. But it is turning me to God. And I serve a miracle-working God, a God Who can turn death into life, possibly in ways that I could never imagine.
Hebrews 11 talks about such lives, lives of saints who saw only suffering without an end in sight, and yet who still trusted in God:
Hebrews 11:35-40 NKJ: Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented–of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth. And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, God having provided something better for us.
The fact is that these didn’t receive the promise here on this earth because God had something better. It’s amazing the things that they suffered, some of the sufferings which failed to be reported in anywhere in scripture except in these few verses. The writer of Hebrews tells us that the sufferings were so great that the “world was not worthy” of these people. And yet these same people continued to trust God even though the end of their suffering was death rather than rescue. The writer of Hebrews goes on to say:
Hebrews 13:5b-6 NKJ: He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So we may boldly say: ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?”
Paul was convinced of this inability of circumstances or powers to separate him from God: “For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38-39 NKJ)
This only has value when I realize that the most important thing in my life is God and His love for me. Am I convinced that there is nothing else that matters? The fact is, that is the truth. In the view of eternity, only God’s love and my love for Him in response is important; everything else is a hiccup. In fact, I need to ask myself how much of what I fill my days with will be burned as rubble. Am I trading eternal value for junk when I place my expectations in those things which really don’t matter? Paul writes:
Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire. 1 Corinthians 3:12-15 NKJ
Perhaps the suffering I’m going through will help to build a work that will endure, either in my life or in the lives of those around me. Who am I to question God or to ask Him to deliver me from less than what others have experienced? A dear aunt, who is now in Heaven, cherished this verse from the Living Paraphrase:
So take a new grip with your tired hands, stand firm on your shaky legs, and mark out a straight, smooth path for your feet so that those who follow you, though weak and lame, will not fall and hurt themselves but become strong. Hebrews 12:12-13
Obviously the writer of Hebrews understood the concept of being emotionally and physically exhausted, of no longer being firm, but shaky. And yet the encouragement came to take a new grip and to stand firm, marking our a straight, smooth path so that others could follow. My prayer for today would be that I would trust the Lord to make plain the path that I can endure, not through my own strength, but through His strength. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Philippians 4:13 NKJ