Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Finding Peace, Purpose, and His Plan, In Our Deepest Struggles

"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. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. 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 12:7-10

Wow, do you hear Paul as he speaks about his life? These verses were penned by Paul. Things were not easy going for him. Paul didn't walk the road of luxury. He didn't have everything at his feet. Simply put, life was hard. It was a challenge. No where does Paul say what his thorn was that he struggled with. No doubt life was a battle for him, but one this is for certain. He knew where his strength came from. He knew without a doubt that the Lord was with him. He knew God had a purpose for everything that touched his life.

Paul could have easily given up. How easy would that have been? Have you ever wanted to give up? Lord knows I have.  Paul overcame through the strength he found in Jesus Christ. He struggled. This is evident as he cries out to God to remove the thorn in his side. How many of us walk with a thorn in the side? Fill in the blank of what your thorn is. Maybe you have struggled for years. But friends, there is good news. You too can overcome just as Paul did.

I live with chronic illness and pain. There are days I wake up and I am soaring. I can do just about anything. I feel super. But there are those days where I am flat on my back in bed. Not just for a few hours, but at times days and even weeks. I can be honest and tell you at first I just crumbled. I celebrated with the biggest pity party ever thrown. The thing is, no one wants to attend those parties. I felt alone in my pain. I felt that no one could understand. There were days I wanted to give up. Literally. But as I lay in bed one night I felt the Lord take my hand and I heard His sweet whisper, "My daughter, I am here with you." He was. He had been there the entire time. He hadn't left me. In my pity and anger I had left Him behind. I was wondering why me and wondering where He went. He remained at my side and as for wondering, why me, well, I believe Paul was kind of asking that himself.

He asks the Lord to remove his thorn and in every circumstance that he cried out to the Lord the He answers that His grace is enough. Paul would not only live with the thorn being content, he would do God's will and use all of his life to bring glory and honor to the Lord. Doesn't that bring peace to your soul? It does mine. In fact, it changed the way I seen my pain and struggles. This wasn't something the Lord was punishing me with. It was something He could use greatly through me. I began sharing my struggles and soon others were being encouraged. They no longer felt they were the only one. I would use my time in bed to pray for others. To send cards. To make calls to those I knew needed encouragement. God used that time in my life to change my heart. I became more compassionate. I became more understanding. Through those very struggles He was changing me to become the girl He created me to be.

We can see that instead of Paul complaining of each circumstance that touched him, he now praised God for each and every one. That kind of changes things doesn't it? Gives us a whole new perspective on living. It shows us that we have a choice in what our attitude toward struggle is. We can either accept it as a challenge and an opportunity with the attitude of, "Why not me, Lord?" or we can beat ourselves us with pity and bitterness. In choosing anger and bitterness we make the choice of wasting precious time.

Did you just lose your job? God uses those times to stretch us. We are never going to grow to our full capacity if all is just perfect in our lives. If all is perfect, just the way we wish it to be, then why would we call out to God? He never allows any circumstance to go to waste. He wants to use everything in our lives to bring glory to God, but first we have to be the willing vessel. We have to trust Him. We have to believe that there is a purpose for all.

"We capture every thought and make it give up and obey Christ." 2 Corinthians 10:5

"Be careful what you think, because your thoughts run your life." Proverbs 4:23

When we surrender every single thing in our life and entrust the Lord with all it changes our life. It changes perspective and it changes our attitude . It brings new life. Abundant life full of joy. Yes, we can have joy even in our deepest struggles. It has often been those struggles that have brought me closer to the Lord.

"Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stone; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness-besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to stumble, and I do not burn with indignation? If I must boast, I will boast in the things which concern my infirmity. The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is blessed forever, knows that I am not lying. In Damascus the governor, under Aretas the king, was guarding the city of the Damascenes with a garrison, desiring to arrest me; but I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall, and escaped from his hands." 2 Corinthians 11:25-33

I read these words with tears today. Paul shares with the church the struggles he had battled. But he never gave up. He could have walked away and left behind his call. How sad would that have been? Just as sad for you to leave behind your call out of anger and asking the Lord, "Why me?" Paul lived through each infirmity and overcame. It gave him strength for the next and the next and the next after that. God used Paul greatly. He too wants to use you, my friend. He doesn't want you to give up. He wants you to look beyond your circumstance and see an opportunity for greatness. He wants to heal you, beginning with your heart. A heart transplant does wonders for the body.

As I study the life of Paul I am learning a great deal. I'm learning about the life of Paul, about my Lord, Jesus Christ and also about myself. I see my own struggles and I see how the Lord has never let me down. By His grace I continue onward.

"Therefore, having been justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through him also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. and not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been pured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us." Romans 5:1-5

"Being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ." Philippians 1:6

"I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." Philippians 4:13


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