2 Corinthians 12:1-10
In chapter 11 Paul presents us with an impressive resume of recognition, because he wants to point out one of our most prevalent problems, pride. If we are not careful we will make it about Me and not the Master. Let’s be honest we all battle with boasting, but if we are going to be effective ambassadors for Jesus then we have to be broken of our boasting in self. Who do you talk about more self or the Savior, do you share more about what you have done or what He did? Pride wants to promote self but I am called to proclaim Jesus not Giles. Today we have to deal with some thorny theology, “Why does a good God allow pain to be present in the lives of His people?”
Paul presents us with 2 very opposite places, Paradise and pain. Starts with:
Paul says in verse 4 that he was caught up to paradise, he heard things so astounding that they cannot be expressed in words, things no human is allowed to tell. This is more than just a euphoric experience it was literally an out of this world experience. Paul says that it was indescribable and incomprehensible beyond anything we could imagination. But just when we are about to explore paradise Paul plunges us back into the present, forcing us to deal with the problem of pain. Instead of share the sights and sounds of heaven, he shares the sting of here, we go from paradise to pain, heaven to hurt. And if I were to ask you which of those two would you rather participate in, Paradise or pain? I think we would all agree we like the pleasure, we like it when there are no problems, as a result many of us make the purpose of life our happiness instead of holiness. We end up pursuing a problem free life instead of pursuing the Provider of life. We try to create paradise in the present and we chase after the good life instead of a Godly life. But trying to create paradise in the present is really a refusal to face reality. Paul starts by reminding us of our real heading heaven, that’s the hope, but then he returns to the reality of our present and the problem of pain. Look paradise is coming but if we don’t learn to live in the present and deal with the pain we will always be disappointed. Today there are many disillusioned disciples of Jesus because God hasn’t met their demands for a pain free life. Their distorted view is destroying their ability to worship, to witness, to wait on and to walk with God. So lets deal with the elephant in the room.
Now when it comes to experiencing pain Paul is the expert, listen to his list of both physical and emotional pain in 2 Corinthians11:23 “I have been put in prison more often, been whipped times without number, and faced death again and again. 24 Five different times the Jewish leaders gave me thirty-nine lashes. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. Once I spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea. 26 I have traveled on many long journeys. I have faced danger from rivers and from robbers. I have faced danger from my own people, the Jews, as well as from the Gentiles. I have faced danger in the cities, in the deserts, and on the seas. And I have faced danger from men who claim to be believers but are not. 27 I have worked hard and long, enduring many sleepless nights. I have been hungry and thirsty and have often gone without food. I have shivered in the cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm. 28 Then, besides all this, I have the daily burden of my concern for all the churches. 29 Who is weak without my feeling that weakness? Who is led astray, and I do not burn with anger?” Paul tells us that pain is a part of living in this life. You see our real problem is not the pain its our perception of pain. We have a perverted view when it comes to pain, we see pain simply as a problem that can’t possibly be productive. So we tend to spend a lot of time demanding that God deliver us from problems and pain. Not only did Paul have external pain but there was also an internal source, a thorn in the flesh. Now we don’t know what this tormenting thorn that created the pain was but we know that its source was Satan. It has always amazed me how we will blame God for the bad and claim credit for the Good. The first practical piece of advice that Paul gives us is, Stop blaming God for the bad and boasting over the good. Are you giving the credit to Christ or claiming it for yourself, and why are you letting Satan sour you and sucker you into blaming God for the bad? The source of most of our pain is Satan and sin not the Savior. The second practical piece of advice that Paul gives us in dealing with pain is:
Where are you going to go with your pain? Paul wrapped his pain in prayer, he took his problems to God. Why talk to a mere mortal, when you can go to the Messiah, why take your problems to a man when you have a miracle maker? Are you petitioning God over your pain or are you going to pout? Can I share a little secrete with you, pouting doesn’t work, the prophet Elijah tried it and so have I, only because I thought that Elijah might have been doing it wrong. Unlike the prophet Elijah I’m a professional pouter, I know how to throw the biggest pity party on the planet because I have had lots of practice. But let me tell you, you can throw the biggest pity party in the history of hurt but it isn’t going to heal the pain. Pouting doesn’t work but prayer does. But prayer isn’t whining its walking with God through the dark and difficult valleys of this life. Are you going to bring your hurts to the healer or hold them in? Look at Paul’s prayer it was:
Paul prayed 3 times, often our first response when we go to God and He doesn’t answer is to give up because from our perspective prayer is pointless only because it didn’t pan out the way we wanted. But we don’t just give up on prayer we give up on God. Why do we give up on prayer not because our God is powerless but because we have a problem with patience, we would rather whine then wait. Truthfully when it comes to pain we want a pill we don’t want prayer. We want a quick fix we don’t want the Father. Paul stopped praying only when God gave him an answer. God told him no, it wasn’t the answer he wanted but it was God’s Will. Not only was Paul’s prayer persistent but it was:
When Paul talks about praying 3 times he is talking about pleading, this word beg is the same word that is used when Jairus called out to Jesus to heal his daughter that was dying (Mk 5:23). It was how a leper sought the Lord to cleanse him of his leprosy (Mk. 1:40). And it was how a servant begged his master for mercy because of a bill that he owed and could not pay, which would have caused him to be thrown into prison and separated from his family (Mt 18:29). How would you pray if your daughter was dying? How would you pray if your limbs were being destroyed with leprosy? How would you pray if you were getting ready to be separated from your family because of a debt that you owed? Why don’t Christians cry out to Christ because we are not desperate for God. How passionate is your prayer life, who are the people in your life that you are pleading for? Most of us never get to the pleading because we are too busy petition God over the petty things. Passion involves both desperation and a desire and many of us are not desperate for God because He is not our first desire. We have given pain the priority in our lives not God. Prayer isn’t about trying to remove the problem it’s about bringing the problems into God’s presence. Paul understood not only that prayer was a privilege but also the point of prayer. The purpose of prayer is to get God’s will accomplished on earth not man’s will accomplished in heaven. Have you submitted your wants to the Will of God, how are you going to handle the no’s, what will win in your life God’s Will or your wants? We petition God for what we want but He provides what we need, and what if what I need is pain. You see pain has a:
Having a proper perspective on pain means seeing that it can have purpose in our lives. Most of us just see pain as pointless. We don’t need more pills to deal with our pain, we need a proper perspective. There is a productive side to pain. If we let it pain can:
• Pull us closer to God
Pain has a way of pulling us close to God. My walk is always closer in the crisis, my prayers are always more in passionate in the midst of pain. In the first few days after the terrorists destroyed the twin towers, specially trained crews brought in listening devices so that they could hear the sound of people trapped inside the rubble. They were so sensitive that they could pick up the sound of someone crying out for help. The concern of the rescuers was not for revenge or re-building it was only to hear the voices of the victims. They needed this special sensitive equipment because there were so many noises going on all around them that it made it difficult to hear the one that they needed to hear. Between the noise of the heavy equipment, debris still falling, sirens, and fighter jets flying overhead they could have missed what mattered most. Our lives can mirror this madness, to where there is so much noise that we can’t here the One voice that matters most. Pain like that sensitive equipment can cause us to pay attention. We allow so many things to compete and to crowd out Christ, we are so busy, that for many there is no time and no motivation to just sit down and listen to the Lord. Sometimes, the only time that we’re willing to stop long enough to listen is when the breath is knocked out of us. Sometimes it takes sorrow and suffering for us to stop and sit at His feet. Its not that God doesn’t talk to me its just that sometimes it takes tears for me to hear. Pain can pull you closer or push you away, are you going to push Him away, or are you going to pull Him tighter. Pain can also
Pain can protect us from the poison of pride because it keeps us dependent on God. First it forces us to face our weakness and second it frees us to go after God’s grace. It forces us to face our weaknesses and when we do we can let go and let God. We can stop wasting time presenting our strength and we can get busy blessing people with His. Paul says “So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.” When we finally face and admit our limits we will have a longing for the Lord, because there are no limits with the Lord. Paul’s reason for requesting God to take away his problem and pain was because he thought that he could be a more effective servant for God without suffering. That he could be more helpful if he had a healing. That without pain he would be more powerful. But pain reminds us that anything of substance and significance will only be accomplished by God’s power not Paul’s. It was his thorny condition kept him from becoming conceited and prideful over the priceless privilege of serving God. Sometimes we need the humbling that only comes from hurt so that we can be reminded of how much we need Him.
• Produces Patience
Now I’m not sure what we detest more, having to practice patience or dealing with pain? So when God uses pain to produce patience most Christians act out in anger, we carry on like children suffering from a sugar shortage. But sometimes it’s only the wounds which cause us to wait on God. What if it’s not my circumstances that need changed what if its me, what if its my heart and not my hurts that need changed? And what if the only way for me to take a long look at my heart is through hurt? It sounds crazy but sometimes only hurt can heal the heart, because its only the hurt that is helping me to hold onto God. Pain will either poison your praise or purify it.
• Proclaims God’s Power
As I’ve said before the source of most of our pain is Satan and sin not the Savior but take notice of how God turns tragedy into triumph, “For when I am weak, then I am strong.” What Satan intended for harm God uses to arm. If you let Him God will turn your pain into power. Strength is not found in self it’s found in the Savior. Our tendency is to work hard not to show our weakness, but pain prevents us from hiding our hang-ups and weaknesses. It strips us of the false sense of security that comes through self-strength. Because when we operate in our own strength the only thing we communicate is what we can do but when we operate in His strength we show the world what God can do. A godly resume starts with Grace, its about what God has done not what we can do. Here’s the secret you don’t need a solution you need the Savior, Paul wanted a solution to his problems but instead of a solution he got the Savior, he actually got more than he asked for. Instead of getting rid of the pain he got God’s provision of grace. The problem is many of us are more desperate for a solution than we are for the Savior. Which is crazy when you consider the gift of grace, grace is the glue that holds it all together, without grace I have nothing. I would rather have Christ in the midst of my crisis than to be comfortable and Christ less. Are you going to focus on the groining or God’s grace? Too many of us take grace for granted, look when you get God you get it all, you get HIS strength, HIS power and HIS ability to overcome. How do you deal with the difficulties of this life, dependence on God, anything other that total dependence is a disaster. Ask Peter, his problem was not the wind and the waves it was his wavering faith. It wasn’t the silencing of the storm that he needed, he needed the Savior to show up in the midst of the storm.