Summary: Many of our interpersonal problems are actually personal, the resulting of feeling weak. Paul’s strategy was to pray for those with whom he had conflict, and that helped him become whole. The cross demonstrates the power of weakness. For Reformation Su
When we are in trouble, our first instinct is to pray. And that’s right. That’s as it should be. The only problem is that when we are in trouble, our first instinct is to pray for ourselves. And that’s where something goes wrong. That’s our mistake. Pray for someone else, and we will discover our own problems are being dealt with as well.
I am assuming today that all of us are people who pray. Some more than others, some in ways different from others. But I am assuming that as Christians and as church people, we do pray.
And I am also assuming that all of us are people with problems. All of us face issues of one kind or another. Some have severe, complex problems, with health or money or jobs, with bad habits or misbehaving family members, or with all of the above. Others of us have smaller problems, less difficult issues. But I am assuming that we all have problems. We’re human, after all.
Well, then, it stands to reason that if we are praying people and we have problems, then a good bit of the time we follow that first instinct: to pray for answers to our own problems. We believe that if we pray for what we need, it will come.
But I ask you this morning to consider this: that the more we choose to pray for others the more we will receive power to resolve our own personal problems. The more we choose to pray for others, and for their wholeness, the more we will receive the power to handle our own needs.
Paul was a man with a problem. In fact, I guess he would be classified as one of those whose problems are complex. The issues just wouldn’t go away. Not where his relationship to the church in Corinth was concerned. Many of you know the story: how the church in Corinth was torn by factions and destroyed by immorality, how there were people speaking in tongues and other people determined to put down those who spoke in tongues. Paul had tried his best to deal with all of that.
But somewhere along the way Paul himself had become part of the problem: not just an outsider trying to give advice, but an integral part of the conflict. Paul had been accused of any number of things. There were people in the church who had been saying that his preaching was poor; there were others who had been complaining because he didn’t come to see them when he promised to. Still others accused him of being inconsistent, and some even hinted that he had messed up the finances. That’s a lot of heat for one man to take. If Paul had been the pastor of a modern Baptist church, he would have been pumping out resumes all over the map, looking for a new place to preach!
But, to top it all off, some were saying that Paul was weak, that he just didn’t know how to get the job done, just didn’t deal with situations decisively. Paul’s image was at stake, his effectiveness was in question. They thought he was weak!
Do you agree that Paul had a problem? What was he to do about it?
In today’s Scripture, Paul takes on rather a threatening tone, and warns the Corinthians that if they don’t straighten up and fly right, he is going to deal harshly. Gonna be trouble, right here in River City!
But, if you read carefully, Paul has something more to say on this. He has a better answer on how to get power to deal with personal problems. His answer is prayer. Not prayer for himself, but prayer for the very folks who were at the root of his problem.
Begin by recognizing one simple truth: that we live in an intricate web, where our personal lives and our interpersonal relationships affect one another. Let me put it this way: most of our personal problems are really interpersonal, and most of our interpersonal problems are compounded by our personal issues. Maybe I can make it simpler still: if I am having problems with me, that will cause me to have problems with you. And if I am having problems with you, that will make my problems with me all the worse.
Suppose one night you didn’t get a good sleep. The baby cried most of the night, or you saw a scary movie on TV, or you did what I’ve been known to do: consume too much of my favorite snack, salsa and chips. Whatever. You didn’t get much of a sleep, but off you went to work the next morning, dragging, drowsy, and distracted. When you got there, the boss, who is always at work early, always alert, always hard-charging, the boss wants to know when that job is going to be done and why you haven’t produced that report, and were you the person who left the door unlocked yesterday afternoon? What do you do? In the face of all of these accusations, most of which make you look weak, what do you do? Well, you can swallow it all, and resent the boss; or you can make excuses, and resent the boss; or you can lash out and accuse the boss of being unreasonable and unfair, and really resent the boss! Any way you slice it, you resent the boss, you wish he would drop into a hole somewhere and leave you alone.