We Americans have a common problem. Most of us want to be self-sufficient, have a plan and a backup plan with a backup plan and always be right. We have to be in control. We are told all our life to be this way. Either we make it happen or suck it up and either way we have exercised some level of control.
Most of us still prefer to give than receive because receiving is perceived as indication of a weakness in our abilities and to some people their character. I have known people who did not want charity or resisted almost to the last breath before giving in and receiving it. Oddly, charity in the Bible means love so they were fighting against receiving love.
Yes, we are changing some into a more give me, give me society. We have gone from “Ask not what your country can do for you, but ask what you can do for your country” mentality to the exact opposite. Still there are many who will give you the shirt off of their back and go hungry before they will ask for help.
Rugged individualism, initiative and personal accountability are good traits in and of themselves but can be overdone. Frontier life was tough and those qualities helped transform the country, but people put as much or more faith in God than their own abilities. They saw what they had as God-given and sought Him for direction and blessing. That outlook as changed drastically since WWII. We trust in many other things, but mostly ourselves as the masters of our destiny.
More and more we are finding that we are not very good masters of our destiny. As the Bible predicted we are seeing more and more people dying of fear. Heart failure is not only the blood pump that is predicted. Negative stress is often rooted in fear since two people can undergo the same situation and intensity with one improvising, adapting and overcoming and the other dying of heart failure though not presenting any of the markers.
People lose heart as well. Suicides are abounding from fear. Some fear the environment and think they should check out rather than suffering from their perceived issues of global collapse that are not grounded in fact. Some have been so bullied they fear to go back to school or face life. Some fear economic collapse. Some fear debilitating diseases they do not have just because it is something that can happen to an older person. I just read of a double suicide because they were afraid they had the Corona virus, which upon autopsy it was found that they did not. Their heart to go on failed for fear. Some lose a loved one and fear they cannot go on so they commit suicide rather than allowing the grief process to carry them on. Myriads of things people fear are causing them to lose heart.
2 Corinthians 1:8 For we would not, brethren, have you ignorant of our trouble which came to us in Asia, that we were pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life:
9 But we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead:
10 Who delivered us from so great a death, and doth deliver: in whom we trust that he will yet deliver us;
11 Ye also helping together by prayer for us, that for the gift bestowed upon us by the means of many persons thanks may be given by many on our behalf.
Someone once asked if I wanted be a pastor because of the prestige of it. I laughed and asked him what decade he was living in. There was a time when prestige was available if you were a pastor, but these days often you have a target on your chest and back as you catch flack coming and going with much of it being “friendly fire” from those who should be on fire from God for ministry rather than trying to fire you.
Often we read the Word and we see all the wonderful things that were done by the Apostles and we think it would be grand to be like them. As a new Christian, I asked to be like Peter and Paul. I was looking at the great things they did not realizing that along with that there were plenty of not so desirable things in their lives. Had I really paid attention to Paul’s resume in 2 Corinthians 11 and how most of the Apostles died and suffered before they died I might not have made the prayer request or entered the ministry. Think about that if you want to be a minster only if you think it will be without issues. It is not all prosperity and peace.
Indeed, as we see in the passage Paul and his team had some rough times. There are very few Americans who can say they have see anything their life like the Apostle Paul. Yes, there are folks who have seen horrible things, but if scars were compared I believe Paul would be the clear winner. That said, his life is definitely one to look to if you are losing heart. If Paul got through so can you.
Saying that he and the team were “pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life” does not fit with theology of many people who believe we should be living a victorious life of health, wealth and prosperity. Ironically, the Greek word for measure is where we get our hyperbole that is normally used when we believe a person is exaggerating their story. In Paul’s case, the pressing was way out of the limits and true. Very few of us could have endured a tenth of what he went through in his life.
Indeed, was it appropriate for Paul to say these things were above strength? Are we not supposed to be able to do all things through Christ who strengthens us and the Holy Spirit led Paul to write that? Yes, because he is driving home here that very point. They were not able to perform or endure in their own strength. Did they all have various spiritual gifts and were walking in the Spirit? Absolutely, or Paul would have had a coaching session with them or sent them home. He would not have wanted anything to hinder the ministry.
Mat 10:22 And ye shall be hated of all men for my name's sake: but he that endureth to the end shall be saved. |
23 When they persecute you in this city, flee ye into another: for verily I say unto you, Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel, till the Son of man be come.
24 The disciple is not above his master, nor the servant above his lord.
25 It is enough for the disciple that he be as his master, and the servant as his lord. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more shall they call them of his household?
Paul was not present at this teaching, but he was living it and had been a persecutor so he was a bit more prepared for these things than some of his team, yet he was also pressed beyond his natural strength. He asked once, “who is sufficient for these things” again admitting that his strength and wisdom was limited. He had been in control of many things as Saul. He was at the apex of his career or may have climbed a bit higher had he not been converted. He had plenty to be proud of from a human standpoint. Again, read his resume and lineage. God addressed the pride by the messenger of satan that Paul dealt with daily.
Too often it is our own misunderstanding of the Christian life and our need to be in control that causes us to despair. When you look at this passage and the rest of the NT as well as Church history you find more saints in stressful and dangerous situations rather than lying on flowery beds of ease. Where did you read that Jesus and the Apostles lived in the lap of luxury? Even John the Baptist was martyred and Jesus praised him highly. None lived in mansions or drove luxury chariots nor were dressed in fine clothes having large bank accounts. Even Peter was told one day he would not be in control of his life and would be taken where he did not want to go speaking of his death.
Things got so bad that Paul and the team even despaired of life. Paul told the Philippians that he was ready to be with Jesus, but given the choice he would stay here for their sake. This period of time in the verses may have been when he decided it was better to go home, but he endured for the Gospel and the ones needing to hear it and the ones who accepted it.
I think part of what helped him endure was what he learned about this period of ministry. He saw how to rejoice in it and look forward for they had the “sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead:” This is one of the key lessons we can learn as a Christian. We need to die to our own strength and look to God. We trust way too much in ourselves.
Sadly, bible college can help that for as we learn we begin to trust in our education and if we are quite erudite in the pulpit or lectern it only deepens our self-reliance. Lavish that with the praise of men and Houston we have a problem. Remember that Paul counted everything but dung and he had a long list of accomplishments to take off of his office wall and trash. When you need a messenger from satan to keep you humble you know you have a pride issue and stuff to fuel that pride.
Sometimes God has to put us in a situation where we are caged and pressed down so that all we can do is look up. At times in movies you will see someone put in a cell or cage like thing and they will try to break down a steel door or pull our steel bars to no avail and finally sit down with head hung low in defeat. People would fire multiple rounds into Superman’s chest and then in frustration throw the gun at him like that was hurtful. Too many times we are put in such a situation where we fire all our rounds and throw the gun or run around like a mad man trying to break out of a steel room. When we finally sit down and hang our heads it is then we have to look up to God. We have the sentence of death in ourselves because all we have trusted in has failed.
It is time for God to raise the dead. Your situation may seem to be impossible. It may be in your strength or the strength of all the people you run to for help. No one may have the answer, but God does. Pastor Carter Conlon warns that we should not set limits on God and say He is unable to deal with our mess or situation. He created the entire universe so whatever we have going on is no strain on His wisdom, strength and resources. You just have to die to yourself so He can raise you up. Then the glory of your life is Him not your achievements.
We are so impatient. Pastor Conlon also said to stop trying to get out of your wilderness and find God in your wilderness. That is awesome and yet it is a given. God is omnipresent! You are not in some dark hole in the galaxy that He cannot see what is happening. He is in your wilderness. He was in a wilderness and dealt personally with the devil. He has wilderness experience and all power, authority to control, if you want it. There is much to be learned in the wilderness that we would never learn in prosperity or peace because our lives would be filled with so much stuff be it good, bad or ugly that we would not hear the still, small voice of God. For many, God would have to speak loud enough to shake the house and break the windows to get us to hear.
Sometimes we have to go back through our life and see what God has already delivered us from to be able to look up. When we were saved we were delivered from so many things that could have killed us physically and may have killed our heart leaving us as dead people walking. Indeed, it was so great a death to be delivered from and we rejoiced.
From that time, we were delivered from many other things and brought through some tough times and deep waters. As we look, we will see many things that we forgot. We dodged a relational bullet. We were brought through some health issues, financial issues, job losses and more. He did deliver and he has been delivering us.
After all of that, how can we doubt that he will yet deliver us from the wilderness we are now in. Maybe we were seduced by a person or a sin that has caused our wilderness. Someone hurt us worse than we have ever been hurt. Maybe someone walked out of our life or died. This is the worst time of our life. Again, if we look back there were times we said that same thing. This is horrible and it cannot get any worse. Yet, we were brought out of that. Why will we not trust that He will yet deliver us now?
There have been many times in my life that I thought that it would not get better. It did. Hard times came again and I thought I could not make it through and yet I did. There were times I thought horrible things were going to come into my life and they did not. In all of those times as I look back, it was the grace of God that got me through rather than my strength, wisdom or resources. So many times I was in a self-destruct mode and yet God did not allow me to destruct. Indeed, what success I have achieved be it secular or ministry is more than I deserved. My earthly resources are only because of God and a frugal wife. All things are really in spite of my efforts rather thane because of them.
Too many times we live in the wilderness alone. We can handle it. We do not want to admit weakness or failure. So we low crawl through with a five ton weight of guilt and shame pressing us beyond hyperbole. Paul had people praying for him and providing for his earthly needs. You need a prayer partner. You need someone you can spill your guts with and they will still love you. If you do not have one ask God to provide one. Indeed, may God send one to you as soon as you finish reading this message. If you need help in other areas like food or clothing, etc. allow people to love on you and help you. Don’t take advantage of them, but let the saints be saints and receive it as acts of love from people who have the same Father and Savior. If the Holy Spirit moves them to do something do not resist Him. Just thank God.
2 Corinthians 12:9 And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
Sit down in your wilderness and allow God to kill your trust in yourself. Why struggle so hard? Surrender!! Lift up your head to Him and wait upon Him. We consider Paul to be one of the strongest Christians to ever live and yet his strength came from God. God’s strength is made complete in your weakness. Be glad you have finally gotten to where the power of Christ can rest upon you for then you will be lifted up to run and not be weary! Surrender, weak child of God! Surrender and be strong! Alleluia! Maranatha!!