Summary: God's grace can sustain us in the midst of our pain.
We live in a painful world. Turn on the news and you’ll hear a long list of stomach churning and tear jerking events, such as the evil we saw on display recently with the Las Vegas shooting.
"People are born for trouble as readily as sparks fly up from a fire." - Job 5:7 (NLT)
Job says as surely as hot air rises, life deals us nothing but trouble. And often, we object. How often have you heard it said in a news report, or at a funeral, or when relating sad news about a friend: "No one should have to experience (_______)." No one should, but it happens anyway.
But the truth is, no matter who you are, no matter whether you think or anyone else thinks you deserve it, if you live long enough, you’re going to experience some significantly stressful event, like losing a loved one; or getting sick; or someone mistreating you. And the list goes on.
As William Munny said to Little Bill before he shot him in the western, "Unforgiven," when Little Bill objected by saying, "I don't deserve this," "Deservin's got nothing to do with it."
Pain is a part of life; and in this world, we will experience trouble, difficulty, and suffering. Even the Apostle Paul, as undeserving as he was, nevertheless, experienced suffering. Let's read what he had to say about his suffering, and about God's sustaining grace. (READ TEXT)
At this point, I think it is important to underscore that the difference between a believer and a nonbeliever when it comes to suffering is not that believer's don't suffer. In fact, once I become a Christian, I find the evil one is now bent on my destruction, which means I'll encounter even more trouble if I seriously seek to live for Jesus. Though the devil can't take me to hell, he will try to make life a living hell if he can. The good news we learn from Job's experience is that Satan can no nothing to harm me unless God allows him. But he will still try.
"As followers of Christ, we often suffer not because we are out of God's will but because we are in it, not because we lack faith but because we have faith. We suffer not because we need to be filled with the Spirit but because we already are." - D.R. McConnell
In a sense, the believer's suffering is unique; but in another sense, much of the suffering we endure has to do with the imperfection of this world and our fellow man, the same as does the suffering of the unbeliever.
Believers experience sickness like everyone else; cruelty, like everyone else; injustice, like everyone else; death, like everyone else; and suffering, like everyone else. Except, unlike everyone else, we have a relationship with almighty God, who by His grace, sustains us in times of suffering. Note what Paul says our pain and God's sustaining grace.
1. By God's grace, there is purpose in our pain - vs. 7-8
Paul teaches us important truths about how to pray when we suffer. First, it is perfectly fine to ask God to remove the cause of our pain.
Many have debated through the years about what Paul's "thorn in the flesh" was. He describes it as a "messenger of Satan" sent to torment him. A popular view was that it was an eye affliction (Galatians 4:15). But whatever it was, because Paul was speaking metaphorically here, we can safely say that he saw his affliction as being straight from hell. So we can understand why he ask God to remove it.
But notice that the request to have the affliction removed was a secondary request. Paul's first request apparently, was to ask God what He wanted to teach him through this suffering (v. 7).
Paul refers to what he had just said in verses 1-6; and says that God gave him this affliction "to keep him from becoming conceited."
By God's grace, there is a point to our pain, too.
A. There's a specific point that God makes through our suffering.
As many of you know, I am suffering from six broke ribs, three of which are broken in multiple places. Broken ribs hurt! How did this happen? Let me tell you.
I traveled to Albuquerque for a meeting. I went up the street where my meeting place was. To get there, I had to go across a lane with oncoming traffic. When I approached the cross over, the oncoming traffic was about two blocks away. I had enough time to get across to where my meeting was. But when I got to the cross over, a pick up pulled out of that same parking lot, crossed the lane I wanted to cross, and stopped in front of me, blocking my line of sight. I was irritated, I was aggravated, and I was impatient. I reasoned that if I could only move forward, I could see around that pick up and probably still cross over before the oncoming traffic. I was wrong! As the nose of my car went out, it was caught by a vehicle, and I was spun around in my car, which resulted in my broken ribs.