2 Corinthians 12:7-10
The Methodist Church’s manse was just three doors along from our manse in Paisley, so my colleague came along to pass on some details for a joint service involving many congregations in the town. He found me hard at work in the garden, scarifying the front lawn. “Doing battle with the moss?” he asked. But before I could answer, he added, “You’ve lost!” So, no great encouragement from him!
That event came to mind again a few days ago, when Linda mentioned a TV programme she’d watched about Japanese gardens. Apparently, the Japanese revere the tranquil, peaceful qualities that moss symbolises. So the programme showed a group of Japanese ladies down on their hands and knees, pulling out individual blades of grass from amongst the moss in the garden! Their perfect garden is the opposite of ours.
I wonder, do we try to remove from our lives what other people would treasure? Perhaps things that would bring blessing and encouragement if we saw them in the same light that God does? Think of the situation the apostle Paul describes in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10: ‘Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.’
It’s clear that Paul would have preferred not to suffer in the way that he did. We don’t know precisely what it was, but it was bad enough that he prayed for it to be removed on three occasions. And God said, “No; you must live with it.” Paul would, inevitably, have found this hard. Life would have been much simpler and easier for him if this problem (some people think it was a troublesome person) was removed. Yet eventually he came to see that God had a purpose in keeping in place what Paul was desperate to get rid of. It kept Paul “from becoming conceited”, he writes in verse 7. He discovered that God could also use this difficulty to increase his dependence on the Lord, and therefore his effectiveness. He could be stronger in the Lord’s service when he recognised his own limitations. God is all we need. Or, as He put it to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
Paul concludes by moving from the specific issue to the more general principle in verse 10. “That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” Will this help us in the challenges we face? We may want the problems removed as soon as possible, ideally by yesterday! But our loving heavenly Father may have a purpose for us in them which we can’t yet see. I’m not for one moment suggesting that we don’t seek help in our trials, or ask God to remove the troubles we face. Of course, we should – even the great apostle did that! But we should continue to trust the Lord when the problems don’t go away. And, as we rely on the grace provided by our loving heavenly Father, we will find He gives us more and more strength for the challenges on life’s path, as He prepares us for the glory of His eternal presence.