Utterly burdened. Completely overwhelmed. Beyond strength. Way past the ability to endure. Despairing even of life. Thinking this is it, it’s over, not going to make it!
That’s the situation Paul describes in the opening chapter of 2Corinthians (vv. 8-9a). For as many bullets as Paul had dodged throughout his ministry, the affliction they experienced in Asia seemed to carry with it “the sentence of death.”
So what do you say to Paul & Co. in the midst of that? Suppose that somehow you’re permitted to walk alongside these servants of God as they are run through the wringer, not sure they’re gonna come out the other side — what do you say to them? Quoting Romans 8:28, “that for those who love God all things work together for good”, doesn’t quite seem to fit, perhaps comes across a bit trite. Or does it? After all, it was Paul who came up with it (well, actually it was God via the Holy Spirit as He moved Paul to write it). But what possible good could come from such a desperate state? This morning, I’m chewing on Paul’s implicit to that question.
For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.
(2Corinthians 1:8-9 ESV)
Paul was at the end of himself, it forced him to look beyond himself. His strength was gone, he needed to draw on some other power. Nothing left in the gas tank, had to trust in another kind of fuel. I smile at the way Peterson puts it:
As it turned out, it was the best thing that could have happened. Instead of trusting in our own strength or wits to get out of it, we were forced to trust God totally–not a bad idea since He’s the God who raises the dead!
(2Corinthians 1:9b MSG)
Isn’t that the ultimate good in any desperate situation, that it compels us to rely on the Lord? I’m thinkin’ . . .
Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ . . . that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and may share His sufferings, becoming like Him in his death . . .
(Philippians 3:8, 10 ESV)
Isn’t it the opportunity in any suffering situation, to have to rely on Him? To be compelled to trust in Him? To be cornered into experimentally knowing Him and the truth of His ever-present help in time of need? A help sourced in the power to raise the dead? Yeah, I’m thinking that’s always the opportunity.
If no other good comes from a desperate season of life, the good of having had to draw near to God so that we might know the supernatural dynamic of God drawing near to us (James 4:8) is of eternal worth. We can know God in our sufferings in a manner less accessible to us in our self-sufficiency.
Then, when deliverance is realized, we reap more than just an escape from a particular situation. We harvest the fruit of a built up faith — more convinced than ever that He will never leave us or forsake us (Heb. 13:5). Possessing a firsthand knowledge that His grace really is sufficient and that His strength really is manifest in our weakness (2Cor. 12:9).
He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and He will deliver us. On Him we have set our hope that He will deliver us again.
(2Corinthians 1:10 ESV)
He delivered us. He will deliver us. He will deliver us again!
Thus, on Him we have set our hope. A more sure hope. A tested hope. A hope based on the experience of being comforted by the God of comfort. And having known up close and personal His supernatural presence and power, we not only survive but, in fact, we thrive. Because relying on God is always a good thing.
Easier to say than to actually step through. But true none the less. Amen?
By His grace. For His glory.