Rejoicing in Tribulation
“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” (II Corinthians 12:9).
I was visiting one of our elderly ladies recently who has spent many more days in the hospital than she would prefer. As we talked about her condition and the specifics of her treatment, she expressed disappointment with her circumstances; not so much the condition itself, but the fact that the treatment served to weaken rather than strengthen her. She then made the statement; “I guess I’m just not living right.”
It is normal for us to regret our misfortune when tribulation confronts us, especially when those challenges have life changing consequences. It is also common to complain, dwelling on how unfair life is and assuming that God must be punishing us for some sin (perhaps unknown) we’ve committed. We may even conclude that we have done nothing to warrant our pain, and insist that someone else is responsible for our suffering. Whatever our reaction, the last thing we would normally do is rejoice, and it is almost certain that we would not “glory” in our “infirmities” as did the apostle Paul. Yet some of the most joyful people I have ever known were those who were enduring severe, almost unbearable tribulation – people who, in many cases, had little or no hope for relief.
The Truth about Tribulation
Tribulation might take the form of an unexpected affliction that has no root in our actions or attitude. It may come at the hands of our enemies who choose to attack us because of our faithful defense of that which is right, or it could actually be God’s loving hand of discipline that causes our distress. The range of our suffering can be quite broad, affecting us physically, mentally, emotionally, financially, and spiritually. The severity of our suffering, however, is not determined by those circumstances. God has a purpose in every event that occurs in our lives (including our tribulation), as well as a plan to make those events beneficial to those of us who are his children (Romans 8:28). He is not always the source of the tribulation, but He always knows about it and promises to use it for our benefit. Whether that happens or not is a direct result of how we choose to think about those trials. Does God actually know what we are going through, does He really care, and do we believe that He can, and will fulfill His promises? In other words, the effect of our tribulation depends upon our faith.
II Corinthians 4:17 says: “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” Notice that Paul refers to tribulation as a “light affliction” and insists that we will be better off for having endured it. How do these “afflictions,” work for our benefit?
Tribulation helps us to grow in patience. Romans 5:3 – “And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience;”
Tribulation teaches us about God’s love and comfort, and gives us the necessary tools to allow us to comfort others. II Corinthians 1:4 – “Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.”
Tribulation is evidence of godly living. II Timothy 3:12 – “Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.”
Tribulation teaches us about God’s grace. II 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.”
Paul’s Experience of Tribulation – II Corinthians 12:7-10
The apostle Paul faced a crisis of tribulation, a persistent “thorn in the flesh” (V. 7). The only thing we know about his thorn is that it was some kind of physical infirmary. It is likely that the specific description of the thorn was intentionally left vague to allow us to easily identify with Paul’s challenge. What we are told is that this thorn was “a messenger of Satan,” and that God allowed it to help Paul maintain his humility.
Paul was human; therefore, he responded to this “thorn” the way most people would respond. He complained (V. 8). The thorn was unpleasant. It hurt him physically, and it hindered him spiritually. So he prayed, asking the Lord to remove it. Just as the thorn was persistent in its affliction, Paul was persistent in his prayer, and after his third petition an answer finally came: “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness” (V. 9). God was not going to remove the thorn. Instead, He was going to give Paul grace to endure it.
Sometimes God allows the discomfort of tribulation to help us reset our thinking. Paul prayed because he wanted the thorn to go away. That was his primary concern. He would feel better, think better and be much more productive if the thorn was gone. He was thinking only about his personal comfort, forgetting the will and purpose of God. Once Paul began thinking right he eagerly embraced his affliction, and his confidence in God’s promise was restored. He was reminded of three vital truths that gave him strength to endure his trial.
The Security of God’s Presence
God did not desert him. While Paul knew that God was always with him, it was imperative that he remember that God was there during his trial. Hebrews 13:5 says: “for he hath said, I will never leave thee nor forsake thee.” It is when the fire is the hottest that we must be convinced of the presence of our God.
The Sovereignty of God’s Purpose
God never makes a mistake. His way is always perfect. We struggle because we don’t understand why things happen the way they do. While understanding is not necessary, believing that God has a purpose in what He allows to happen in our lives is crucial.
The Sufficiency of God’s Power
God’s grace is sufficient to help us deal with whatever we are required to face. Paul ultimately came to the realization that he only had strength in Christ, and that strength was only available when he was weak. Since his thorn created personal weakness it was responsible for his spiritual strength. Paul’s conclusion: “Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (II Corinthians 12:9).
When the lesson was over Paul’s thorn was still there. Paul’s prayer didn’t heal his affliction, but it did provide a significant spiritual benefit. Paul’s thinking changed to reflect God’s Glory, God’s grace, and God’s guidance in his life. Though Paul’s tribulation remained, his attitude toward it was transformed. The thorn still caused weakness for his flesh, but it was a great source of strength for his spirit. So instead of despising his tribulation, Paul actually took pleasure in his infirmities, as well as reproaches, necessities, persecutions, and distresses for Christ sake.
We don’t rejoice because tribulation is fun. It isn’t! We rejoice because tribulation increases our strength and spiritual productivity. We rejoice because tribulation encourages a stronger relationship with our Lord. We rejoice because tribulation makes us more like our Savior. But the primary reason we rejoice is that through our tribulation God receives glory as our lives reflect His grace and strength.