For those of us who have read about the life of Paul, we are not surprised at his suffering because it seems to happen all of the time! Today though I was challenged by the description of some of Paul’s suffering as it is described in 2 Cor. 1:8-9 which says,
“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.”
In this passage Paul is so overwhelmed with intense suffering that he despaired even of living. He had come to the end of himself and felt as though death was knocking at his door. The amazing thing is that we have no record of this suffering and therefore have no idea what this was all about. In a sense, Paul suffered in silence. He did not parade his troubles for others to see. He learned to endure by depending on God alone. His suffering drove him back to God.
Barclay adds great insight when he says,
“Paul saw that the terrifying experience he had gone through had had one tremendous use—it had driven him back to God and demonstrated to him his utter dependence on him. The Arabs have a proverb, ‘All sunshine makes a desert.’ The danger of prosperity is that it encourages a false independence; it makes us think that we are well able to handle life alone. For every one prayer that rises to God in days of prosperity, ten thousand rise in days of adversity. As Lincoln had it, ‘I have often been driven to my knees in prayer because I had nowhere else to go.’ It is often in misfortune that a man finds out who are his true friends, and it often needs some time of adversity to show us how much we need God.”
There is much to learn from Paul and Barclay’s insight. I really do not want to hear it though! When things go well it is easy to live independently of God. I need to learn how to live as dependently upon God in prosperity as I do in adversity.
Father, forgive me for my lack of dependence upon you! I often live in my own strength and ask for your enabling only in trial. May I walk today in prosperity as dependently upon you as I would in times of trouble. I need you and your constant source of strength in my life.
Following Jesus with you,