Monday, March 8, 2010

Despairing in Order to Trust - 2 Corinthians 1

"For we do not want you to be unaware, brethren,
of our affliction which came to us in Asia,
that we were burdened excessively,
beyond our strength,
so that we despaired even of life;
indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves
in order that we should not trust in ourselves,
but in God who raises the dead;
who delivered us from so great a peril of death,
and will deliver us,
He on whom we have set our hope.
And He will yet deliver us,
you also joining in helping us through your prayers
that thanks may be given by many persons
on our behalf for the favor bestowed upon us
through the prayers of many."
(2 Corinthians 1:8-11)

I am quite often "struck" and "pierced" by a passage of Scripture. If you peruse my blog with any frequency at all you know that is true. I use those words regularly - perhaps too regularly. Maybe I need to spend some time with Roget and find some synonyms!

These particular verses did more than "strike" and "pierce" - they cut to the quick and grabbed hold of my heart and mind like metal to a magnet!

For over 15 years I've read through 2 Corinthians 1. The declaration of God as "the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort" has been obvious. The challenge to view our sufferings as an opportunity to comfort others as we ourselves have been comforted has always been noted. However, a few weeks ago, as I read through this great chapter, something else got my attention - and it got my attention BIG TIME!

Paul - the great apostle, the bold evangelist, the mighty apologist, the prolific letter writer of so much of the New Testament, the GIANT of the faith - despaired even of life! Take it in: Paul despaired even of life! WHOA! I thought I was alone on that one - or at least only numbered amongst the slightly unstable!!

Follow his words with me. Look at them closely. Let them sink in.

In his opening comments he writes: "For we do not want you to be unaware, brethren of our affliction which came to us in Asia...." Paul wants to know that we get what he is saying about this. He doesn't want us to miss it. He doesn't want us to "be unaware" regarding this great affliction that he has faced. So, let us pay close attention and let us be WELL aware.

The apostle Paul was no stranger to suffering and he was no stranger to the intense despondancy that sometimes accompanies it. While in Asia he was "burdened EXCESSIVELY" and this excessive burden was "beyond [his] own strength." It was so much beyond his own strength that he "despaired even of life." The pillar of apostleship was ready to tank!

I don't know about you, but that actually comforts me greatly. There are times when I am ready to throw in the towel. There are times when my weakness far exceeds my strength and when my sin seems to be so much greater than my sanctification. I have been to the point of despairing of life. I have personally been far too close to the edge of bailing on life - and obviously I've not been alone in that dark place! Even this is common to man - common even to redeemed man (1 Cor 10:13). It was common to Paul!

We're not told what the specific trouble was that pulled Paul to the edge, but pulled to the edge he was. His burden was excessive. His pain was intense. His grief was almost overwhelming! Been there, done that - had no idea Paul had gone before me.
I find some solace in the fact that I'm not some weirdo mental case for landing in the slough of despond (no comments from the peanut gallery please). I find some peace in knowing that Paul is my companion in the darkness. However, more than empathetic comradary Paul gives us divinely purposeful hope. As he continues ministering to us in these verses he grants us a glimpse at what God is doing in the midst of this almost overwhelming gloom. God was teaching Paul to trust!!

Paul was brought to the end of himself that he should no longer trust in himself but in God. "Indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves IN ORDER that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead." Matthew Henry writes: "God often brings his people into great straits that they may be induced to place their trust and hope in His all-sufficiency. Our extremity is God's opportunity."

Ouch! Bulls eye!! Direct Hit!! Raising the white flag of surrender!! Oh, God - You have brought me to the place of despair please bring me to the place of trust!

Far too often I am proud and self-confident and self-reliant and self-sufficient and self-stubborn. Cutting to the chase I guess you could say I'm self-stupid! I like to be in control. I like to be "safe"! I like to be strong. I like to be those things, but I'm not and God has a way of continually showing me that I'm not. I'd be wise to listen - I must have a lot of sin's wax in my ears!

As I continually seek to hold the reins of my life God continues to direct my life in courses that look and feel a lot like spooked horses running wild over rocky terrain! Have you ever tried to hold the reins of a spooked horse?! Have you ever tried to hold the reins of a horse spooked by the sovereign God of the universe? Cry uncle, fool!! You will not win!! You are not strong enough and you're bound to break your neck if you keep fighting against so strong a force!

Time and time again, the stronger I strive to be the weaker He wisely makes me. That has been the path of this past year. The all-wise and loving God has "burdened me excessively, beyond my own strength, so that I have despaired of life." Repeatedly God has humbled me to see just how weak I am IN ORDER that "I should not trust in myself, but in God who raises the dead." I think I'm slowly getting it. Glad He is patient.

Paul, in theses verses, has driven home that despair is a catalyst for trust! Are we trusting or are we fighting against the horses of omnipotence? Friends, we are not strong enough to win the fight! Only God "who raises the dead" can "deliver us from so great a peril of death." Only "the Father of our Lord Jesus", only the "Father of mercies", only "the God of all comfort" can set us free from the shackles of despair and grant us peace and rest.

He can and He will!! "And He WILL deliver us. He on whom we have set our hope. He WILL yet deliver us!"

May our Great Deliverer - Who raised Christ from the dead - do what is necessary to pry our stubborn, stupid fingers off the reins of our lives. Our strength will fail us. Our attempts will wear us out. Our own volition will lead us where Paul landed in Asia - excessively burdened beyond our strength and despairing of life. Oh Father - do what is necessary, bring what is necessary, afflict as is necessary to teach us to trust You and to make us truly live!!

In His glorious grace,

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