Saturday, 17 July 2010

Can God Be Glorified In My Weakness? (Part 1)

During a discussion in a cell group today, a question was raised "How can we say that God is glorified through our sickness, suffering.....? Surely God can only be glorified when the world see us healed, when God do His miracle thing. Otherwise we won't have a testimony to show about our powerful God".

I also remember a prophet-preacher who once asked "How can God be glorified unless you're wealthy and drive a big car? How can God be glorified to your friends in your small, pathetic, little car?" (I must say I'm exaggerating what he actually said, but not what he intended to mean). Surely a God who said that He provides won't leave you in shame, right?

Back to the basic question: "Can God be glorified in our suffering, weakness even though there seems to be no miraculous answer from His part?" And I thought and searched within for a while and found the answer. It's simple and absolute: OF COURSE!

Of course God can be glorified even if He chooses not to intervene (divine miracles) in our sufferings.

I remember the old story of Fanny Crosby. A life-changing incident happened to her as a baby:

"When about six weeks old I was taken sick and my eyes grew very weak and those who had charge of me poulticed my eyes. Their lack of knowledge and skill destroyed my sight forever. As I grew older they told me I should never see the faces of my friends, the flowers of the field, the blue of the skies, or the golden beauty of the stars... Soon I learned what other children possessed, but I made up my mind to store a little jewel in my heart which I called 'Content'." (Fanny's own words retold by S. Trevena Jackson, This Is My Story, This Is My Song).

Fanny was only eight years old when she wrote this song:

O what a happy soul am I!
Although I cannot see,
I am resolved that in this world
Contented I will be.

How many blessings I enjoy,
That others people don't.
To weep and sigh because I'm blind,
I cannot, and I won't.

Someone once asked, "Fanny, do you wish you could see?" She replied in typical style "Well the first face I'll see will be the face of Jesus." Will God be glorified more if He had miraculously healed her? Who knows but God himself! This girl remained blind and went on to write over 8,000 hymns of praise in her lifetime. Those thousands of songs were simply the result of a fire that burned in her heart for Jesus and could not be put out.

I'm not conveying the idea that we should be contended with whatever circumstances that may befall us and not pray for God's power to act. I'm saying our response in worship is the most important thing whether we know what hits us or not. Easy for me to say that, right?!

One of the passages of Scripture that intrigues me (for many years) is from the Apostle Paul "To keep me from becoming conceited.....there was given me a thorn in my flesh (ever wonder where that phrase came from?), a messenger from Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it from me. But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, my power is made perfect in weakness". Therefore (this is the part I love) I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me....(2 Corinthians 12:7-9).

So, what is this thorn in the flesh that Paul was referring to? There was a book by RT Kendall (one of my favourite Christian authors) who wrote on this subject alone. I haven't read it except for the first chapter given free on the Internet. Many had speculated that Paul's 'thorn' was a physical condition, some said it was a person (someone who strongly opposed him), others disputed that it was demonic harassment. If it was absolutely important to be obvious, the Word would tell us explicitly what it was. RT wrote that not all Christians will have this 'thorn' that Paul mentioned, and we should never hope or look for it! Don't let some preachers sell you the idea of a 'christian thorn'. To some, their 'thorns' could be a serious physical condition, disability, a heavy financial distress, a family member (I suddenly thought of Abraham Lincoln's wife) or human opposition, hellish forces, or could be any of many other possibilities. It's definitely not the common challenges that we usually face; this thorn is really something else. Personally, I pray that I will never have it, and neither will my closed ones. I don't know if you can say only 'special' Christians go through these conditions (I don't know a better way to convey it here right now).

Was it Paul's lack of faith, unrepentant heart, pride (he hinted something about his conceit?), or God's punishment that prevented the Lord from removing his 'thorn'? Who knows but God himself! The one thing that God needed Paul to know was God's grace was sufficient for him, and His power is made perfect in his weakness. Would Paul have been more effective in his ministry of spreading the gospel if his 'thorn' was removed? Again....WHO KNOWS! THAT IS NOT THE POINT!

In the cell group, Job's story was raised "Why did he had to go through the suffering that he did?" In the story, his wise friends came up with numerous theories on why disasters overtook him, his whole family and business. When God finally appeared (that is always the best part!), He rebuked his friends and Job. Out of the storm, God said to Job "Brace yourself like a man; I will question you and you will answer me." (Job 38:3-4). We all thought that Job needed answers, not questions from God! "Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation...?" and God began to question Job of all the deepest secrets of creation that nobody could know except the Creator himself. "Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him?" (Job 40:2). How can we tell God what to do, when to do and how to do them? God went on with another bout of mind-blowing questions too wonderful for Job. At the end Job said "My ears have heard of you, now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in ashes." (Job 42:5-6).

In all that, Job had the right heart and response in worship even though he had no idea he was being tested. None of his close friends or dear wife could persuade him to give up his faith in God. He understood that God should be praised in good times as well as bad times. "The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord" (Job 1:21). In Job's case, The Lord gave, took away, and gave back double everything he had at the end. Thousands of years later, people everywhere are still recounting Job's story. If you said that's because Job got back everything doubled, then you may have missed the lesson there.

Can God be glorified in our weaknesses? I hope by now your answer is an emphatic 'OF COURSE'!

Just in case you think I'm 'not balanced', I also believe that God should be glorified in our strengths and triumphs, as we recognize our source. Those who really know me know that I strive very hard to develop on myself, discovering the wonders of God in what He gives and does.

"If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness..." (2 Corinthians 11:30). "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" (2 Corinthians 12:10).  How different that is from our own way of thinking! I know it's easy for me to say this. But I know it wasn't easy for Paul to have said that and I believe he meant every word with everything he had. By the way, those immortal words were inspired of the Holy Spirit.

How refreshing it is to grasp 'Biblical logic' from our own rationalizing! For me, I know I must cling on to the inspired Word. I must believe it until I act it! Or is it act it until I believe it (like those NLP folks will say)?

(Added in the morning after...)

I slept meditating on that verse "My grace is sufficient for you, my power is made perfect in weakness" over and over again in my subconsciousness and just now I awoke with a startling question, almost a revelation to me: "Can I recall anywhere in the Scripture about God's almighty, infinite power being described as perfect?" Not in the miracles during the deliverance of Israel from Egypt, not during the times of the OT prophets and judges, not when Jesus performed his healing miracles, not during the acts of the apostles during the infant days of the churches. I could not recall (if you can, please drop me a comment) anywhere else except in this verse.

My next startling question: "If the only time God's power was described as perfect was in our weaknesses, isn't He kind of a sadist, to relish in our pain and degradation?" (Please comment on my outrageous 'argument'.)

Watch out for Part 2. I'm thinking to entitle it 'Apostle Paul vs The Super-Apostles'. Let me get my breakfast.....


Tony C said...

Good stuff. It's funny that I'm studying for a Sunday School lesson on the first chapter of James tomorrow, and I stumbled upon this post you did just today.

God is so awesome! I love when He leads and guides me to what I need to read or hear.


HT said...

Hi Tony, glad that my post was helpful to you. Thanks for reading. :)

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HT said...

Cheers Raul!

Alan said...

Our weekly bible study group took 2 Corinthians cpts 11 and 12 last night and this of course is a central theme in Pauls rebutting the false prophets.

Would they ('super apostles')rejoice in suffering? NO and our ultimate example is Christ himself who willingly suffered and died for us