Being Gloriously Broken by God
God allowed Paul to be “tormented by a messenger from Satan.” Paul’s response was not to fight Satan’s messenger with “spiritual warfare,” but he went straight to the source that controls all good and evil: He “begged” God 3 times to take away the “thorn in the flesh.” Each time, God answered his plea, “My gracious favor is all you need. My power works best in your weakness.” (2 Cor. 12:9) God allowed Paul’s suffering, not in response to Paul’s intentional sin, but to prevent Paul from becoming proud and thus thwarting what God wanted to do through him. God used suffering in Paul’s life for God’s own agenda and glory. If Paul had not suffered, the story of God through Paul may not have echoed throughout eternity. Most likely, God would have delivered the gospel message through some other willing servant. This eternal perspective is why Paul ultimately decided surrender control and rejoice in his sufferings: “So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may work through me. Since I know it is all for Christ’s good, I am quite content with my weaknesses and with insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor. 12:9-10) As we are broken, there is less of our flesh and more of God working through us. Our self-obsession is lessoned; and our others-centeredness is increased. Paul understood what was accomplished through him “for such a time as this,” and was thankful to be honored in such a way. He didn’t want to miss out!
We are not afraid to die. In fact, as we become “brothers of Christ,” we are asked to allow our flesh to die with Him. And suffering always accompanies the death of our sinful natures: “Or have you forgotten that when we became Christians and were baptized to become one with Christ Jesus, we died with Him?” (Rom. 6:3) So, like Paul, “I myself no longer live, but Christ lives in me. So I live my life in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God.” (Gal. 2:20) We can never fully live for Christ and live out the purpose for which we were created without death to our demanding spirits – our sinful natures – and this process of sanctification is painful. So suffering for all disciples of Christ is inevitable. For death is a necessary ingredient to a fruitful life: “The truth is, a kernel of wheat must be planted in the soil. Unless it dies it will be alone – a single seed. But its death will produce many new kernals – a plentiful harvest of new lives.” (John 12:24)
Oswald Chambers states that the “Christian life is gloriously difficult.” If you examine the lives of the great heroes of the Bible – Moses, David, the disciples, Paul, etc. – all of them had to be broken for the sake of God’s glory (read the laments of David in the Psalms! Laments comprise two-thirds of the Psalms). Their self-obsessions and independence from God had to be gloriously destroyed. All followers of Christ will experience and enter the “dark night of the soul,” a season when very little makes sense and we have to face our deepest fears and our core questions about why God doesn’t always seem to have our best interests at heart. The only word that seems applicable as we enter this dark cave is “mercy!” In these dark caverns of our soul, the rescuer will reveal himself – but we must be patient.
So don’t be surprised or shocked when trials and calamaties come your way. “These trials are only to test your faith, to show that it is strong and pure. It is being tested as fire test and purifies gold – and your faith is fare more precious to God than mere gold. So if your faith remains strong after being tried by fiery trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world.” (1 Peter 1:7) An “abundant life” for a Christian disciple is not a life without trials and suffering. Suffering is one of the marks, or badges, of true discipleship. What else would Jesus mean when He says to take up our “cross daily” in order to follow Him? What does it mean to embrace the cross? How else would we “become like Christ?”
So why, rather than bringing our questions to God about the intensity of our suffering, do we blame others, or ourselves, instead of going to God with our questions about His goodness? Jacob’s life is helpful at this point:
Jacob was the man who deceived his father Isaac into giving him his brother Esau’s birthright. The name Jacob actually means ambitious deceiver. Yet it was this slimy guy who eventually was named Israel, the namesake of an entire chosen people. Doesn’t sound exactly like the story line we generally associate with “victorious Christian living,” does it? Jacob wrestled with the angel of God (most scholars say this was Jesus himself) all night long. Jacob was wounded in the process as Jesus “knocked [his hip] out of joint at the socket” (Gen 32:25). It was in this broken condition that Jacob clung to God and would not let him go until he received a blessing. Jacob was persistent in his struggle, and he would not let God go. He knew that the perpetrator of his wound also was his only hope – that there was no “Plan B.” God knew Jacob’s glorious purpose and knew that a wound was necessary for Jacob to live out his true identity. But from that day forward Jacob walked with a limp as a reminder of his neediness.