Having recently had vocal chord surgery to remove a growth, I’ve had the chance to be quiet and think a lot over the last few weeks! Some of my quiet reflection has been meaningless and frivolous, but some of it has been helpful - being focussed on God’s word and how my struggle relates to the truths of the gospel.
Although my affliction is by no means as severe and distressing as what many people face daily, these are some of the thoughts I’ve had.
Last year when we preached through the letter of 2 Corinthians there was a particular passage that impacted me and that I’ve been reflecting on recently. Paul is teaching the Corinthian Christians that boasting in achievements and in things the world values is silly, and he does this by telling them about his struggles and weaknesses. One of these is his “thorn in the flesh”- some kind of undefined affliction that he faced, that tormented him, and that God chose not to take away from his servant, Paul.
Paul then tells us that Jesus himself replied to Paul’s request to remove the affliction and spoke these remarkable words into his situation: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)
These words are remarkable because they are somewhat unexpected, but also incredibly comforting. They are unexpected, because basically Jesus’ answer to Paul is, “No, I’m not going to take this thorn in your flesh away, instead, the grace I have shown you so far (most of all dying in your place and saving you from sin) is sufficient. It is enough to sustain you at this time.”
What Jesus says is unexpected because we humans are never satisfied. We are constantly wanting more and more. And when someone won’t give us what we want we can feel affronted. But Jesus says, “My grace is enough,” and when we stop and think about it, we realise that he’s right. His grace to us in giving his life as a ransom for us is more than we could ever deserve or ask for. That wonderful news has the power to sustain us through anything.
What Jesus says is also incredibly comforting, because he shows us that our afflictions are not pointless. In fact, Jesus’ power is perfected in our weakness. This is striking because Jesus is NOT saying that he turns our weaknesses into strengths (sometimes he does this to his glory), but that IN our weaknesses his power is perfected – it is given to us to persevere, and it is displayed as we hold onto him, trusting him as our sovereign Lord, no matter what we face. This truth gives us comfort in our affliction.
So over the last few weeks I’ve had to remind myself (with the Spirit’s help) of these incredible words – that even though my voice is weak and I cannot speak the way I want to, that Jesus’ grace is enough, and that his power is perfected in my weakness.
I may not know what he’s doing and why, but I can trust this promise that his power is at work in my life, humbling me and bringing me to greater trust in him. As one of our new songs puts it: I know my pain will not be wasted, Christ completes his work in me (“Christ Is Mine Forevermore”).
It can be frustrating when you are told that things seems to be progressing slower than they could be, or that the treatment doesn’t seem to be solving the issue. But my prayer is that all of us would have the heart and mind of Paul as we face affliction in this life. That, as he says, we would “rejoice in our afflictions, because we know that affliction produces endurance, endurance produces proven character, and proven character produces hope. This hope will not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5)