Have you ever experienced some difficulty in your life and one of your first thoughts is, there must be a lesson I’m supposed to learn? Often we think that God brings calamity, or allows it – depending on your theology – for the purpose of teaching us something. The hope is that once we learn it, everything will find resolution. The problem will be conquered and we will walk away as better people for it. Once this all happens, we will celebrate and say, “Thank you God, for bringing something good out of all this hard stuff.” If all goes well, we will have a story to tell others, we may write blogs, or even craft books about the lesson we learned and how it changed our life.
But what if there is no resolution? What if the pain is persistent? We are left alone questioning the justice and mercy of God, or at the least questioning our connection to Him. There must be something wrong with God, or us. Either the lesson can’t be learned, or I am just not getting it.
Look at this passage a bit with me. This is one of my favorite passages to hate. Hate may be too strong a word… let’s read. “So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:7–10, ESV)
Paul seems to be talking about some physical burden he endured. It played a significant role in his life. It kept him humbled before God. We see that he asked God three times to remove it. Then Jesus spoke those famous words, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” This sounds like a lesson Paul needed to learn. It sounds like a lesson we all need to learn. At least that’s how I’ve preached it before.
And he learned it. All was well, we assume. But wait. All was not well. There is no relief! There is no indication in this passage, or any other that God removed this from him. God doesn’t say, “Now that you’ve learned your lesson, I’ll make you whole again.” The thorn, pain, limitation didn’t go away. God didn’t give healing. What did happen is that Paul stopped asking. And it seems the hardships kept coming. He lists them: weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, calamities. Why? Because Christ wasn’t inviting Paul to learn a lesson! He invited Paul to a life!
Faith in Christ is not a list of lessons to learn. Faith in Christ is an invitation to life with Him. Paul, in his weakness wasn’t being taught about the power of Christ in weakness. He was being encouraged to live in the power of Christ in His weakness. When we understand this is the invitation we are given, the permanence of our weakness becomes irrelevant. Real resolution is found when we live the life Christ provides to us through His presence, grace and strength. Faith is not a problem-solution formula that allows us to live our best life now. Faith is a response to an invitation by the God of Creation, the Savior of the World, the Lord of God’s Kingdom; to truly live with Him and in Him.
Next time you are tempted to try and figure out the lesson God wants you to learn, instead ask Him to give you a clearer understanding of the life He’s inviting you to live with Him. When we do that, our pains and difficulties stop feeling like punishments and they instead become invitations to know what life with Christ means.
As always, thanks for reading, commenting and sharing!
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