Think with me for a few minutes about your normal prayer time and ask yourself what you usually thank God for. Do you thank Him for your salvation regularly? Certainly we should. How about other things like safety, health, family, friends, etc.? Personally, I will try to take at least a few minutes and thank God for the good things He gives me that are often taken for granted, like those that I just listed. Besides trying to remember to thank God for these things, often times we pray and ask God for these types of requests, things that will make our life easier and more enjoyable. After all, life is hard enough without having major things go wrong, isn’t it?
Not that there is anything per se wrong with asking God for these things, but our reading today points out that Paul had a little different type of attitude. In 2 Corinthians 11, he lists some of the things he has had to endure for the cause of Christ. Things such as whippings, beatings, being shipwrecked, weariness, sleeplessness, hunger, without sufficient clothing and prison time. That’s quite a list, isn’t it? Kind of makes our “suffering” seem pretty minor, doesn’t it?
He also in chapter 12 talks about a thorn in the flesh that he asked God to take away. No doubt this thorn was some physical condition that he had to deal with regularly. The Lord’s response is one that most of us know well, “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” In other words, God is saying that He would not take the thorn away and make Paul’s life easier, but instead He would give Paul the grace to deal with the issue.
Paul’s response to this shows a level of spiritual maturity that few of us have. He responds by saying, “Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.” Really Paul? You take pleasure in those things? How different of an attitude than most of us have considering we often ask God for a pain-free life. In fact, some would even try to link someone’s spirituality to how trouble-free their life is. Instead, Paul reminds us of the importance of living a life fully dependent on God and His grace and how our walk with the Lord is often the strongest as we go through the hard times in life. So, while I don’t think we need to go as far as to ask God for problems, may we recognize the spiritual benefits as we go through life’s many valleys.
We have been in the Book of Psalms for some months now. You probably feel like I do, that David stays in trouble. It seems everybody is after him and all he does is call out to God. The Book of Psalms certainly proves that God never tires of hearing us; otherwise, David would have been cut-off after a few Psalms. Some of these problems he brought on himself; while others are related to his being king (where you cannot make everyone happy), and other pressures he feels as a follower/believer of God (similar to our plight walking amongst a disbelieving people as Christians). Let us face it; not everyone loves us!
Listen to David in Psalm 57:1, “Be merciful unto me, O God, be merciful unto me: for my soul trusteth in thee: yea, in the shadow of thy wings will I make my refuge, until these calamities be overpast,” and again in Psalm 59:1-2, “Deliver me from mine enemies, O my God: defend me from them that rise up against me. Deliver me from the workers of iniquity, and save me from bloody men.” As a final example, consider 2 Sam. 12:13-14, “And David said unto Nathan, I have sinned against the LORD. And Nathan said unto David, The LORD also hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die. Howbeit, because by this deed thou hast given great occasion to the enemies of the LORD to blaspheme, the child also that is born unto thee shall surely die.”
The above Scripture verses are examples of why trouble befalls us. Having power seems to invite trouble. Think of what we could do as a nation if we stopped complaining and actually helped our president. Instead, our leaders are constantly raked over the coals. David well knows the feeling. A position of authority is like a lightning rod for trouble.
Then we have the second reason for being attacked. We bring it on ourselves. It is clearly evident in the reading above in 2 Samuel. To tell the truth, we would not have to read Scripture to know we bring trouble to our own doorsteps. We all can think back to a time when we courted trouble and accidentally (or intentionally) invited it into our lives.
Lastly, trouble comes our way because we have decided to follow Jesus. Christianity is not for the faint of heart. There are times we are persecuted or maligned for being a Christian. I have found that when I am serving God fervently, I have experienced my most difficult times. Satan will do all he can to stifle our work for God. On the other hand, when life was good I usually was off course and not walking as close to the flame (Holy Spirit) as I should. It was time to make a change! Honestly, we have all experienced this. We need to get up, shake ourselves off, call out to God and get back in the game!
OzymandiasI met a traveller from an antique landWho said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stoneStand in the desert… near them, on the sand,Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,Tell that its sculptor well those passions readWhich yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed;And on the pedestal these words appear:‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings;Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’Nothing beside remains. Round the decayOf that colossal wreck, boundless and bareThe lone and level sands stretch far away.
Well it’s that time of the year again in Central PA- planting season. I would imagine most of us in the church at least make an attempt at a garden, while others of us will be planting hundreds of acres of crops. On Saturday we made our yearly trip to a local Amish greenhouse to pick up plants for our soon- coming garden. This year we decided to purchase 36 tomato plants, much less than the usual 50-60 we usually purchase, because at the end of the season we usually have so many leftover tomatoes that Noah ends up having a fun game of hitting practice with the rotten ones.
We purchased less tomatoes because, it goes without saying, that the less we plant the less we will reap. Paul mentions this principle in 2 Corinthians 9:7 by saying, “He which soweth sparingly shall reap sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully.” The context of this verse is in regards to a collection that Paul was taking up from various churches for the poor suffering believers in Jerusalem. He encouraged them to give as each had purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or out of necessity. Why? Because God loves a cheerful giver. (vs 7). It is interesting to note that the Greek word for “cheerful” is the word “hilaros”, the word from which we get our English word “hilarious”. I don’t think Paul is referring to someone laughing hysterically when he puts his money in the offering plate but it certainly does put an interesting twist on the word cheerful!
But getting back to our sowing and reaping principle, Paul is teaching that God will reward the Corinthian believers in proportion to how much they give, no different than I can expect the amount of tomatoes we will have in August to be in proportion to how many we plant. That said, this principle can certainly be misconstrued. Is Paul saying if you give a big gift that God would reward them with a lot of money themselves? No! There is no New Testament principle for that type of thinking. In the Old Testament God often did bless in material ways for the Israelite’s obedience but we frequently see hardship, pain, suffering and financial need in the New Testament. Even the fact that the Jerusalem believers needed this offering proves the idea that godly people can often have severe problems, including financial need.
So clearly here, the reaping that Paul is talking about is not a guarantee of a sudden windfall of money that the givers were not expecting. Instead oftentimes the rewards that God promises in the NT will not be realized until we get to heaven. Could God bless a giver with material things in this life? Absolutely! But instead I think often times those rewards won’t be realized until that person gets to heaven and hears the words, “Enter thou into the joy of thy lord” as He rewards their faithfulness (Matt 25:23).