Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News
November 29, 2009
If we are willing the hardships of life can make us better people
Years ago a Christian friend and mentor stunned me with these words, “The people who have hurt me the most have been my friends within the church.” Over the years I have lived into an understanding of his sad comment.
As a pastor I have been hurt deeply sometimes by the stinging rebuke, and the insidious gossip, of fellow Christians. But then I realize that my suffering is hardly worth mentioning when compared to that of others. Take that New Testament giant Paul for example. Every time I read what Paul endured I ask myself, “How dare you complain?”
Somewhere along the journey I began to realize that our problems can make us better people – if we learn to face them in the right way. That right way has to do with appropriating what the Church calls the grace of God. The Bible says that God’s grace is “sufficient.” In other words it is enough or all you need to handle the problems you are facing.
Though at first glance that may sound a bit too spiritual, I can vouch for the truth of that statement. Repeatedly I have been given the spiritual strength to work my way through severe hardships. It was strength I did not deserve but despite my unworthiness it was given to me. And that is the essential nature of grace; it is unmerited or undeserved.
But come back to that man Paul. I am amazed by his attitude. He said in one of his letters that he had found the grace to handle “weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities.” If such grace or spiritual strength is available, then all people need to know about it because all people have to face insults and hardships. And Paul said it is available to everybody.
The question is, how do we obtain this grace? Surely there is more to it than simply “trusting God.” The Church says, “Believe and receive it.” But again that answer seems too simplistic. So how do I adjust my attitude so that “grace” begins to operate in my daily life? That man Paul had it. He said he was the “chief” of the unworthy, so perhaps I can learn from him how to “get” grace.
Paul’s attitude toward his weaknesses gives us a clue. He shames, and even confuses, most of us when he says that he decided to “boast” of the things that showed his weakness. He even admitted that once he had been “a basket case,” having to run for his life when his friends lowered him in a basket from a window in some wall in Damascus.
Am I mature enough to boast of my weaknesses? Are you? We are sons and daughters of a culture that teaches us to value impressive “credentials” and counterfeit “honors.” We covet the adulation of our peers. At one time Paul was like that, like us, but that changed. He lost confidence in his own achievements. Instead he began to value only one thing, what he described as “knowing Christ.”
Here, I think, is the secret of obtaining this power called grace. As we grow into adulthood we acquire, hopefully, a new perspective about what really matters. Our desires and our values change. When faith in God becomes important to us, we can make a vital choice; we can decide to cherish our acceptance by God and no longer thirst for “the applause of men.”
I remember how proud I was to have my name and bio listed in “Who’s Who in American Colleges and Universities.” I bought the book so my friends and family could see how important I was. Years later I realized how foolish I had been to value such a thing so I threw the book in the trash bin. Like Paul I realized the foolishness of pride and decided to work on getting to know God better.
Evidently suffering is part of God’s plan for our lives. He allows and uses suffering to make us better people. Most of us discover what Paul meant by saying he had a “thorn in the flesh.” And like Paul we learn that for some reason God often chooses not to remove our thorns.
Why will God not answer our earnest prayers to deliver us from our thorns in the flesh? I have no answer but this: He does answer our prayers – He says no. And for reasons that may not become clear to us this side of heaven.
Paul’s example is inspiring. He did not give up on God because God did not remove his thorn in the flesh. He did learn to depend not on himself but on the grace of God. Here is one of the great secrets of life. Though Paul was an unworthy sinner, he shows us that when we choose to “know” God more intimately we can experience the free gift of grace. And that grace is the power we need to handle the hardships of life.
Pride causes us to trust in our own cleverness rather than admit our weakness and our need of grace. When we realize the futility of showcasing our own strength, we can admit our weaknesses and exercise simple faith in God. When we do that, we discover that divine power truly is available to the unworthy. And then we realize why Paul said such grace is enough.
Be sure to get all you need; it is free for the asking. And the more you use it, the more you will understand that God is using that grace, and your problems, to make you a better person. + + +