In The Meantime Part 2: A Purpose And A Promise
On Sunday 10th April at our morning service, we continued our 'In The Meantime' with a talk called A Purpose And A Promise. In this blog you will find a summary of the talk and then some questions and reflections for you to think through on your own or to discuss in your small group.
If you would like to listen to the talk on-line, please click here.
Talk Notes and Summary
Have you ever found yourself in a situation or season of life where things aren’t what you’d hoped they would be? In those times of adversity we can be tempted to ask where is God? Why isn’t he cooperating with me to fix this situation?
There is no correlation between God’s seeming lack of cooperation and God’s presence or existence. If we concluded that God doesn’t exist because God won’t cooperate, then we would have to accept that our parents don’t exist, because they didn’t always cooperate with us did they?
God’s story is full of people who were well acquainted with adversity. Last week we talked about one of those people – John the Baptist. Today we are going to look at another example – Paul.
Just as Paul got to the centre of God’s purpose for his life, just as he was doing the things God had called him to do, just as he was beginning to make good decisions and have a real impact for Jesus, adversity struck. He was stricken with some kind of physical ailment. We don’t know exactly what it was, but we do know it wasn’t going away and it was holding him back from what he believed God had called him to do. He talks about it in a letter he wrote to a bunch of people in one of the churches he started in Corinth. You can read about in it 2 Corinthians chapter 12 verses 7 to 11. Click here to read that story.
Paul says that he was given a thorn in his flesh – this physical ailment. Look at that little word ‘given’. Originally in Greek (which was the language Paul wrote this letter in), that word given has a positive connotation – given like being given a gift – a gift for your birthday or for Christmas.
This was an in the meantime thing for Paul – it wasn’t over quickly, it was constant, he lived with it, so he prayed (verse 8). He prayed and pleaded or God to take it away.
What was God’s response? Well he didn’t take it away (verse 9). Some of you have been told that when you are in one of these in the meantime seasons that the reason things aren’t changing is you don’t have enough faith. That if you just had enough faith or if those praying for you just had enough faith then things would change. I don’t believe that’s true and the reason that I don’t believe it is true is because of Paul – a man of great faith and his thorn wasn’t taken away.
Three times Paul pleads with God and on the third occasion he heard God speaking to him. What God said to Paul was this “Paul the answer is no, I am not going to take this away from you, but I am going to give you the strength and the power and the grace that you need to press on in spite of the fact that it’s not going away”.
So now Paul is faced with an extra thing about his thorn, it is painful, humiliating, debilitating and permanent. So what does he do now?
Paul says I am going to boast about my adversity, my weakness. He was able to do that because he was able to find a way to believe that there was a purpose in it and there was a promise that God has given to him in it.
The purpose is that so the power of Jesus may rest on him and the promise is that God’s grace will be enough. Paul has resolved to delight in his weakness and hardships and difficulties because when he is weak, God is strong and therefore Paul is strong (verses 10 and 11). Embracing your inability is a prerequisite to experiencing Christ ability.
I think all of this hinges on the phrase that appears in verse 7 of this story: "In order to…” Paul says: “for God to fulfil his will in this world through me, he gave me a gift and the gift was a thorn. It was a gift with a promise and a purpose. But I had to see it as a gift not an enemy”. And once Paul received it as a gift that had a purpose and with a promise that God’s grace was sufficient, something really powerful happened.
I have always struggled to believe that God somehow gives us health issues or family issues or career issues and Paul seems to be saying something different. But as I have thought about this I have realised something and this is key: if you believe, as I do that God has the power to heal that ailment, restore that relationship that was broken, do the miraculous and God chooses not to then actually God is allowing that to happen to you. It isn’t that God is the cause, but he is allowing it to happen.
And at that point we have a choice between getting angry and frustrated and hacked off with God and blame him or we have the option to receive our circumstances as a gift with a purpose and a promise. The purpose may as yet be unknown but the promise is here right now “my grace is sufficient for you”.
This very same thing happened to Jesus. When he was in the Garden of Gethsemane just before he was killed, he prayed “Father please take this suffering away from me”. He prayed in faith that God could take that suffering away. But he also said if you choose to say no to me, then I will embrace this as your will, your gift with a purpose and a promise. And he prayed “Your will be done”.
And because he did that and because God’s answer was no, Jesus died for the purpose that you and I could be saved. Those of us who are Jesus followers are so grateful that his Father said no. We don’t know who is going to be grateful that God sometimes says no to us. We don’t know when the day will come that we will look back and say I would never choose that season of my life, but I am so grateful for what I learned in that season, I am so grateful for how I have been able to help others because of my experiences.
So if you are in an in the meantime season right now or if you come up against one in the future I just want to offer this as an option. Would you be willing to consider that it is a gift with a purpose and a promise? The purpose is yet to be revealed and may never be revealed to you in this life, but the promise is right now “my grace is sufficient for you…my power will be made perfect in your weakness”.
Questions for Reflection
1. Why do you think people assume that faith in God will remove adversity from life? Have you ever made that assumption? If so, how did it influence your relationship with God?
2. Think about a time when you or someone you knew faced difficult circumstances and God was silent. How did that experience affect your faith in the short term? How did it affect your faith in the long term?
3. Is it difficult for you to accept that challenging circumstances can come from the hand of a loving God? Why or why not?
4. Read 2 Corinthians 12:7–10. What would it look like for you to “delight in weakness” for the sake of Jesus? How would it change the way you respond to adversity?
5. Do you feel permission to plead with God to take away your difficult circumstances? Do you believe he responds to that kind of prayer? Why or why not?
6. What is the “thorn in your side,” the ongoing struggle or challenge that you can’t change and about which you need to accept God’s grace in order to move forward? What can you do to begin to view that “thorn” as a gift that comes with a purpose and a promise from your heavenly Father? How can this group support you?