Just make it stop!
Make it go away!
Let it all be a horrible dream . . .
I can’t count the number of times I’ve had a thought like one of these over some situation in my life. Those numbers have risen exponentially over the past 870 days. When I say, “Make it stop! Make it go away,” I don’t mean make the pain stop. I mean take IT away. Take away the very source of my anguish.
I mean bring her back.
When we ask God to make a situation better, isn’t that what we really mean?
We don’t just want God to take away our suffering, we want him to take away the very source of our suffering and restore our lives absent of all suffering. We don’t just want a heartbreak to stop; we want the girl or the guy back (and that they love us more than ever). We don’t just want the sting of a lay-off to end; we want the job back (and a promotion and raise to go with it). We don’t just want to stop missing a lost loved one; we want our loved one sitting across the dinner table (now and forever).
The Apostle Paul dealt with some physical pain in his lifetime. Theologians debate on what the source of this “thorn in his side” might have been, but it doesn’t really matter. Paul’s pain was real. His struggle was ongoing. Satan used this “thorn” to torment Paul.
Paul admits that he asked God to take it away no less than three times. Paul pleaded with God to take it away. In today’s Scripture Journal Challenge, Paul shares his struggle with his Corinthian friends:
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 about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.2 Corinthians 12:9-10
The way one line follows the other can give readers the mistaken impression that Paul’s understanding and acceptance was immediate. However, Paul makes it clear in other passages that whatever he wanted taken away was no small matter. It’s not a stretch to imagine how desperate Paul’s pleas were. And it’s not a stretch to imagine how difficult acceptance must have been.
What is nearly unimaginable – how does Paul go from begging away his circumstances to boasting about his circumstances?
That is the power of God’s grace.
When God said, “no,” Paul was left with a choice – let Satan’s torment cripple him or lean into God’s grace for strength. If your life is anything like mine, you face this same choice every morning when you wake. I can cocoon myself in my weakness and inability to overcome circumstances. Or I can suit up in the armor of God’s grace and face the day as a warrior.
The very fact that we have an option to suit up is a testament to the amazing power of God’s grace.
That daily choice should be a no-brainer, but my track record isn’t perfect. Paul’s track record probably wasn’t perfect either. The good news is that God’s grace is perfect.
Often, I’m complimented on the way that I handle Brooke’s passing. Others see me as strong. I am not strong. Left to my own devices, I would be crippled by Satan’s torment. What others mistake for my strength is nothing less than God’s amazing grace.
This was Paul’s point in “boasting weakness.” If God took away every source of our discomfort, pain, and distress – we’d all appear like some sort of spiritual superhero. Sounds great, except – how easy would it be to slip into the illusion that we could produce such strength on our own? How soon would we start stealing the credit for our own? What a disservice it would be to our fellow travelers to trick them into believing that they could set out on the journey without being properly suited up.
The greatest distance between God and me is my own pride. When God chooses not to take away the source of our weakness, He forces us to choose – will we grasp aimlessly for our own strength? Or will we grip tightly to His grace instead?
Dear Father, thank you for the times that you choose to “take it away” and restore the very thing in our lives that may be causing us discomfort, pain, or distress. Thank you for your amazing grace in those times when in your sovereign wisdom you choose not to remove the thorns from our sides. Set our eyes upon the examples set by the Apostle Paul and your son, Jesus Christ, for how to endure the thorny season. When we are unable to set aside our prayers to take it away, may our definition of “it” be expanded to include our pride that insists that we can manage on our own strength. When others see us persevering through unimaginable circumstances (or perhaps one day even boasting about our weakness), let them first and foremost see the armor of your Grace. Thank you for the unfailing promise of your grace that can never be taken away. This we pray through your son, Jesus Christ. Amen!