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Second Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians 12: 9-10 (NIV)
9 (The Lord) 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. 10 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.
Each week I receive newsletters from Christian aid organisations which minister to Christians around the world who are persecuted for their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Our thoughts go immediately to the worst trouble-spots of the Middle East but the physical, emotional and spiritual persecution of the body of Christ, his church, is not limited only to that part of the planet. Persecution is rife in North Korea, in parts of India, in Pakistan, in central Asia and in much of central Africa. My heart aches for the families who are forced from their homes by people who are hostile to the Christian gospel and for families who have a loved one imprisoned for helping others to learn about the love of Jesus Christ. How can these suffering Christian men and women bear up under the strain of incarceration, beatings, homelessness or exile?
Do they find support in the same way as did the Apostle Paul? I wonder if Paul was exaggerating by declaring that he found “delight” “in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties”? Paul knew that, through his own weakness, the strength of God was able to shine. You may have experienced that too. When the Lord has given us a task to undertake, he also provides the resources to see it done. He gives his people whatever strength is necessary for them to begin. The world might assess a need for greater force or more resources however the Lord’s provision so often is precisely what is needed, not a scrap more. It is as if the Lord delights in our passing the challenge willingly and faithfully to him. What is then required of us is to give God the glory for what is accomplished rather than to desire to receive any credit for it ourselves.
The above passage from 2 Corinthians follows Paul’s description to his readers of “a thorn in my flesh”. We are not told what this was but we do know that it tormented the Apostle to the extent that he pleaded, not once but three times, with the Lord to take it away from him. The Lord did not respond to Paul’s prayer in the way Paul wanted however the Lord did respond. He provided an explanation with wider relevance than to address only Paul’s situation, the “thorn in (his) flesh”. That explanation is relevant to us and helpful to us today.
We grieve about the extent of suffering in the world. Why does God not eliminate suffering with a single command? Why does God not end the persecution of his church immediately? Is there another purpose for the suffering and persecution, a purpose of which we are not aware? We are called to pray, not necessarily only for an end to suffering and persecution but also of the continued strength and resolve of those who are exposed to it. We should also be praying for the wider church that it will, in God’s strength, continue to support all persecuted members of the body of Christ.