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Posts Tagged ‘strength’

2 Corinthians 12:7-10 is a passage where Paul has some profound things to say about the theme of strength in weakness. And I want us to begin by reading this passage.

. . . to keep me from being too elated by the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 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 of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Perhaps it’s my age, but I’m becoming more aware of my weaknesses. But also, I think, a part of this is just becoming more mature. (At least I hope I’m getting more mature.) When you’re young you think you can be anything and do anything. When you grow older and wiser, you can better evaluate yourself. You become more aware of your limitations.

There are many preachers today who present a gospel of strength. God doesn’t want you to be weak. In fact, God will take away all your weaknesses, that is, if you have enough of or the right kind of “faith.”

But this doesn’t match the Scriptures, which teach us that God does allow us to be weak and God wants us to have his strength in the midst of our weaknesses.

First, let’s look at how –

God does often allow us to be weak

Weakness is a part of this fallen, broken world that we live in. And God hasn’t rescued us from it yet. That won’t happen until the resurrection when all things are made new. We long for this, but until then, we will continue to struggle with our weaknesses.

Here are three examples: 

God allowed Paul to be weak

  • Paul suffered much lowliness, going without, physical suffering, but also being shamed and publicly humiliated. In 1 Corinthians 4:10-13 he says, “We are weak . . . we [are held in] disrepute. To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the earth, the refuse of all things.”
  • Paul’s “thorn” was not taken away. This comes from our passage in 2 Corinthians 12:7-8 – “So to keep me from being too elated by the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me.”  There’s lots of speculation about what this thorn is. It was probably a permanent physical disfigurement from persecution. Perhaps damage to his eyes (Galatians 4:15; 6:11)? But in any case, a physical disability. God’s answer to Paul’s request was “No.” In this instance God wanted Paul to be weak.
  • His personal presence wasn’t impressive. We like to glorify Paul, but he didn’t make that big of an impression on many in his day. His opponents said in 2 Corinthians 10:10 – “his personal presence is unimpressive.” Paul agrees in 1 Corinthians 2:3 – “I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling.”
  • His public speaking wasn’t very good. His opponents said in 2 Corinthians 10:10 – “his speech is contemptible.” He could write well, but apparently not speak well, at least not by Greek standards. Paul agrees in 1 Corinthians 2:4, when he says that when he visited them, “my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom . . ..”

A second example, God allowed Timothy to be weak

  • He was apparently introverted. But God called him to a ministry that involved public speaking, and working with people. So Paul encourages him in 2 Timothy 1:6-7 not to give in to a spirit of fear, but to remember that God has given him a spirit of power, and love and self-control.
  • He had bodily weaknesses in terms of his health. In 1 Timothy 5:23 Paul speaks of stomach problems and also “frequent illnesses.”

Finally, lest any should doubt God allowed Jesus to be weak

  • Jesus became human and took on the weakness of the flesh; the weakness of human existence. And we see Jesus struggling with this weakness in Gethsemane facing his death in Mark 14:38. As he said, “the Spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
  • Jesus became a servant to others. Philippians 2:7 says that he “made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant.” This is a position of lowliness and weakness.
  • He was persecuted and shamefully killed. As 2 Corinthians 13:4 says, “Jesus was crucified in weakness.” Was there another way for Jesus? No. Weakness was God’s path for Jesus.

What we learn from these examples is that God allows us to be weak: to be persecuted, to have illnesses and bad health, to have physical disabilities, to have personality weaknesses, to be in lowly circumstances in life, to be poor, to be in difficult situations that we are not gifted to handle. God doesn’t rescue us from all weaknesses, but –

God wants us to rely on his strength in our weakness

Rather than always delivering us he calls us to depend on him. Let’s look at how this works:

1. Accept God’s grace to help you. “But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you . . ..” – 2 Corinthians 12:9.

It’s hard to rely on someone else when we’re weak, but this is what God calls us to do. We want to be independent; self-sufficient. Sometimes we have pride thinking that we can do all that we need, that we don’t need anyone else. But in times of weakness we have to accept help and especially from God.

Our text shows us that God promises help to those who are weak when it says, “my grace is . . . for you.” And so we need to accept this help that God gives.

2. Know that God’s grace is sufficient for your need. “My grace is sufficient for you” – 2 Corinthians 12:9.

Here we emphasize the word sufficient. This is the promise of God to us  – God can take care of us no matter our weakness. Nothing is too difficult for God. If God’s grace was sufficient for Paul, God’s grace will be sufficient for you as well.

3. Know that when you are weak, you can be strong in the Lord. “My grace is sufficient for you for my power is made perfect in weakness” – 2 Corinthians 12:9.

Here we focus especially on the last phrase. When we’re weak and we’re relying on God’s strength, then we are truly strong, for it’s God’s strength working through us, not the strength of our own flesh.

As Paul says in v. 10, “For when I am weak, then I am strong.” When we accept our weakness, in that we know that God has chosen not to take it away, or at least not yet – then we can rely fully on the Lord; then we can be truly strong in the Lord.

4. Bring glory to God through your weakness. “My grace is sufficient for you” – 2 Corinthians 12:9.

If we ask, “sufficient for what?” The answer is, to bring glory to God. When we are weak and yet we remain faithful to him; when we are weak and yet God does great things through us – this brings much glory to his name, which is what we were created to do.

As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:7, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” We are indeed clay vessels, easily shattered and full of weaknesses. But within us is the Spirit, who works through us and does great things that are beyond our strength and so others know it’s not us – and give glory to God.

So this morning I am encouraging you to be strong in the Lord. In the words of Ephesians 6:10, “Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.” In your times of weakness, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Whatever your circumstances might be, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.

 

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We are looking at Isaiah 40:28-31 this morning, verses which are both powerful and encouraging.

Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted. But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.

We see in these verses that . . .

God’s people were weary

They were discouraged and overwhelmed because they had been defeated by another nation and taken from their homes and now were living as strangers and exiles in a foreign land – Babylon. Yet they also knew, they had heard, that God still had a purpose for them as a people. And that God had promised to bring them back to their home – Jerusalem.

But in their weariness and despair they wondered: Can God’s promise really be true? Is God really able to come through on it? They were enslaved by the most powerful empire of their day and they were at the mercy of its king. How in the world would they ever be able to leave and return home

Considering all this they were tempted give up, “to faint” as our text says. In the ordeal they were facing, as v. 30 says, “even youths shall faint and be weary and young men shall fall exhausted.” Even the strongest among them were overwhelmed.

And so the prophet speaks God’s word to them.

First of all, he tells them that God is able to come through for them. God is the everlasting God. God is the God who created all things. God is the God who doesn’t grow weary or faint. You know, God isn’t now all of a sudden tired and weak and thus unable to help Israel.

Yes, their situation seems impossible, but God is able to bring them back to the land at the appointed time. God is able to keep his promise to them.

Secondly, the prophet tells them that the Lord can strengthen themInstead of giving up in their difficult situation, to “faint” or to “fall exhausted,” they should “wait for the Lord” – v. 31. To “wait for the Lord” means to have an expectant and confident trust in God and his promises, knowing that God has heard us and knows our situation and will come through.

The prophet is saying, if they look to the Lord in their difficult situation, that is, if they wait on the Lord, God will strengthen them – v. 29. Even though it’s so bad that it overwhelms the strongest among them in their own strength, God gives of his strength to those who look to him. And because of this, their strength will be renewed – v. 31. And they will be able to walk, and to run, and to fly. That is, to keep going even in the midst of their troubles in exile, knowing that God can handle their problems and will deliver them.

And you know what? God did come through for them! God raised up another nation which took over and released the Israelites to go to their home. The promise was fulfilled, they were returned to their land, and God worked out his purpose for them.

Well, I share this with you today because . . .

We too can become weary

We all go through difficulties, whether health crises, financial crises, broken relationships with family or friends, personal failures and weaknesses or in general – experiences of deep pain and suffering.

And we will continue to do so throughout our lives. Our faith is not “escapist.” A false promise that things will be just fine, if you have enough faith. No. This life is full of trials and God doesn’t just step in and take them all away.

And as we go through these hardships we can become overwhelmed, discouraged and faint. And even though we know that God has a purpose for each one of us, and that God has given us “his precious and very great promises” as 2 Peter 1:4 says; promises to help us, to save us and to bring us into his eternal kingdom – we too still doubt at times. We become fearful and exhausted.

And in our despair we ask: Can God’s promises really be true? Is God really able to come through on them? And will God come through for me? We are tempted to give up, “to faint,” to give in to our weariness.

And so we too need to hear the message of the prophet, because there is a word in this for us, each one of us. We need to hear and know that God is able to come through for us. For you and for me!

We may be overwhelmed by our circumstances, but God is not. v. 28 says, “Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.” God is able to help us. God is able to keep his promises to us, just as he did with the Israelites.

And we also need to hear and know that the Lord can strengthen us. We too are to “wait for the Lord” – v. 31, knowing that he hears us and knows our situation. And we are to put our hope and trust in God and rely on him. And when we do this God gives us of his strength. As 29 says, “He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength.”

We tap into the strength of the Everlasting God himself; we lean on him, the One who never grows weary or faints. In this way, despite our troubles, our strength is renewed. As 31 says, “the Lord shall renew their strength.” And through this strength we are empowered to move forward in our times of difficulty, because we hope in the Lord; because we know that he will fulfill his promises to us.

We can move forward, as v. 31 says, “They shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” In the midst of our problems we will walk and not faint, we will run and not be weary, we will mount up with wings like eagles.

Are you weary this morning? Do you feel overwhelmed? God invites you to come to him and find hope and strength.

 

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The literary structure of Psalm 13

Psalm 13 is really powerful; full of intense and honest struggle, but also faith. And I want to hold it up for you as a model for when you are being overwhelmed by difficult circumstances.

As we get started, a few words about –

Psalm 13

It is the shortest prayer for help in the book of Psalms. There are shorter Psalms, but these are not requests to God.

In terms of how it is put together, there are three obvious parts to this psalm.

  • In vs.  1-2 the Psalmist pours out his heart to God.
  • In vs. 3-4 he makes his request
  • And in vs. 5-6 he expresses his faith and hope in God

And each of these sections has the name of God or “Yahweh” in it, indicated in English by the capitalized “LORD.”

We don’t know the specifics of his situation, but it involves enemies and the threat of death. This is a Davidic Psalm (written by him or in honor of/about him) perhaps referring to his time in the wilderness hiding from King Saul, who was trying to kill him. Whatever the case may be he is facing a very serious situation and needs God’s help.

Let’s look at the first section, which is a cry of despair.

1How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? 2How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?”

There is no indication in these verses that the Psalmist has sinned or has been unfaithful so that his difficulties are the result of this. He is simply in an overwhelming time of testing and trial.

Notice the phrase “How long?” This is used several times in scriptural prayers, but this is the only place where it is repeated four times, and in such a short space. There is an intensity in this prayer in asking this question of God. These questions also show us that it’s OK to ask God questions like this. God can take it. We don’t have to put on a smile, or fake it when we come into God’s presence. After all, he already knows what we are thinking and feeling. We only need be careful that we do this with proper respect for God.

You can feel the raw emotions and the brutal honesty of this prayer as you read these two verses.

  • In relation to God the Psalmist feels abandoned and ignored by God. God has hidden his face, that is it feels like God has turned away and is not looking out for him; he feels that God has forgotten him.
  • In relation to himself he feels greatly distressed within. “Taking counsel in his soul” perhaps has to do with trying to sort out what he should do, since God doesn’t seem to be acting for him; it has to do with anxious worrying. And he has sorrow in his heart.
  • In relation to his problem , his enemy, he feels defeated. His enemy has the upper hand and this means that his life is in danger.

Also notice the time indicators, the “how long?” questions, the word “forever” and the phrase “all the day.” The sense is that he is barely hanging on. He is worn down. He is at the breaking point. The test is so hard that he can’t take it anymore. So if God doesn’t act soon, it will overwhelm him and be too late.

Next we have his request to God.

3Consider and answer me, O LORD my God; light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death, 4lest my enemy say, ‘I have prevailed over him,’ lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.”

In general, he wants God to consider him or take note of his situation to answer him. He’s saying, ‘God, don’t forget me or hide your face from me.’ He wants God to act to bring him help him in the midst of his difficulty.

Specifically, he wants God to “light up his eyes.” In Scripture to have dim eyes means that you are overwhelmed, weak and weary (Job 17:7; Deuteronomy 34:7). And to have eyes that are lit up has to do with being strong, full of life and vigor (Deuteronomy 34:7; Ezra 9:8; Proverbs 29:13). Even today we can tell how someone is doing by their eyes, right? We can tell whether they are full of energy and life or whether they are worn down and discouraged. You can see it.

So, being worn down by his trials, he is asking God to give him strength, new life, vigor, encouragement and hope.

And he doesn’t just make his request for help, he gives God three reasons to act:

  1. lest he die, because he is in danger of death.
  2. lest his enemy win
  3. lest they rejoice at his downfall

In this situation the Psalmist understands himself to be in the right; he is doing God’s will but is being persecuted by evildoers. And so, yes, he wants to be saved and vindicated, and have his enemies put down. But it is bigger than this. He is appealing to God in all this to act for your Name’s sake. Since he is representing God and the righteous, it’s not good that evildoers think that God doesn’t care about their evil, or about the well-being of his own. He needs to act for his Name’s sake and for the sake of righteousness.

In section one the writer is hanging by a thread. In section two he is asking God to give him strength. And then we have a tremendous change of tone in vs. 5-6 where the Psalmist speaks of his faith and hope.

5But I trust in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. 6I will sing to the LORD, because he has dealt bountifully with me.”

Two things are going on here:

1) He is given strength to trust in God. God has indeed begun to enlighten his eyes, even as he has been pouring out his heart and asking God for help. (It is healing to pour out our hearts to God.)

 Now, instead of seeing just his outward circumstances and choosing to give up, he sees God’s faithfulness; that is his “steadfast love” or “unfailing love.” This is God’s covenant love or commitment to him and his well-being. So he has his circumstances on the one hand and then God’s character and promises on the other and he chooses God. This  is called faith.

2) He now looks forward to God’s salvation; for deliverance from his trial and testing. We know he is not yet delivered because his salvation and rejoicing is spoken of as a future reality. But he can now move forward in faith and hope that God will save him, since his faith has been renewed.

  • Even though he may still have some “sorrow in (his) my heart,” – v. 2, now that his faith has been renewed he can look forward to when “(his) my heart shall rejoice” – v. 5.
  • Even though his enemies are exalted “over (him) me” – v. 2, now that his faith has been renewed he can look forward to when God will have dealt bountifully “with (him) me” – v. 6.
  • Even though his enemies are “exalted” – v. 2 over him and seek to “rejoice” – v. 4 at his demise, now that his faith has been renewed he can look forward to when he “shall rejoice – v. 6 in God’s salvation.

And this will not just be a minor thing. God will “bountifully” deliver and save him.

Finally, I want you to look at –

Psalm 13 as a model prayer

It is a model for when you find yourself in times of testing and are ready to give up. Follow the threefold pattern we find here:

1. Pour out your heart to God. Be honest with God. Express your emotions to God – about how distant he seems; about how you are in inner turmoil; about how your problem has the upper hand. And ask God questions, What’s going on? Why, God? Or as here, how long?God, I’m barely hanging on.

2. Ask God for strength. God, enlighten my eyes. Give me renewed life, vigor, vitality and encouragement. And tell him why; so you don’t give in and fail in time of trial and thus dishonor his Name; so that others will see and know that God is faithful to his own and upholds righteousness.

And then, 3. Receive renewed trust in God to make it through. Let God work a work in you as you pour out your heart and as you make your request known and as you think of his unfailing love for you and commitment to you.

Receive the strength to choose to trust in God and stand on his character and promises despite your difficult circumstances. And having been renewed, look forward to God’s salvation; deliverance from your trial when you will rejoice and sing praises to God.

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According to the Scriptures there are two kinds of trials that we go through in our lives. 1) What we usually think of as a trial has to do with suffering some kind of lack – a lack of food, a lack of health, money, a job, or protection from say, persecution. And this lack puts us in a really difficult situation that tests whether we will remain faithful to God, or not.

2) But to have an abundance of something can also be a trial. Deuteronomy 8 talks about how we can be tested with an abundance of material blessings from God. This too can be a really difficult situation in that it can be a stumbling block to our faithfulness to God. It might make us forget the Lord, or act in ways that are wrong toward others.

Today, we are talking about a test in this second category; one that has to do with abundance – in this case of power or strength. This includes physical strength, economic power, and also what I am calling social power: the influence or sway we have over others. This might come from having a certain position or office in a group that gives you authority and power or it can be more informal – you might be well-liked or popular in a group. This is social power.

I believe that all of us have power in one way or another in our lives. In other words, it’s not that some are strong and some are weak, each of us are strong and weak in different areas and at different times in our lives. And so all of us face this test at some point in our lives.

The question in such a test is ‘How do you use the power you have?’ ‘How do you treat those weaker than you, people who are vulnerable to being dishonored and taken advantage of?’ My point today is that the answer to this question reveals what is in your heart; whether you are righteousness or unrighteous. It reveals the kind of moral character you have, or don’t have.

Scripture teaches us in many places and in different ways that 1. Those who use their strength for the weak, are righteous. In fact, this is a chief character trait of a godly person.

Ezekiel 18:7, says that a righteous person (v. 5) “does not oppress anyone (that is, doesn’t take advantage of the weak) but . . . gives his bread to the hungry and covers the naked with a garment (that is, helps the weak in their need).”

The righteous use their power and strength, not just for themselves, but also for others. As we will see in a moment, they use it to help, to stand up for, and to honor the weak

On the other hand Scripture teaches us that 2. Those who use their strength against the weak, are unrighteous. This is a chief character trait of an ungodly person.

In parallel to what we saw before, Ezekiel 18:12 says that an unrighteous person “oppresses the poor and needy (that is, doesn’t’ help them, but exploits them).” The unrighteous use their power and strength for themselves, for their own self-interests, not others. As we will see, they use it to take advantage of, dominate and ridicule the weak.

Let’s look at some examples, some of which are cast in a positive light – do this, and other are cast in a negative light – don’t ever do this.

1. If you are a boss or business owner, how do you treat your employees? Do you verbally degrade them? Are you unfair? Do you pressure them to work too hard or in unsafe conditions?

James 5:4-5 speaks to bosses who take advantage of their employees financially. It says, “Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter.” This is pretty intense! Are you a righteous employer?

2. If you are a husband, how do you treat your wife? Through most of history wives have been socially weaker than their husbands, although not really in our culture today. But wives are almost always physically weaker. So we’re talking about domestic violence here – verbal and/or physical abuse.

Ephesians 5:25 says, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” Just as Jesus had power, but used it not for himself but for us, so husbands, use whatever power you do have to bless and build up your wife. Are you a righteous husband?

3. If you are a parent, how do you treat your children? They are both socially and physically weaker than you, at least when they are young. We are certainly not to mistreat them through verbal or physical abuse. And even if they are older we can hurt and wound them given our status.

Ephesians 6:4 speaking of younger children says, “do not provoke your children to anger,” that is, by mistreating them. We are to love and care for them and raise and nurture them to be godly people; being above all an example to them of this kind of life. Are you righteous in how you treat your children?

4. If you are of able-bodied, how do you treat the disabled? Whether it be a physical or mental/emotional disability, the disabled are more vulnerable to being taken advantage of and dishonored.

But listen to Deuteronomy 27:18. It says, “Cursed be anyone who misleads a blind person on the road.” This teaches us in general not to take advantage of or dishonor such a person. Are you righteous in how you treat the disabled?

5. If you are young and strong, how do you treat the elderly? They can be physically and sometimes socially weaker than you.

Not only does Jesus warn against taking advantage of the elderly in Mark 7:10-13 here talking about one’s elderly parents,  we are to honor those older than us. Leviticus 19:32 says, “You shall stand up before the gray head and honor the face of an old man.” Culturally this is an expression of honor. Are you righteous in how you treat the elderly?

6. If you have what you need (and perhaps a whole lot more than you need), how do you treat the poor? We are talking about economic power here.

We have already seen in Ezekiel 18:7 that a righteous person “gives his bread to the hungry and covers the naked with a garment.” And there are many other passages that speak of lending at no interest, and giving food, clothing and shelter to help the poor get back on their feet again.

We are also to stand up for the poor – Proverbs 31:9 says, “open your mouth . . . defend the rights of the poor and needy.” And we are not to put down the poor. Proverbs 17:5 says, “Whoever mocks the poor insults his Maker.” We insult God when we make fun of the poor.

Are you righteous in how you treat the poor?

7. If you are socially secure, how do you treat those on the margins of society?

For instance, widows and orphans who often fell through the social support networks in the ancient world. And so Exodus 22:22 says, “You shall not mistreat any widow or fatherless child.” But, nNot only are we not to mistreat them, we are to stand up for them. Isaiah 1:17 says, “bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause”

Another example is immigrants who are vulnerable being in a different place without support systems. Leviticus 19:34 applies the second greatest commandment to them – “You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself.”

In a similar way, minority groups can be vulnerable to being taken advantage of by the majority because they have less power. In Acts 6:1 the Greek speaking widows were overlooked in the daily distribution of food in the church, in favor of the Hebrew speaking widows. There were different cultural and national differences between these groups. And this had to be dealt with.

Are you righteous in how you treat the marginalized?

There are many other examples that could be given.

  • Even if you’re not a boss, how do you use the power you have at work?
  • For those in middle or high school – are you a bully who uses physical strength and intimidation to put others down and take advantage of them? Or are you “popular,” a part of an in-group who uses social power to put down and exclude others?
  • How do we treat the not yet born, who are the weakest of all?

Scripturally this issue even extends beyond the human realm to how we treat animals, who are lower and weaker than us in many ways. If you have animals under your care professionally or as pets, how do you treat them? Proverbs 12:10 says,  “Whoever is righteous has regard for the life of his beast, but the mercy of the wicked is cruel.” Are we merciful or cruel?

The principle in all this is straightforward: How you use power reveals your character. Those who use it to take advantage of, dominate and dishonor the weak are among the unrighteous. Those who use it to help, stand up for and honor the weak are among the righteous.

Examine yourself. How do you use the power you have? How do you treat those weaker than you? Where is God speaking to you this morning?

William Higgins

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Today I want to share with you briefly some words of encouragement regarding going through times of testing, trials and tribulations. We seem to have a lot of this in our congregation right now. And then I want to give you a chance at the end to come forward for prayer for God to strengthen and encourage you. First,

 Some thoughts on trials

Sometimes God spares us from difficult situations. This is what we pray for when we pray in the Lords’ prayer, “lead us not into testing, but deliver us from the evil one” (Matthew 6:13). We are praying for God’s protection; for God to shield us.

If you are praying this, as I encourage you to do regularly, who knows what all you have been spared? The other week I was about to pull out into an intersection after the light turned green and someone barreled through the red light. If I had gone normally I would have been hit hard. But I hesitated. Is this connected to my praying this? It is likely.

And I believe that we will be surprised on the final day when all that God has kept us from is made known. I also believe that we should give thanks even now for all that God has not let us go through!

If in these cases God allows us to go around difficult situations, we look next at how sometimes God allows us to go through trials.

  • Jesus says in John 16:33, “In the world you will have tribulation.”
  • And he says in Matthew 6:34, talking about the stresses of everyday life, “sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” Each day has more than enough trials in it.

When God allows us to go through trials it may be that after a time God will deliver us. That is to say, God will step in and give us relief, bring us out of the difficult situation, and let us have a more normal life once again, with just our regular problems.

God is certainly able to deliver us from any trial we may find ourselves in. As God himself says, “Is anything too hard for me?” (Jeremiah 32:27). Absolutely not! God can deliver us from any situation.

Here’s an example: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in Daniel 3. You know the story. They refused the king’s order to bow to an idol and so they were condemned to be thrown into a great fiery furnace.

The king said, “who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands?” (3:15). They said, our God is able, but even if he doesn’t we still won’t bow to an idol (3:17-18). And so the king was angry and they were thrown in.

But they didn’t burn! And someone else was in the furnace walking with them. And so the king called them to come out. And they had no marks from the flame; no signs of burning. God delivered them. And the king said, “there is no other god who is able to rescue in this way” (3:29).

But also, when God allows us to go through trials, it may be that God will not deliver us. In this case, the difficult situation will remain with us long term, or for our whole life. It might be an illness, a disability, a situation of family brokenness that you can’t fix, or perhaps depression or anxiety.

Here’s an example from Paul. He talks about how “a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me.” – 2 Corinthians 12:7-8. But God said no. Three time he prayed and God said no. Paul continued on throughout his life with this difficulty, whatever it was, with no relief.

We also have to include here the reality that not only are we not delivered, but that our trial may bring our life in this world to an end.

Think of Jesus. He prayed in Gethsemane to be spared testing. Mark tells us he prayed, “if it were possible, the hour might pass from him” (Mark 14:35). And he prayed “remove this cup from me” (Mark 14:36). Both of these are variants of the last request of the Lord’s prayer.

But God said no. Three times he prayed and God said no. He had to go through it. He went through this trial even unto death.

Since God does indeed allow us to go through all kinds of trial, let’s end with –

Some words to remember in our times of trial

– to strengthen and encourage us.

God walks with us in these situations. “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” – Psalm 46:1. God is present with us and helps us in our difficult situations. God also tells us, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” – Hebrews 13:5. He doesn’t say, I will see you on the other side. He is with us no matter how hard it is. God says in Isaiah 43:2, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you.”

God protects us in the midst of the trial. Not only does Isaiah 43:2 say, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you” it goes on to say, “When you pass . . . through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.”

The imagery of deep waters and fire speak to times of difficult and dangerous testing and tribulation. And the promise for those who walk with God is that God watches over us and does not allow us to be overwhelmed – by whatever we go through.

God will give us the strength we need. As God said to Paul concerning his thorn, so it is true with us, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” – 2 Corinthians 12:9. God’s grace is sufficient for you. His power will give you what you need to move forward in your time of weakness.

And then finally, through God we always have the victory. We have victory when God delivers us from our trial in this life. But even if we are not delivered we have victory!

Think of Paul and his thorn. What did he say about all of his problems? “For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” – 2 Corinthians 4:17. Now that Paul is with God, God has now delivered him from his thorn. And what Paul is teaching us is that what we will endure in this life is temporary and it cannot be compared to the glory that is to come.

Think of Jesus. Yes, he died. But he was delivered from death itself. He experienced an even greater deliverance. And because of Jesus, even if we die, we don’t die! Jesus said, “Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” – John 11:25-26.

Whether God delivers us in this life or in the next, we have the victory through him. Praise be to his name!

William Higgins

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