For when I am weak, then am I strong


Last week we started on a new study dealing with suffering and we dealt with the haunting question "Why?" This week we want to continue and share what our sufferings have in common with Paul, Job, and a host of others.

The Bible is very fair in recounting the stories of those who experienced suffering. These portraits of pain reveal much. We come to better understand that affliction is the common lot of mankind and is something to be expected. If we will allow these accounts to teach us, we will also be better prepared to relate to others facing similar experiences. And, we, ourselves, will be better prepared for what happens in our lives.

Don't ever let anyone tell you that by becoming a Christian and living the Christian life you will be guaranteed immunity from trouble. No one is promised anything like that. We are promised comfort, strength, and help, and we are given hope and God's grace, which is sufficient for our every need.

On the other hand, don't ever let anyone put a guilt trip on you. Don't let them throw accusations at you like Job's comforters did (read the Book of Job in the Old Testament). Oftentimes these people will infer that some sin, some prayerlessness, some lack of faith has brought on your calamity. Don't believe it.

Job as Mentor

Job's experiences can serve as a good teacher. His replies to those who sought to "comfort" him can shed much light on the struggles we have when affliction strikes us.

Job has been described as a good man who feared God and stayed away from evil. That description fits many a godly man, both in this present age and in preceding eras of time.

Job had a large family - seven sons and three daughters - and was immensely wealthy, employing many servants. He was considered the richest cattleman in the area where he lived.

One day Satan, the accuser, approached God, scoffing. He suggested that the only reason Job feared God was because God had always protected him, his home, and his property. In effect, Satan said, "No wonder Job 'worships' You! Take away his wealth and he'll curse You."

Let's look at what happened after that. God allowed the following things to happen:
  • The Sabeans - enemies - came.
  • They raided and drove away Job's animals (oxen and donkeys).
  • They killed all the farmhands except one messenger. Fire fell from heaven.
  • It burned all the sheep and the herdsmen except one messenger.
  • Three bands of Chaldeans came.
  • They drove off all his camels.
  • They killed all his servants except one who escaped. Job's sons and daughters were feasting.
  • A mighty wind swept in from the desert, engulfing the house.
  • The roof fell in on them, and they all died, except one messenger who escaped.
What was the response of Job to all of this? He tore his robe in grief. He shaved his head. Then he fell down on the ground and worshipped God. Is that what you expected would happen? Most people can understand giving way to grief, but the rest? Is worshipping God what generally happens when people are confronted with bad things?

Notice, also, Job's verbal response:

Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord (Job 1:21).

The Bible has a comment to make on Job's reaction. We are told that, In all this Job sinned not, nor charged God foolishly (v. 22). Oh, how much we can learn from this man when life heaps more upon us than we think we can possibly bear!

However, don't think of Job as some "super saint" who didn't have feelings or anything to say. Let me point out that Job was very human, very much like you and me. He did voice some perplexity, some anguish of heart. He suffered deeply, and in his humanity he did cry and express his feelings. Job did ask some "Whys?" (See Job 13:24.) I think it is safe to say that God who made us, who endowed us with our emotions and feelings, doesn't expect us to remain stoic -unflinching under pain and suffering. We should not consider it weakness or sin when we give way to the throes of emotions that come over us in times of trouble or when we are confronted with death.

Out of all this tragedy and the accusations of his friends, Job was still able to maintain his integrity (see Job 2:3). God vindicated Job, stating that Job had been harmed without cause. But Satan doesn't give up easily. "Touch his body with sickness;" he told God, "and he will curse You to Your face!"

Job's friends looked for reasons why all these things were happening to Job. Isn't that often the case with us? We seek answers. We wonder why. We imply that there must be some "secret sin" or sins. This is not to say that we won't pay the price when we abuse our bodies - whether through drugs, alcohol, smoking,

overindulgence, or immorality. We do pay for such indulgences. It is the old law of sowing and reaping: Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap (Galatians 6:7). But such was not the case with Job.

Job admitted that he had impulsively cried out in desperation over his condition. He was struck with boils from head to foot, an extremely painful condition. He even expressed a death wish, a longing to die. Again, this is for our instruction. Though Job questioned God, he never lost his faith in God. Such patience and perseverance! We hear about the "patience of Job" (see James 5:11), and it truly existed.

Job never gave up on God. He was terrified and admitted it. He had a faint heart, and everything seemed so very, very dark, an impenetrable darkness. He searched, crying and reaching out to God. Yet, his honesty reveals much about the man. Finally Job could say, But he knoweth the way that I take: when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold (Job 23:10). This testimony of faith has been called by some, one of the greatest found anywhere in religious literature.

To those who say that God doesn't deal fairly, is not in control of all things and events, and is not a just God, I point you to the Book of Job. Job showed courageous faith, and God rewarded him for it. But even if God hadn't rewarded him on this side of heaven, you can be certain God's grace would have manifested itself on the other side: Blessed is the man that endureth temptation [testing]: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him (James 1:12). The final tally is never in this life for the one who entrusts himself to the God who made him and sees the end from the beginning.

Through suffering God is giving us opportunity to trust His sovereignty, just as He did Job. In the end, Job said that he knew God could do all things and that no plan of His could be thwarted (see Job 42:2). This is the response which is so becoming to the one who believes in God and has entrusted himself to His grace.

You and I are going to experience hurts in life. There is no question about it. Sometimes we may lose our perspective on things because suffering does strange things to us. Someone has suggested that in our afflictions what we really need is not an explanation from God but a revelation of Him. We get that from the Bible.

Paul Suffered Too

"When I am weak, then am I strong." Does that sound like a contradiction? How is it possible to be weak, yet strong? There are many who find it very difficult to believe that this is possible.

On our weekly television program my wife, Rexella, had the unique privilege of interviewing men and women from nearly every walk of life. Many of these guests have written outstanding books which relate some crisis experiences they have had which would have sent someone of lesser strength into an emotional tailspin from which they might have never recovered. Yet, these people would be the first to tell you that in themselves they are not strong. On the contrary, they know only too well their own utter weakness. And that is just it - they are weak, and yet, they are strong. How can that be?

I think of a very special lady named Barbara Johnson. I was amazed to hear Barbara's story of triumph over despair. Barbara learned how to cope with the crippling of her husband through a tragic accident on a slippery California mountain road and the death of two sons. One was killed in Vietnam and a drunken driver killed the other. Then, as if that weren't enough tragedy for one woman to absorb, she made the horrifying discovery that another son was into the homosexual lifestyle.

Rexella asked Barbara how she coped with the death of her sons. Confidently, Barbara replied, "I found a great measure of satisfaction knowing both boys were Christians, and I knew they are now deposits in heaven. They are with the Lord. As Christians, we can have this kind of victory knowing that our loved ones are rejoicing around the throne of God."

Barbara admitted that it was the experience of finding out that her third son was living the homosexual lifestyle that had caused her more heartache than the actual death of her two other sons. Still, out of the weakness she experienced, the trauma, the inability to bounce right back, and the peculiar pain a mother goes through in a situation like that, Barbara found strength.

The strength came as Barbara realized she was powerless to bring about change in her son's life. With that realization came relinquishment. "You have to relinquish your child - or whatever situation is troubling you - into the hands of God. When you do, you find it releases you and you can reach out in loving care to others that need help. People all around us are fractured and broken. You know, to be restored means to put back in place. The word actually means to pop back in place. So now I am trying to help people like that, to restore those who need restoration."

Barbara says, "God makes gold out of our lives one way or another - in the furnace of pain, in the furnace of suffering."

Initially the very word homosexual made Barbara shudder and produced all kinds of unpleasant physical and emotional reactions. Today she explains, "We're all ex-something in our lives. Sometimes the sin is so big - like a big black wall - that we can't even find the sinner, and it is hard to love the unlovely. But God can remove all the stain of sin. Now I see them through His eyes, and I want to reach out to love and help them."

"When I am weak, then I am strong." It was the apostle Paul who first said that. Paul wrote that in the context of suffering. He explains in his second letter to the Christians at Corinth that there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me . . . (2 Corinthians 12:7). It sounds like the old story of Job all over again, doesn't it?

Paul pleaded with the Lord for relief three different times. How did God respond to those pleas?

And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong (vss. 9,10).

Paul's afflictions read like a catalog of horrors. He writes of his jail experiences, hard labor, whippings, stonings, and shipwrecks. He faced grave dangers from mobs in the cities as well as possible death in the deserts, on stormy seas, and from men who claimed to be brothers in Christ who were not. He lived with weariness, pain, and sleepless nights. Often he went hungry and thirsty, shivering with the cold, without enough clothing to keep himself warm (see 2 Corinthians 11:23-27).

Paul's confession of weakness was not an admission that he succumbed to depression or even defeat. Never! Paul accepted his suffering and whatever conditions and circumstances that precipitated it as opportunities for relying on the inexhaustible grace that God does supply.

What can we learn from the apostle's experience? Paul's prayers were not answered. His "thorn in the flesh;" whatever it was, was not removed. Did Paul become bitter about this? No.

God Is Preparing Us

What happens to some people when their prayers are not answered the way they want them answered? Surely you have seen the bitterness that invades their lives like the spreading tentacles of a monstrous spider. Bitterness usually means there is some selfishness in their hearts. It means we want our way, not God's way. Does this mean God doesn't want us well?

God takes no pleasure in seeing His children suffer. But suffering is a reality. God is peopling heaven. In the meantime, He is preparing us for a glorious future with Him. God is equal to the needs of His children in their hours of trial.

Paul counted it a privilege to suffer for Christ. He spoke of suffering as preparation that enabled him confidently and joyfully to become all that God had in mind for him to be. He was able to rejoice when he ran into problems and trials, for he knew they were for his own good - they were helping him develop patience .

. . . we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience [steadfastness], experience; and experience, hope: And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us (Romans 5:3-5).

For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us (Romans 8:18).

The apostle spoke knowingly of the things of nature, plaints and animals, suffering under the bondage of "sickness and death." There is no perfection here on earth. He speaks of the "groaning" we all do as we await release from pain and suffering. We wait for bodies that will never be sick again and will never die. So all of this is meant to teach us to wait, to hope, and to trust God.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? . . . Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:35, 37-39).

Paul cautioned against criticizing God. He used the analogy of the potter working with a lump of clay. The thing made cannot say to the one who made it, "Why have you made me like this?" Just so, the apostle warned against resisting the will of the Father (see Romans 9:15-24).

Paul was not calling upon Christians merely to "endure" what comes their way. He was challenging them to allow their suffering to work for them here and now as well as for their ultimate good, an eternity spent with the Lord in the heaven He has prepared for those who believe in, love, and trust Him.

Rexella interviewed Michelle Price and her parents. Michelle is a young lady who at the age of eight had a leg amputated because of a malignant tumor. Her parents were very frightened. They feared they would lose their precious daughter.

"I knew that I had to completely let go of Michelle," her mother explained. "If we could just learn to give things to the Lord `palms down' instead of 'palms up,' where we keep taking the situation back. But I had to remind myself that Michelle was a gift from the Lord, and He loved her very dearly - in fact, more than I did. the doctors only gave her a four percent chance of surviving."

Michelle's father explained that he used to try to understand God and all that was happening. "Now it's really great to know that I don't have to understand God - that I can just trust God and believe in Him."

After her surgery, the chemotherapy, and the many long months of recuperation, Michelle said she would awaken each day and think, "This is the day that the Lord hath made. I will rejoice and be glad in it! He is my strength:"

The many people Rexella has interviewed who have gone through some very painful and traumatic experiences all quoted the apostle Paul in one way or another. How glad we can be that Paul persevered, that he trusted himself to God's mercy and grace. He allowed the suffering to be as a servant. He didn't regard his painful experiences as an enemy or as his master.

The Reverend David Biebel is another example of someone who used the suffering he experienced to work for him, not against him. Reverend Biebel and his wife suffered greatly when their small son died. Healing came for them as they reached out to others going through other or similar suffering.

"'We went through many different kinds of emotions," he said. "One of the hardest things was to really face the fact that our son was no longer with us - to truly face the truth. I think we denied that at first.
"In the beginning we found ourselves asking the question that is so common in the face of loss: 'Why?' "
Because he was a pastor, David Biebel was plagued with additional feelings of guilt. "You get conflicting thoughts and feelings. Your mind tells you one thing that God is in control and He loves you, that your loved one is in heaven. But your heart is still broken. You get involved in feeling angry, and you might even become somewhat bitter. I wrestled with these things. I had to get up and preach and teach and represent this God, and often I felt like I was living as a hypocrite."

By confessing his conflicting thoughts and feelings to God, David Biebel was able to surrender back to God what had been given to him and his wife. Someone has likened it to placing our pain on the altar as an act of worship to the glory of God.

Keep Your Eyes on Jesus

We come back to the apostle Paul - to the truths he learned as he accepted his suffering as God's special gift, entrusted to him.

For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels [that is, in our weak bodies], that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.

We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed, Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus might be made manifest in our body.

For we which live are always delivered unto death for Jesus' sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh (2 Corinthians 4:6-11).

Paul explained that this is why he never gave up. Though he knew his body was dying daily, his inner strength in the Lord was growing every day. Troubles and sufferings are, after all, quite small, he said, and won't last very long. These are actually short times of distress in comparison to what awaits us in eternity.

Do not look at what you can see right now - the troubles all around you - but keep your eyes fixed on Jesus. Look forward to the joys that await you in heaven. The troubles will soon be over, and the joys to come will last forever (see 2 Corinthians 4:15-18).

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