Meditations on God's Strength
As we study the Scriptures, it's often tempting to view the men and women of the Bible as "super-saints" who lived high above the struggles of daily life we face today. We admire the faithfulness of Joseph, the strength of Samson, and the courage of David, often failing to realize that they, too, were made to walk "through the valley of the shadow of death" (Ps. 23:4). What makes their life stories so inspiring is not that they never fell, but that they got back up and were never "utterly cast down" (Ps. 37:24). Of course the apostle Paul knew much better than most what it meant to "endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ" (2 Tim. 2:3). In his own words, "Five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked . . .", and the list goes on (2 Cor. 11:24-25). On an even more personal level, Paul reveals in today's Scripture that he was afflicted by a "thorn in the flesh" in which he eventually learned to "take pleasure", knowing that the strength of God was perfected in his own weakness (2 Cor. 12:10). But how exactly is God's strength perfected in our weakness? It's not that His strength is in any way dependent upon our relative powerlessness; in the words of a North Carolina pastor, it's simply that God cannot show you His limitless nature unless He first shows you your limited nature. It was this realization (along with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit) that moved Paul to continue, "Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake" (v. 10). Again, Paul was not superhuman. Being beaten was still a painful experience. Prison was never a pleasant place. As far as we know, his "thorn in the flesh" was an affliction he endured for the rest of his life. It's not that he enjoyed suffering, but his love for God and firm belief in grace instilled within his heart a willingness to suffer for the One who suffered and died for him.