If you ever want to feel like a wimp read 2 Corinthians 11. I did at one of the toughest times in my ministry and it left me wondering if I should just give up and do something else. Fortunately God intervened and taught me something new about grace.
We always think of grace (at least when it comes to God and faith) as this idea that Jesus came and died for our sin so that instead of condemnation for our sins we get heaven and grace. That is the first and foremost kind of grace, but there is another, the grace to endure.
I was at one of the lowest points in my life and the lowest point in my ministry. People were abandoning my church in droves, which is especially tough when you are already small, I had experienced a health scare and we were under attack besides. In the midst of it I read 2 Corinthians 11 in which Paul talks about all the incredible stuff he endured in his ministry, beatings, shipwrecked 3 times, persecution and on and on. I began to feel incredibly weak by comparison. Always remember in the Christian life and in creativity, comparison will either make you feel proud or worthless, neither of which is helpful.
I was crying out to God in prayer and feeling very weak. Why can’t I be like Paul? And it was then that God showed me this other kind of grace.
If you look at 2 Corinthians 11 more closely, it’s not really a listing of Paul’s accomplishments and it’s not really bragging. Paul says over and over again that he’s talking like a fool. Context is important. The first couple verses of the chapter tell us that Paul’s ministry is under attack. False teachers have come in and tried to discredit him and undermine this new church. Paul is using this listing of his accomplishments to show the people that it is foolish to tout your own accomplishments and that it’s really God who deserves the credit. And that’s the grace I’m talking about here. You see Paul didn’t endure all that stuff because He was tough, he was able to endure it because God gave Him the grace to endure it.
Go to the next chapter, and you’ll see this really played out. After listing all these horrific things he endured by God’s grace, you’ll notice that he had an affliction that seems minor by comparison to all he’d endured and yet three times he BEGS God to take this away. And God says no. Paul calls it His thorn and he says it’s there for one purpose, to keep him humble. It’s something Paul can’t triumph over. It’s something God needs to help Him with. It’s something He needs grace to endure.
In 2 Corinthians 12 9 and 10 we see God’s response to Paul. 9 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. 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.
We all have our thorns. We all have our weaknesses and things we don’t like about ourselves (I’m not talking about sin here, if you’re in sin, repent and you will receive grace). When you feel weak, (and this is a common affliction for creatives as to really do what we do we have to try many new things and fail often) don’t get down on yourself and don’t get down on God. Ask God to show His strength in your weakness and give Him glory when He does. The grace to endure is amazing but it can only be seen when we are in trials, experiencing things we don’t really want to experience. It’s important in those times look for His grace.
This song illustrates the concept wonderfully. It’s Matthew West’s Strong Enough.