HOW CAN I HANG IN THERE?
2 Corinthians 4:1-18
We all reach the place where we want to quit some struggle in life. A friend says to us, “Hang in there!” And you ask yourself, “How?”
Life is sometimes like riding a bucking horse. When I was a kid, I loved going to the annual rodeo. Growing up on a farm, I had been around animals and understood how fearsome and strong they could be. I had tried to ride a pony that was unbroken and had gotten thrown off. Then I went to the rodeo and watched the Cowboys ride the powerful steers and bucking horses. As they came out of the chute trying to throw the rider off their backs, someone would yell, “Hang on! Hang in there!” The winner of the contest was the one who could hang on the longest.
How do you hang in there when things are not right in your family, or in your work, or faced with a Pandemic like we are at present? Trying to hang on when these areas of life are like bucking broncos is very difficult. Some fall to the ground and
quit - determining never to place themselves in a position like this again. Others turn to God and are empowered to go on.
The Apostle Paul taught us by example how to hang in there.
PROBLEMS ARE COMMON TO ALL PEOPLE (vv.8-9).
One of the biggest lies of Satan is that Christians do not suffer. The reasoning goes like this: “I believe in God. I serve Him. I love Him. Therefore, He is obligated to keep me from the suffering that is common to mankind.”
God is not obligated to do anything but to keep His promises. He has promised to keep His children from spiritual evil and harm. But He has not promised to keep us from accidents, illness, or emotional and physical distress. To do so, would make us unnatural in this world. God still works through the natural laws that He has created in the world. If you fall, God does not remove the natural law of gravity. If one drowns, God does not remove the natural effect of water in the lungs. If you are in a car accident, God does not remove the law of forward motion. If you get a disease, God does not always remove the natural course of the disease. God’s world of order would be in chaos if He exempted all who ask Him to be free from the natural consequences of life.
Paul was not blessed with perfect health. He suffered from a serious recurring illness throughout his life. Though he prayed to God to be delivered from the affliction, his prayer was not answered in the way he wanted. Instead, he was assured of
God’s grace to cope with it. This illness affected his plans and activities.
He was not blessed with good looks nor good health. He suffered from a “thorn in the flesh.” There have been various speculations about what this could have been all the way from eye disease, malaria, epilepsy, or some other distressing condition. John Calvin interpreted it to mean a spiritual temptation to doubt and quit the duties of apostolic life. Martin Luther took it to mean the opposition and persecution which he had to face and the constant battle with those who tried to undo his work. The predominantly Catholic view is that it meant carnal temptation. But if we take the Greek word for thorn, “skolops” which means “a stake” then it indicates an almost savage pain and physical sufferings. He was beaten by 39 lashes on his back by the Roman authority at Philippi for preaching Christ. Often on the fifth blow of the beating, blood begins to flow and at the 12th, the back is a torn mass of bleeding wounds. He was also stoned by his enemies at Lystra. He also suffered hunger, cold, thirst, heat, and shipwreck from which he floated for a day and a half in the sea. There were also frequent arrests. He lived with the constant risk of assassination. He was betrayed by people in the churches that he founded.
Timothy, Paul’s protégé in the ministry was assigned to minister to the believers for a while in Thessalonica. Paul writes to Timothy about two men in the church who opposed him. He
said, “Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have delivered over to Satan, so that they may be taught not to blaspheme.” (First Timothy 1:19-20). He also had endless trouble from other missionaries who visited his churches while he was away. Some of them came with strange doctrines, others insisted on the observance of customs which Paul had fought hard to eliminate. Still others caused division among his churches, saying that Paul was not an apostle and what he had taught them was all wrong.
The Judaizers, who wanted to maintain the strictures of the old covenant, insisted upon the observance of the law of Moses, especially circumcision as an absolute necessity for admission to membership in the church. They said, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses you cannot be saved.” They insisted on a division within the church which separated those who kept the whole law from those who were uncircumcised. They considered them to be inferior and at a great distance from God. Paul strongly opposed this idea.
There was constant Jewish opposition to his ministry. They accused him of bringing a Gentile into the Temple court which they believed would defile the Temple. He was estranged from his fellow missionary Barnabas after the first missionary journey together.
The same is true on the emotional level. God does not exempt his people from emotional distress. Listen to Paul:
“We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed.” This is a picture of a person in a life battle surrounded by enemies. But at the last moment a single way of escape is made. There are times when it seems like the enemy closes in on us and there is no way out. But before we are crushed, God opens away before us. It may be that you face a situation that is causing you much mental distress. Just wait on the Lord and look for the way out!
“Perplexed but not despairing.” Another way of saying this is, “We are at a loss, but never totally at a loss.” We ask, “Why?” We are mystified that God would allow such a thing to happen to us. But then we remember that Jesus said, “In the world you are going to have tribulation.” Faith keeps us from despair.
“Persecuted, but not forsaken.” We may face the critical tongues of others, we may face opposition from the most unsuspecting quarter, we may face roadblocks at every turn, we may be the object of ridicule and scorn, but faith tells us that we are never abandoned by God.
“Struck down, but not destroyed.” The image here is being struck down in battle and left for dead. But life continues to surge, and you get up on your feet again. Your wounds are cared for until they heal, and you are not destroyed. Some of us here today are struck down and are deeply wounded. But He who heals broken hearts and broken spirits is among us and He will raise you up.
When he was appointed pastor of a church in Cambridge, England, in 1783, Charles Simeon was delighted. The people of
the church did not share his joy. Many of the prominent members opposed his view of evangelism. To show their opposition and displeasure they locked their pew boxes during the service and left them empty so that those who came to hear Simeon preach had to stand or sit in the aisles. Eventually God began to work, and Simeon’s ministry had a powerful influence on the nation of England and his efforts to encourage missionary work.
During the dark days of opposition Simeon wrote: “In this state of things I saw no remedy but faith and patience… It was painful indeed to see the church, with the exception of the aisles, almost forsaken; but I thought that if God would only give a double blessing to the congregation that did attend, there would on the whole be as much good done as if the congregation were doubled and the blessing limited to only half the amount. This comforted me many, many times when without such a reflection, I could have sunk under my burden.”
Hanley Moule said, “Opposition does not mean that we are doing things wrong – often it is evidence that we are doing things right. If we allow ourselves to be deterred from doing anything unless we have complete approval, it is certain that we will never accomplish anything of value. Rather than being discouraged by opposition, we should take comfort in God’s faithfulness, and keep on doing what is right.”
J. Sidlow Baxter commented, “What is the difference between an obstacle and an opportunity? Our attitude toward it. Every opportunity has a difficulty, and every difficulty has an opportunity.”
PERSPECTIVE MAKES ALL THE DIFFERENCE (vv. 16-18). “Therefore, we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For our momentary, light affliction is producing for us and eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.”
When we lived in Atlanta, I often went to Emory Hospital to visit patients. It was always a chore to park there and I often had to go to the very top of the parking garage to find a space, but I enjoyed looking out over the trees from the ninth floor. I read of an event that took place there on the top of the parking garage.
Terry Stout, the business manager for the psychiatry department at Emory drove to the top floor of the parking garage so that he could look at the sky and savor the beauty of the day for a few minutes before he went to his office.
But when he got out of his car, he saw a woman standing on a narrow beam that was sticking out from the roof of the parking deck. There was only about 2 inches of steel keeping her from falling to the pavement nine floors below. Terry put down his briefcase quietly and walked over to her. He asked if he could help.
She told him that she wanted to be with Jesus. She said that she was confused and had committed sins and never did anything right. Terry listened and talked softly to her. He talked about God’s forgiveness, and the possibility of her enjoying peace and happiness if she put her faith in God.
As they talked a crowd began to gather. Among the newcomers was a psychiatrist who joined Terry in talking to the girl. But the doctor’s approach was psychiatric, and the girl wanted to talk about God. So, Terry did most of the talking.
He offered her a pin that he was wearing. It had the words, “There’s Hope” on it and he offered it to her as a gift. He told her that Jesus would help her in her distress and that they would pray together if she would return to the roof.
Hesitantly, the girl began moving back toward safety. The crowd that gathered wanted to surround her and comfort her, but Terry waved them back. He told everyone to kneel, and true to his promise he said a prayer for the young lady.
And when the article was written it was three years after the event and the young lady was doing well and continued to wear the pin, “There’s Hope.”
Our Lord Jesus prayed a prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane that we can make our own in times of trouble, “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39).
William Cowper wrote a poem THE MYSTERIOUS WAY in which he said,
God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea
and rides upon the storm.
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense
but trust Him for His grace;
behind a frowning Providence
He hides a smiling face.
How you considered that God may be speaking to the world through this Pandemic? He sent ten plagues on Egypt to accomplish His purpose. Is He speaking to you today?
You can “Hang in there!” If you realize that problems are common to all people. God is not singling you out for suffering. And if you have the perspective of faith to trust God all the way through it, you will not lose heart and will be victorious.
Praise be to His Name!