Acute pain often accompanies injury. Given enough time, acute becomes chronic. Sometimes, despite doctors and their treatments, defying nutrition and prayer, chronic pain persists.
… a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me … I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness." … Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses …
~ 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 (NKJV)
A familiar passage—yes? "My grace is sufficient" is oft quoted, a talisman to convey strength amid suffering. It's right up there with "God works all things for good to those who love Him" (Romans 8:28) and "the joy of the LORD is your strength" (Nehemiah 8:10).
… I take pleasure in infirmities …
But how often do you hear a Christian quoting that phrase?
[C'mon, Paul—are you for real? (And people say Jesus has some hard sayings …)]
~ ~ ~
My default setting is optimist. When inconvenience strikes (like the dead car battery this morning), I try to remind myself that my time belongs to God (and then give Him thanks for car #2 while trusting Him for how to push a full sized van out of the garage to jump start it later). When something is damaged (like water ruining the basement carpet), I remind myself that it all belongs to God (and then rejoice at His gift of new indoor/outdoor carpet at a ridiculously low price). I consistently maintain a "can do" spirit when plans go awry (usually because I forgot to put something on the calendar and either I or our household's vehicles are double booked).
As a parent, I regularly look for the affirmative way to state directions rather than give a negative prohibition. "HEY! Finish your school work and then you can go outside" instead of "don't run in the house." "PLEASE speak kindly!" rather than "don't talk to your sibling that way." "Take a break from your chore so you can get some time by yourself for a little bit" seems more constructive than "your attitude stinks."
But Paul, through God's Word, pushes me toward a place the optimist has absolutely no desire to visit—a place where optimism wanes.
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
~ 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NKJV)
Looking at this passage, I find comfort seeing "in" rather than "for" preceding "everything." There's sufficient struggle in thanking God for whatever good persists in the "everything" rather than for the everything that includes suffering. I readily confess that I'm not quite at the place where I "take pleasure" in a visit from Infirmities et al.
When speaking of that satanic messenger, the translators of 2 Corinthians 12:7 (above) take a little liberty in translating the Greek kolaphízō as "buffet." Surely they're simply trying to convey the buffeting implied by a strong wind. Perhaps the more literal meaning of "a blow, to strike with the fist" seems a little too physical when speaking of warfare that's spiritual.
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.
~ Ephesians 6:12 (NKJV)
(If you picture a wrestling match, it's about as physical as physical gets.)
We do not wrestle against flesh and blood …
(True enemies are not human, no matter what any human may be responsible for.)
We do not wrestle against flesh and blood …
(But we do wrestle while occupying flesh and blood that experiences chronic pain.)
~ ~ ~
This optimist occupies a human body that just three years ago felt like 25 (see "How Old?"), which has since then taken a … (ahem) "buffeting" [trying not to roll my eyes here]. The optimist makes jokes and laughs about the warranty running out when you turn 50.
Then I stop laughing and look for something deeper. I look for the strength found not in a 25-year old body, nor in a body that feels like 25—strength found only in weakness.
Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ's sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
~ 2 Corinthians 12:10 (NKJV)
I ask God to renew the joy of my salvation (Psalm 51:12). And I reach for the joy of YHWH that transcends chronic pain and makes me stronger than I've ever been before.
"Go your way, eat the fat, drink the sweet, and send portions to those for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not sorrow, for the joy of the LORD is your strength."
~ Nehemiah 8:10 (NKJV)
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