One of the hard realities of this present life is that we all will face difficult times. Some try to tell us that Christians are exempt from the trials and tragedies of life. But God’s Word tells us differently: “For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake” (Phil. 1:29).
Our first response to the problems that come our way is often to ask God to take them away or to change our circumstances. The apostle Paul responded to his pain in the same way. His “thorn in the flesh” was a source of constant irritation to him, and he pleaded with the Lord three times to remove it (2 Cor. 12:8).
In Paul’s case, God chose not to answer the way Paul wanted. Instead, He replied, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Paul accepted God’s answer. Because he did, God was able to use his life in powerful ways to reflect His glory to others. God’s answer to Paul is still His answer to us today. When we truly accept this answer in our own lives, our Father can take us to a deeper level of relationship with Him than ever before. Last fall, the Lord graciously allowed me once again to see the reality of this in an unexpected way…
I had just boarded the plane home from London. I was feeling a little sad, hating to leave after a precious visit with Dr. John and Ruth Hunter in their home in Kendal, England. As I found my seat and started to sit down, I noticed a couple sitting across the aisle. The man was reading a book by C. S. Lewis. “Good,” I thought to myself. “At least I’ll have someone to talk to.”
Before the plane was even airborne, the three of us had launched into what became a lengthy conversation. As we talked, the man (Bob) shared a story of incredible heartache and tragedy. One of their three sons had been senselessly murdered several years before. It was after his death that Bob came to know the Lord. A few years later, their second son was paralyzed in a diving accident. Tears rolled down Bob’s face as he told me the story. The pain was still very real, yet his faith was holding firm.
The conversation turned to where I had been and why I was traveling alone. I told them about my trip to England to meet the Hunters, about the books I would be republishing, and about how the Lord had orchestrated the whole thing. They were as amazed as I was at all that was happening.
We had been talking for quite a while when the man in front of me turned around. He introduced himself as Buddy Thigpen and said, “I’ve been listening to your story. You’ve had quite an interesting trip. I’m wondering, though. What is it about this man’s books that makes you feel so strongly about them?”
I told him that so much of what I see being taught and written in the Christian world today points people to man’s methods of coping with life, instead of teaching them how to live a life filled with the Lord Jesus Christ. Dr. Hunter’s writings and life are full of the reality of the sufficiency of Christ, no matter what the circumstances.
“Dr. John has a special saying,” I said. “For this, I have Jesus.” With this statement he reminds us that no matter what we are facing — whatever the trial, the pressure, the pain, the temptation — we have Jesus and His sufficiency, His strength to enable us to face it. If I am in the situation, God has allowed it. If He has allowed it, His grace will be sufficient to see me through.”
As I was speaking, I noticed a change in his expression. There was something there, something I could not quite grasp. I asked him about it, and his answer was one I will never forget.
“I am on my way back from Minsk, where my family and I will soon be going as missionaries. We have six boys, and our family hopes to move there as soon as possible. I was a pastor in Georgia until I resigned a little over two months ago. I said we have six boys; one of them is in heaven.
“One week after I resigned, we went to our first church to raise support for this ministry. After the service, we all went to McDonald’s for lunch. As we were leaving, our three-year-old son ran out in front of a truck and was killed.”
By this time, Buddy’s eyes were filled with tears, and so were mine. He went on. “This has been the deepest pain I have ever felt. But I believe in a sovereign God. I have experienced His faithfulness and grace in ways I never had before. When you said those words, ‘For this, I have Jesus,’ I was reminded that I know it’s true. I love Him more now than I ever have. The pain is deep, though. Right now we are a very sad family.”
It is so easy to say we believe God is sovereign, that His grace is sufficient, when things are going well. But when circumstances are hard, when the conflicts and pain seem never ending, when tragedy strikes suddenly without warning, the reality of what we believe is tested and proved. During those times, it helps to have a reminder of His sufficiency.
When Paul received God’s answer to his repeated request for the thorn to be removed, he willingly accepted it. We know he did, for he went on to say, “Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 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 Cor. 12:9-10).
Seven months after my meeting with Buddy, I received a letter from him. His words again expressed his deep love for the Father and acceptance of His will: “I keep finding Him to be everything He said He would be. Since we wrote you last we have experienced both joy and sorrow. We found out that Susan was pregnant. How it thrilled us that God would bless us again. This week, however, God saw fit to allow that baby to go to heaven. As we have learned in the past, it is best to trust His divine providence. How glorious heaven will be! What a reunion with my boy Wade, and now this one we’ve yet to meet.”
God’s answer to us in our sorrows and suffering is the same as His answer to the apostle Paul. God did not promise to remove us from all the difficulties of life. He did promise that He would walk with us through them, and that His grace would be sufficient. Whatever it is that we are facing, we must remember: “for this, we have Jesus.”
(c) 1995 by Jan McMurray, usd with permission
Printed copies are available from:
Fresh Springs Foundation
P.O. Box 3842
Kingsport, TN. 37664
Bible quotations from the New International Version (c) 1973 by the International Bible Society.
[I recently viewed a short film about the bereavement of a young couple. Their story and testimony is an inspiring example: “Flame On: A True Story of Hope in the Midst of Great Personal Tragedy” DVD at http://afastore.afa.net/p/646/paper-dream-dvd – JBW]