We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed….
Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
(2Cor 4. 8,9,16-18)
For some of our christian brothers and sisters in the world today this passage is a physical reality, as they suffer oppression, injury and death as a result of their faith. Here in my homeland, I know nothing of this, and can barely imagine how I would react under the pressure. There is always a challenge to us in these words of Paul, who did know pain, persecution and much deprivation, to ask what we will do with our wealth and freedom for our fellow believers in need? How am I reacting as a part of the body of Christ to the suffering of other parts of the body: am I ignoring it, trying to numb myself to the pain? Or am I allowing myself to feel the ache, to let holy anger drive me to prayer, to lobby my politicians, to support agencies working to bring practical help and comfort to my brothers and sisters?
There is another sense in which these words apply to all of us, and which allow us to draw strength from Paul’s rallying cry to persevere in faith. I am thinking about the way in which life itself, the messy business of relationships, of dealing with family, work, health problems and so on, seems to get in the way of having a strong and joyful witness! How often do we find ourselves struggling with questions of guidance, of making wise decisions in very tricky circumstances. Or facing broken-down cars; faulty boilers; unfortunate complications in our travel arrangements; things just not working out smoothly and easily for us?
I think it is very important to see that Paul does not explain his troubles as being the result of unusual persecution; nor as the result of mistakes he has made in his walk with God. They are part of life, to be expected – although not necessarily welcomed with glee! We live in a broken world, among broken people, and until the wrapping up of this world and the inauguration of the next, we will have trouble. The challenge is what we as followers of Jesus do as a result of our troubles.
Do we allow them to drive a wedge between us and our God? Do we allow difficulty and weariness to feed our doubts about God’s love and faithfulness? Not Paul, he saw clearly through the immediate swirling clouds of struggle, to the clear shining light of a heavenly reward, and the hope of what God was already doing in his life as Paul continued to trust him.
This is a continual challenge for me, to do battle with my doubts and fears in the face of the pain of the world, and my own small struggles, and to trust in the utter goodness of God. I find it enormously comforting that Paul doesn’t hide his suffering, but rather brings it to the right place – into the open at the throne of God. Here is the one who sees and knows all that is happening, and who alone knows the true picture of which each individual life is a single thread. He is in the business of creating glory, harmony, beauty, an eternally satisfying and living work of art; and when we finally see it and take our rightful place in it, we will no longer question the maker!
So in my perplexities and doubts, as I face tangled situations where there seems no right way ahead, I keep coming to God, trusting that He can take each small step I make and use it for my blessing and His glory. The key is to keep moving, to do the next thing, even if it seems tiny, so that He can direct my journey. If I stand still, paralysed by doubts, I will get nowhere, and be rendered useless in my Lord’s service. The words of an old Scottish paraphrase based on Genesis 28, where Jacob has fled from home, and is literally in the middle of nowhere without a clue what to do next, are a fitting way to end this week, and a lovely prayer for every week!
Through each perplexing path of life our wandering footsteps guide;
Give us each day our daily bread, and raiment fit provide.
O spread thy covering wings around, till all our wanderings cease,
And at our Father’s loved abode our souls arrive in peace.
(Paraphrase 2, – O God of Bethel!,Gen 28.20-22, verses 3&4)