January 25, 2011
by Colleen Swindoll Thompson
It remains one of the most endearing love letters of all time. It is full of devotion, affection, and reflection. It is from an older man who carefully penned his words with humble transparency. To many readers, he was a mentor. He had suffered the wounds of affliction, betrayal, abuse, and pain—conditions that can often become the seedbed of bitter resentment and loss of faith.
But not for Paul.
He chose humble obedience to his Lord’s leading. His life and his second letter to the Corinthians continue to serve as examples of the foundational doctrine we need in our lives.
The ancient world was, in at least one way, similar to our world—people were self-seeking, immersed in every kind of sexual practice, void of conscience, and filled with illusionary gods they thought would bring happiness. And it was like our world in another respect: life was full of pain and sorrow. A quick glance through Paul’s letter to the Corinthians is enough to convince us of that fact.
- Paul knew hopelessness, fear, and weakness. “We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life” (2 Corinthians 1:8 NIV).
- Paul experienced lies and spiritual warfare. “[We are surrounded by] false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light” (11:13–14 NIV).
- Paul lived with physical and emotional abuse and stress, even from his own people. “I have . . . been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. . . . I was beaten with rods . . . stoned . . . shipwrecked . . . in danger from rivers . . . from bandits . . . from my own countrymen . . . from Gentiles . . . in the city . . . in the country . . . [and] at sea. . . . I have . . . often gone without sleep . . . without food; I have been cold and naked” (11:23, 25–27 NIV).
What has crushed you? You may be tempted, cold, without food, and deeply bruised—body and soul. You may be abused, assaulted, exhausted, or financially or spiritually shipwrecked. So was Paul. You may feel utterly alone; so did Paul. Yet Paul found his source of strength not within himself, but in Christ who gave him “strength” (Philippians 4:13 NIV).
God didn’t remove all the difficulties from Paul’s life. And He may not remove all the challenges from your life. He may not heal. He may not answer or respond as you wish He would. The very circumstances you find impossible are just that . . . until you find strength in letting go, in surrendering to God’s ways.
I leave you with three questions.
- What have you done to find hope or strength during difficult days?
- Have you found relief, hope, or an ability to make it through the pains on your own?
- Are you willing to let go of your ways and allow God to provide all you are wanting?
Love letters often include painful memories, but they also fill us with encouragement—bolstering our spirits with the hope of brighter days ahead. But until those days dawn, words of affection and affirmation from a beloved friend provide strength to carry on.
Lord, take over the fight, the sorrows, and the things I cannot change. I surrender all my ways, knowing You will provide and sustain my life. How great You are, Lord. I bow at the foot of Your cross. In the name of the One who gives me strength, amen.