We can learn through Paul’s life that afflictions serve a purpose in God's plan for our lives. In 2 Corinthians 1:3-7, Paul explained that the comfort we receive in times of affliction gives us the ability to comfort others who are going through similar struggles. By experiencing difficulties, we gain empathy and compassion for others, which enables us to be a source of comfort and strength for them.
One prime example from Paul’s life that is a great source of encouragement for me is his willingness to persevere even though God gave him a “thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet him.” Wow! It sounds intense whatever his difficulty was that he often battled. For sure, I never would want to be buffeted by a messenger of Satan. The scriptures tell us in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10, saying, “And lest I [Paul] should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.”
God desires to use each one of us in a meaningful way that impacts the lives of others for good, leveraging the unique abilities, gifts, and talents that He has blessed us with. However, it can be tempting to easily fall into the trap of arrogance, thinking that we are superior to others due to our God-given capabilities. To be productive with God's favor, it is essential for every child of God to cultivate a humble mindset and a meek spirit. Therefore, as in Paul's example, God may allow us to experience a "thorn in the flesh," a “messenger of Satan,” to humble us and prevent us from becoming overconfident and proud. By allowing us to face adversity or affliction, God can intervene and bring our minds into the right perspective.
The apostle Paul mentioned in the Corinthian letter that he besought the Lord three times, “that it [the buffeter of affliction] might depart from him.” Nevertheless, the Lord Jesus said unto him, “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.”
The Lord listens and answers all of our prayers. On occasion, He responds with a "Yes." However, there are times when God remains silent to test and teach us how to be still, rest in Him, and wait patiently.
God is full of bountiful mercy, loving kindness, and abundant longsuffering, but He also has an austere side when it comes to making decisions. The severity of God sometimes responds to our prayers with a negative. At times, God might convict our hearts that we should no longer seek Him regarding a particular matter because the answer is firm “No.”
During times when God answers our prayers with a negative response, He may remind us that His grace is sufficient, even if we are consumed with feelings of hopelessness. As we decrease and allow Christ to increase, we recognize our dependence on Him and place our trust in His grace. Through humility, we can experience the sufficiency of God's grace, even amidst difficulties and disappointments. It is beneficial to forsake our hope in ourselves and instead turn to God as the source of our hope. In doing so, we open ourselves up to the transformative power of His grace.
Similarly to the Apostle Paul, who found joy in his weaknesses, necessities, and distresses, we should also learn to accept and embrace the sorrows and adversities that God assigns to us. In doing so, we can experience the power of Christ in our lives. Paul found confidence in humility and was willing to boast about his weaknesses because he understood that it was through his weakness that the power of Christ rested upon him: “for when I am weak, then am I strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10).
Therefore, we should not reject God's sovereignty over our lives but rather embrace it, recognizing that grace and affliction are two sides of the same coin. As we make ourselves available to Christ, we should accept and embrace our troubles. By decreasing our confidence in ourselves and increasing our confidence in God, we allow Christ to shine through our lives.
The Christian who is willing to let the power of Christ rest upon him understands the value of embracing personal weaknesses. Rather than trying to avoid or reject affliction, he rejoices in the opportunity to be made weak so that Christ can be magnified. By allowing Christ to increase and ourselves to decrease, we develop a deeper reliance on God and a stronger faith that can withstand any adversity, sorrow, or infirmity that comes our way. Ultimately, it is through our weakness that Christ can be seen in our lives.
Indeed, God gives us the bread of adversity and water of affliction, and they work to remove any independent, self-reliant mindset that could lead to overconfidence and stubbornness, and instead fill us with trust in the Lord. As it says in Proverbs 3:5-6, “trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.” Therefore, we should embrace the adversity and affliction that God allows in our lives, recognizing that they are ultimately for our good and will help us grow in our faith and trust in Him.
We must be careful not to put our trust in things that are uncertain or temporary, such as our own abilities, money or material possessions. Instead, we should put our trust in the living God who is always faithful and true: in God alone!
When we allow pride to take root in our hearts, we run the risk of becoming unproductive in our relationship with God. It is important to stay grounded and humble, always remembering that any gifts or abilities we have are ultimately from God for His glory and the benefit of others. We should look to the examples of others as a reminder to stay on the right path and to walk in the fear of the Lord.
According to the scriptures, we are instructed to cast all of our cares upon the Lord; for He cares for us. We should remain sober and vigilant (1 Peter 5:7-8), resisting the temptation to focus on ourselves. We must stand firm in the faith, recognizing that our brothers and sisters in Christ are also experiencing the same afflictions in the world. The God of all grace will strengthen, settle and establish us after we have endured suffering for a little while.
Walking through valleys of suffering, infirmity, and weakness can be a difficult experience for anyone who walks by faith. It would be absurd to suggest that such a journey is a joyous amusement. However, a person of faith can have peace in the midst of their sufferings because they understand that God is sovereign and wise, and only gives them what is best for their life. They can also acknowledge that it is only by God's grace that they are able to persevere through these trials.
Although the cup of affliction may be bitter, it too shall pass. As the Psalmist says, "weeping may endure for a night, joy cometh in the morning" (Psalm 30:5). Those who sow in tears will reap in joy. Those who go forth weeping, bearing precious seed, will doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing their sheaves with them (Psalm 126:5-6).
For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for His sake (Philippians 1:29). If we suffer, we shall also reign with Christ (2 Timothy 2:12). What a profound promise!
Therefore, it is important for us to persevere through our afflictions, infirmities, and weaknesses, as these provide opportunities for the Lord to glorify Himself. The grace that God supplies us through trials and afflictions is given for His glory, so that the Son of God might be glorified through us. Because many people are watching us, we should humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God, and embrace our struggles; our afflictions serve as a testimony to unbelievers that our hope in Christ is a true and living hope. Through our sufferings, others may come to believe in Christ, and in turn, He will be glorified.
The apostle Paul found joy in his afflictions because he was vigilant to observe how God was working through them for a greater purpose. In some of his letters, Paul explained that the unjust things that happened to him and his mission teams actually provided opportunities to spread the gospel of Christ to masses of more people. His "bonds of afflictions" were moments for Christ to be exalted before unbelievers who were watching his manner of life, even in the dark dungeons and difficult jailhouses. Many other believers were inspired and encouraged by his steadfastness in the face of adversity, and his sufferings helped them to grow in confidence and speak boldly about the Word of God without fear. Above all, his sufferings opened doors for him to proclaim the message of Christ's death, burial and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins. Therefore, he rejoiced in his afflictions and encouraged others to do the same.
Let us not nullify the grace of God that has been given to us. As believers, we have been made partakers of Christ if we remain steadfast in our confidence until the end. Therefore, let us not abandon our confidence, for it holds a great reward. (Hebrews 3:14; 10:35). But, “my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 15:58). “And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. And the Lord shall deliver [us] from every evil work, and will preserve [us] unto his heavenly kingdom: to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen” (Galatians 6:9; 2 Timothy 4:8).