“Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thess. 5:18). It is the apostle Paul who speaks so unequivocally to us, no matter in what circumstances we find ourselves. His words are not empty. He had endured hard work, imprisonments, floggings, exposure to death again and again, five times had received forty lashes minus one. He was beaten with rods, stoned, shipwrecked three times, had spent a night and a day in the open sea and was constantly on the move. He knew dangers from rivers, bandits, his own countrymen and Gentiles, dangers in the country, at sea, and from false brothers. He had labored and toiled, gone without sleep, suffered hunger, thirst, scant food, cold, and nakedness.
He boasted of things that showed his weakness, and perhaps the most ignominious experience of all was his having to be lowered over a wall in a basket— of all things!
Paul was no stranger to suffering. “The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, who is to be praised forever,” he said, “knows that I am not lying.”
All of us have had some brush with suffering, at least if you accept my simple definition: having what you don’t want or wanting what you don’t have.
If you discover that the washing machine has just quit, you have what you don’t want—a useless mechanism—but it is a mere “Oh no!” sort of thing which we would never dignify by using the word suffering.
If, however, you learn that someone has just filed a lawsuit against you, the “Oh no!” may be the beginning of many sorrows. You have what you don’t want. Let us not fail to recognize that this is one of the many forms of suffering.
Suppose you have lost your job or your house. You suffer. If someone very dear to you has just died, you greatly miss what you no longer have.
Paul said, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it” (Rom. 8:18-20).
The apostle had received mysterious revelations. He had known a man caught up to paradise, but was not allowed to talk about it. He wanted no one to think more of him than was warranted. But the supreme test, that which seemed most likely to stagger the faithful apostle, was a very small thing indeed—a mere thorn.
“To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh.” What a gift!—a messenger of Satan himself, the archenemy of God, to torment the man. Three times Paul pleaded with the Lord to take it away. Had He done so, you and I would never have learned the grand lesson: My grace is all you need, for power comes to its full strength in weakness ( 2 Corinthians 12:9, New English Bible).
**Excerpt originally published in the September/October 2000 Elisabeth Elliot Newsletter.