Thursday, April 23, 2009

From Bad to Worse


  Have you ever have one of those days when, no matter how hard you try, things just seem to go from bad to worse?

    The story is told of two cowboys who were working cattle one day. One of them discovered he was in trouble when a wild bull, with his head down and nostrils flaring, came charging toward him. The cowboy saw a deep hole in the ground and quickly jumped in it. As soon as the bull passed over him, he jumped out of the hole.

    The bull, madder than ever, came charging back again, and the cowboy jumped back down into the hole. When the bull passed, the cowboy jumped out of the hole again. He did this several times.

    Finally, the other cowboy, who was watching it all from a distance yelled out, "Why don't you just stay in the hole?"

    The cowboy yelled back, "I would, but there's a bear in the hole!"

    Maybe some of you feel like every day is like that!  If ever there was someone who must have felt that way, it was the apostle Paul, though.  Listen to him describing his life as a Christian:

    "From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one.  Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness..." (2 Cor. 11:24-27)

    Sounds a man who ought to be miserable, doesn't it?  I mean, how much can one man take?  How much worse can it possibly get?  It convicts me to read through that list as I think of the minor problems in my life that I allow to create a dark cloud over my life.  If I had to deal with the problems on Paul's list on a daily basis, then I'd really have reason to moan and whine, "Why, me Lord?  Why does life have to be so hard?"

    The funny thing is, though, that wasn't Paul's reaction at all.  He didn't list all those problems to garner sympathy.  In fact, he finishes out this section by writing:

    "Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ's sake....." (2 Cor. 12:10).

    Taking pleasure in distresses?  When is the last time you took pleasure in locking your keys in your car?  When is the last time you took pleasure in running your cell phone through the washing machine (don't laugh!  I actually did that this week)?  When is the last time you took pleasure is hearing the news that you're getting laid off, the biopsy came back positive, or there was a terrible auto accident?

    The "pleasure" in such things is not the ability to laugh and joke.  The "pleasure" is found in the last half of 2 Cor 12:10, "...For when I am weak, then I am strong."

    Everything that happens to me in life is a reminder that I am not in control, but I am a child of the One who is.  It is a reminder that I don't have the power to fix everything that breaks in life, but I serve the one who does have that power.  It is reminder that I sometimes don't know how I'm going to have the strength to cope, but I rest in the arms of the One who has promised to be there with me no matter what.  And it is during those moments when life throws its worst at me that I feel closest to God.

    "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. 12:10)

     Whatever trials you are facing this day, may you find your strength in God.


  1. Wow, God has really been working on me the last couple of days on this very subject. Thanks, I needed that!

  2. I on purpose did not read this yesterday. I didn't want to look at 'more' going from bad to worse. Mine is rather trading the devil for the witch. But i should have remembered 'the rest of the story.....oh, that's not you Alan, oops. Better, i should have remembered that GOD IS GOOD...all the time. Today is another day and I will rejoice and be glad in it. I needed to hear this, i appreciate hearing this. I sometimes 'worry' that as i struggle thru this desertland that i don't let others see THE ONE who's footsteps actually are carrying me thru it. PRAISE B2 HIM!

  3. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Just the words I needed to get me back on track after being in a valley for many days. "I know that I know, that I know," ....but encouraging words like yours help me "to keep on keeping on" Thank You, Father, for this kind man of God. Bless him and encourage him and take care of his family. Thank You for hearing and asnswering my prayers. Amen
    Pat in LA

  4. This was exactly what I needed to hear this morning as I'm leaving in a few minutes to see my therapist. The ' thorn ' in my side is bipolar mood disorder. An illness that is not curable, but is treatable with meds and life style choices. Though I do everything I'm supposed to do to maintain wellness, I still experience a fair bit of distress in the forms of depression and anxiety. God has promised that He will be with me in all circumstances. This is how I have learned to live with an illness that could ruin my life. Thank-you for sending your daily words of encouragement.

  5. I really appreciated your article. Thank you for reminding us that our struggles, though so burdensome to us as we go through them, are light compared to Paul's, and so many others. Like Paul, we need to focus on being grateful that God is working in our lives, whether through hardships or blessings. When I focus on gratitude and God's great mercy to us, it doesn't remove the burden, but it sure lightens the load.

  6. "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. 12:10)

    Paul took pleasure in these things because he was suffering for the sake of Christ and the preaching of the gospel. I don't think Paul would have taken any pleasure in locking his keys in the car or being involved in a terrible car accident. That kind of suffering is not a result of being a Christian or preaching the gospel. I don't think the Bible teaches that we should be happy every time something bad happens in our life. However, we should certainly be happy to suffer for the sake of Christ.

  7. Anonymous,

    I thought about what you wrote ("Paul took pleasure in these things because he was suffering for the sake of Christ and the preaching of the gospel") even before writing this message, because it is true that most of the things listed in 2 Corinthians 11 were the direct result of Paul's commitment to Christianity.

    However, what led me to believe that not all of Paul's problems were the result of his preaching is his discussion in 2 Cor. 12:7-9 of his "thorn in the flesh". While scholars are divided on exactly what that thorn in the flesh was, most are agreed that it was some sort of a physical ailment. In fact, the word "infirimities" that Paul uses twice (in verse 9, then verse 10) is a word which is commonly used in the scriptures to refer to health problems (for example, see Luke 5:15; 13:11-12).

    I suppose that one could make the argument that even Paul's infirmities may have been the result of his persecutions, but there is nothing in Paul's writings that would indicate that he had a different attitude during problems that were the result of persecution than he did during other kinds of problems.

    We also have James' words: "My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials (or "many kinds of troubles" -- NCV)." (James 1:2) and Paul's words in Romans 5:3, "We also glory in tribulations ("troubles" -- NCV), knowing that tribulation produces perseverance."

    It is important to recognize that the "joy" mentioned by James and the "glory" and "pleasure" mentioned by Paul are not attitudes of being "happy" (it would be unrealistic to think that we would feel happiness as a result of any type of pain). The "pleasure" and "joy" are in the knowledge that we are drawing closer and closer to God.

    Sorry, but I think Paul would have taken the same pleasure in locking his keys in his chariot as he did in being stoned for his faith -- the pleasure of knowing that we must rely fully on God to help us whatever troubles we face.