Right away the title of this entry sounds like an oxymoron. God and miserable – how can those terms possibly mix? Hasn’t Jesus come to give us life and life more abundantly? Doesn’t Jesus’ promise of an abundant life imply nirvana? The answer is NO. Unfortunately, that is a widely taught and accepted narrative of the Christian life. Churches teach that God’s abundant life is equivalent to ephemeral happiness, comfort, and a marvelous plan that meets all of our selfish desires. It is a Santa Clause doctrine that emboldens cheap grace and materialism. Not only will we be completely and consistently forgiven, while keeping our sinful life, but now all of our selfish ambitions will be empowered by the unconditional and all-powerful favor of God. In other words, salvation is nothing more than a Get-Out-Of-Jail Free card that lets us pursue and do whatever we want with God’s blessing. This isn’t the Gospel or reality.
The reality is that many Christians who put their faith in Christ does not feel or see or experience what secular culture might define as an “abundant life.” The reality is that Christians struggle, face turmoil, and live lives that could be considered miserable by many. I’d say someone who exemplifies this would be the Apostle Paul.
The Apostle Paul lived a life of constant turmoil, conflict, and danger. He faced death, prison, torment, and perils most people (in America) could only view on a movie screen. Yet despite what many would view as misery Paul remained faithful and joyfully experienced the glories of Christ while longing not only to participate in His resurrection but also to participate in His suffering. In fact, with Paul the glorification and suffering were linked (Rom. 8:17). The life of the Apostle Paul, and every true follower of Christ (2 Tim. 3:12), destroys every misconception created by the Prosperity gospel, and movements similar to it, that paints a picture of superfluous peace and tranquility in the Christian experience. The Apostle Paul exemplifies God’s grace for a miserable life.
2 Corinthians 12:7-10 paints a picture much different than what most of the people on Christian networks, and even some churches, call “successful Christianity.” In fact, if the Apostle Paul were among us today most Christians might believe that he lacked enough faith (or had made God angry in some capacity) to live the abundant life Jesus promised. We would assume he missed it, didn’t really hear God, or wasn’t what he claimed to be. Interestingly, this is what many of his contemporaries thought of him. But they were all wrong.
Paul affirms that a “messenger of Satan” was sent to harass him, and that the reason for it was to keep him humble. Before Paul even became an Apostle, God had chosen him and ordained that he would know how much one must suffer for the sake of Jesus’ name (Acts 9:16). Not exactly the abundant life that’s preached across Christian media throughout Western civilization, right? There is a distinct difference between the Christianity found in the Bible and the Christianity found throughout most of the Western world. There is no doubt that Western philosophy (i.e., secularism, relativism, subjectivism, etc.), liberal theology, Liberation Theology, and many fallacies stemming from the Charismatic/Pentecostal movement has corrupted the Gospel message in many churches, which has resulted in lies and/or severe misinformation being taught for generations.
It is clear that the intention of God has always been for mankind to understand and accept the necessity to be completely and totally dependent upon Him. From the Garden to God’s consummation of all things, man was intended to be dependent upon the grace, mercy, and salvation of El-Shaddai (God Almighty). This means that in life Christians (like previous individuals or people groups in covenant with God) will be put in situations where their measure of dependence will be tested and/or required. The only two options in those moments are either humility (the acknowledgment of weakness and one’s need for dependence) or pride (self-determination and rebellion). This is where much of what Christians experience is brought into more clarity.
There are Christians who deal with issues that they are very unwilling to admit. We pretend all is well and walk into our churches lifting our hands and praying our prayers when in reality we are dying inside. We erroneously continue to attempt satisfaction through our own efforts and always come up short. Many consider their weakness as a lack of faith, as failure, and/or a signal that maybe they aren’t even saved. Certainly, there are false professing Christians that deal with problems created by their unrepentant lives, but there are many legitimate Christ-followers that seek God and follow Him without shaking many issues like depression, addictions, anxiety, unfulfillment, and the list goes on. They struggle and work though them their entire lives. So what can we say or do about that?
The only answer for Christians in those predicaments is the acknowledgement of our pride – repentance – and our acceptance of the grace of God. In 2 Corinthians 12 Paul confessed to asking God three times to remove the harassing messenger, but God didn’t remove it. God, instead, advised Paul to rely on His grace; to be humble enough to accept his weakness and leave it to Him to make Paul stand. God wanted Paul to understand and accept the necessity for dependence (humility). Paul refers to this type of growth in trial in 2 Corinthians 1:8-9, saying,
“For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.”
When Paul understood God’s expectation his weakness no longer controlled him. Why? Because he understood that accepting his weakness and his need for dependence allowed him to rely upon God and receive the power of Christ – the only power able to overcome this world. Now, instead of being crushed by his weaknesses, he boasted in them. Instead of becoming restless, wavering, and unsettled he was able to be content through not only his weakness, but all forms of difficulty (2 Cor. 12:10). He overcame and could rest through confidence in God, Who is mighty and faithful, as he concludes his thought in verse 10, “He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again.“
We have to be resolute and come to the conclusion that Paul did by simply relinquishing control. We leave the internal belief that we can manage and manipulate our weaknesses at the door. We let go of that Pharisaical holiness that causes us to pretend we have it all together and that we can earn God’s acceptance. We humble ourselves before God and our brothers and sisters in Christ and confess our need for God’s grace. It is daily confessing the necessity for God to uphold us by His mercy and our desperate need for Him. It is daily resting in the Gospel.
How else can one conquer sin? How else can we persevere to the end but by the grace of God? We must realize that it is God that called us (Rom. 1:6, 8:28, 30, 9:24; 1 Cor. 1:1, 9; Gal 1:15; Eph. 1:18, 4:4; 2 Thess. 2:14; 2 Tim. 1:9) , God that saved us (Rom. 5:8-9; 1 Cor. 1:18; Eph. 2:18; 2 Thess. 2:13; 2 Tim. 1:9), God who makes us stand (Rom: 14:4; 2 Cor. 1:21), God who works in us to do His will (Phil. 2:13), and God who will complete the work in us (Phil. 1:6). It is simply, only, and always GOD.
God gives us grace for our miserable lives. He enables us to walk through them and walk through them with joy and victory. Only by His grace can we boast in our weaknesses and overcome them.
This understanding should be considered ordinary Christian theology, and it is, but generations of bad doctrine and malpractice has caused us to forget. We rely far too much on ourselves. We give into our carnal desire to save and fix ourselves. Embracing the Gospel means understanding that we should not and cannot rely on ourselves in the slightest. When we do we forfeit the grace of God for the works of the Law; we try to earn what we never could and what has already been paid for.
The bottom line is that there’s hope and grace for the miserable. There’s a way through your harassment. It’s the cross – the epitome of God’s grace and mercy – where we will choose to die daily or refuse daily.
I encourage you, then, to relinquish control, rest in God through Christ, and watch yourself overcome in Him. The grace of God is strong enough to justify you. Now trust that it is more than enough to sanctify and, ultimately, glorify you (Rom. 8:30).
“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” ~Ephesians 3:20-21