There have been a couple of times in the last week where the devotional readings have been in 2 Corinthians 11. This chapter lists all the hardships that Paul has endured for the sake of the Gospel. There were shipwrecks, floggings, beaten with rods, a stoning incident, danger from his countrymen and from bandits; the list continues with all that he has endured (not to mention the prison time). When Paul started his walk with Jesus back on the Damascus road, did he understand what all he was going to have to endure? There is one little statement the Lord told Ananias when Ananias was given the task to open Paul’s eyes. Ananias was trying to point out to the Lord just who this Paul (or Saul at the time) was and the harm that had come to the brotherhood by his hand. The Lord sends Ananias with “Go!” Acts 9:16 the Lord says “I will show him (Saul/Paul) how much he must suffer for my name.” I wonder if we were to see how much we were going to suffer, would we still follow Jesus?
When I was growing up, I never heard that following Jesus was going to be hard. Sure, it was going to be hard to follow the rules. I tried and failed so many times. But I had no clue that when we take the steps of faith, there will be opposition meeting us head on. Adversity is our character builder. Having an easy life doesn’t give us much of a foundation in developing our faith muscles. Faith has to be built with hardships. If Paul did not go through all that he went through, would the letters he sent to the churches be in our Bibles today? If he didn’t spend time in the prisons, would he have written as many letters? Probably not, to both of those questions. He was a gifted man for sure. But his character was built on his hardships. He could impart wisdom like no one else to those he was encouraging along the way (and to us today!). He had been there, done that and lived to tell about it! Psalm 118:17 became his testimony: “I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the Lord has done.”
On Paul’s way to Rome, the shipwreck that is recorded in Acts 27 tells of the fear that the men were experiencing in the storm. Fourteen days they endured the wind and the waves and all was hopeless; they feared death was coming. However, Paul gave the men encouragement. An angel had visited him and gave him a word that no one would be lost and Paul believed that word. Paul must get to his destination to stand trial before Caesar. God used Paul mightily to get the message to the world. It wasn’t easy, but Paul was faithful in doing all that God called him to. It started with a simple message to the one who would open Paul’s eyes – “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel.”
No matter what we are called to do, our faith will be tested. This is not an easy life. Adversity is the building blocks for our character. Our character is essential to sustain us for our future; the future that God has planned for us. So many times I don’t want to endure the trial – the adversity. I have wanted to run in the other direction. I want out of the situation. But this is God’s way of refining my character. I need the adversity to make me stronger – to have a greater testimony. A couple of years ago, I went on my first mission trip. Before I went, Scripture kept speaking to me about suffering. I thought the trip was going to harder than it was. I didn’t suffer at all. So I forgot the message that suffering was coming. What I now understand is that we all will suffer at some point in our lives. It helps identify with Jesus and the suffering He endured for us (but not to the same extent). But it also draws us to God and develops a deeper relationship with Jesus. As Paul ends his life, he tells Timothy in the second letter (4:7): “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” In the end, this is what we are all called to do. Keep the faith for it pleases God! Isn’t that our greatest accomplishment, to please God?!
Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing. James 1:2-4 (NLT)