What’s the secret to being happy no matter your circumstances?
- Describe a time when you or someone you know faced difficult circumstances and felt that God was silent. How did this affect the way you see God?
- Do you believe that God can remove adversity in your life? Why or why not?
- Andy shared a verse in 2 Corinthians about “delighting in adversity.” What are the pros and cons of this mindset? What would you need to change in your daily life to adopt this attitude toward adversity?
- Think of an ongoing challenge that you can’t change and must accept. What potential purpose could come from it?
NOTE: The following content is a raw transcript and has not been edited for grammar, punctuation, or word usage.
Now this whole series, it revolves around a simple question, a perplexing question. And the question is this, “What do you do when there’s nothing you can do?”
What do you do when you find yourself in a set of circumstances, and there’s really no way to fix it? There’s no way out. There’s no way forward, and there’s no way out. This is the way it is, and this is the way it’s gonna be. This is all there is and as far as you see as you see in the foreseeable future, nothing’s gonna change. It could be relationally, you’re in a marriage, and it’s just not gonna be great. It’s not gonna be what you hoped it would be. You have something going on with one of your kids, and your dream for them is not coming true, and their dream for them is not coming true. It doesn’t look like it can come true. It could be something financially. It could be something professionally. It could be something physically. You have an illness or you have something that’s not gonna kill you necessarily or it’s not gonna kill you quick, but it’s gonna be an ongoing thing. It’s debilitating.
Some of your dreams won’t be able to come true. You’re gonna perhaps have to change professions. Maybe you’ll have to move, maybe it’s academic. You are never ever, ever, ever going to medical school ever, ever. You are never ever going to law school. You’re lucky to get in any school and stay there. It’s just not working out for you and it worked for your brothers, and it worked for your sisters and it worked for your cousins, and everybody in your family, but for some reason it’s just not working for you. You’re having an in-the-meantime moment. What do I do in the meantime? This is not something I can fix. This is not something I can change.
Our natural response is all the same. We get angry. Some of us get angry with God, some of us get angry with ourselves, some of us get angry with our family. You would feel like they set us up for failure. The temptation’s always to run. If you’re in a difficult marriage or if you’re in a difficult relationship that you know you should stay in. The temptation is to just cut and run, leave, I’ll start another family, it’ll be better, be different next time. We’re always tempted to give up. We’re tempted to give in. Perhaps you’re tempted to just drink it all away or develop a habit just to ease the pain, and you know that’s not the healthy thing to do, and in fact you know that trying to solve this problem is only gonna create another problem, that trying to ease this tension is actually gonna create more tension in your relationships, more tension financially, more tension professionally, and so all of us have a knee jerk reaction.
And then, of course, we look around and we compare ourselves to everybody else. Everybody else seems to have the family we were supposed to have, right? Everybody else is having the relationship that we’re supposed to have. Everybody else has the perfect marriage, and so of course we’re jealous and of course, we’re a bit resentful and ultimately we get angry. So the question is what do you do when there’s really nothing you can do? And what do you do to keep from doing things that are only gonna make things worse? We said last week that in the midst of an in the meantime set of circumstances and those in the meantime moments, we just assume that we’ll never be happy again, we start telling ourselves this, “I’ll never be happy again, nothing good can come from this, there’s no point in continuing.”
And last week, as we opened the scriptures, we looked at two accounts from the life of Jesus and we discovered that actually this was a big deal for some of us. That the presence of adversity does not equate to the absence of God. That there’s no correlation or actually, there’s no conflict between God loving you and being with you, and facing adversity in your life. The way we said it last week was that in the meantime God is not absent, God is not apathetic, and God is not angry. And there’s something in us, let’s be honest, when thing aren’t going our way, there’s something in us when things don’t seem to work out, there’s something in us when it looks like the future is just gonna be the same bad stuff, it’s long as far as we can see. There’s something in us that wonders, “God where are you? And what are you doing? And why aren’t you?” And to be honest, that’s a little bit of western thinking, we’ll talk about that in just a minute. And there’s no actual, even though emotionally it seems to be the case. There’s no actual correlation between God’s lack of cooperation and God’s love for us. And there’s no actual correlation between God’s seeming lack of cooperation, and God’s presence or God’s existence.
If you are tempted to assume or conclude that God doesn’t exist because God won’t cooperate, then you would also have been tempted to assume your parents didn’t exist because they never cooperated, right?
I mean my kids will be walking around going, “There’s no such thing as dad, there’s no such thing as dad.” If cooperation was evidence or proof that someone or something existed.
And because of social media, we are aware of how well everything seems to be working out for everyone else in the world, because we don’t just know what’s going on in our neighborhood, we know what’s going on in the upscale neighborhoods. We don’t just know what we drive and our friends drive, we know what everybody else drives. And so we have this ability that previous generations didn’t have to compare ourselves not just to the people we see, but every single other person in the world. And add that to our very positive, which I love American outlook on life when things don’t go well, when things aren’t wrinkle free we immediately throw up our hands and throw up our eyes and say, “God, why are you leaving me out? What’s wrong with me? Why I’m on the outs? There must be something wrong with me.”
And here’s the thing that helps me so much, when you open up the New Testament especially or the whole Bible, but when you open up the New Testament especially, we discover that the men and women that bring us the story of Jesus, the men and women whose stories make up the foundation of our faith were not men and women who were not acquainted with adversity. They were not strangers to adversity. That they faced all kinds of things and yet continued to believe. They faced all kinds of things and yet continued to just steady plod forward with their faith and their confidence in God. That somehow the people who bring us our faith out of the first, and second, and third, and fourth century, were not put off by adversity. They were not put off by the seeming absence of God, but somehow that fueled them in such a way that they were even more adamant about making sure that the message of Jesus Christ and the Gospel made it out of their difficult centuries to our culture and to our world today.
Perhaps the best example of this from the first century is the apostle Paul. And the reason, perhaps, he’s the best example is because the apostle Paul never met the pre-crucified Jesus. He wasn’t one of Jesus’ disciples, who walked around with Jesus. Paul came to faith after the crucifixion, after the resurrection, and after the ascension, Christians believed that Jesus went into heaven and Paul never met the pre-ascended Jesus. Paul learned what he knew about Jesus mostly from people who knew Jesus. Paul became a Jesus follower after he had been a Jesus hater. In fact if you don’t like Christians, you would really love the apostle Paul because however much you hate Christians, he hated them more. You know some Christians you think should be arrested. Paul arrested them.
And then Paul, the Christian hater, became a Jesus follower and became the greatest evangelist of his day and age, and he went all around to Greek cities and major Greek cities, planting churches, but just as he got his life right with God, to use an old fashioned term, just as he kind of came to faith, just as got in to center of God’s will and began doing the things he ought to do, after he came back, after his eyes were opened to the reality of who Jesus was, just as things, just as he was beginning to make good decisions, something really bad happened to the apostle Paul. And he was stricken with some kind of physical ailment. We don’t know exactly what it was but here’s what we do know. It wasn’t going away and it was a hindrance, and get this, it was hindrance to what he believed God had called him to do.
And so in his turmoil and in his inner wrestling with God, and ‘God why?’ and all that sort of thing, the apostle Paul learned a very, very, very valuable lesson and in his explanation, we get this key insight, an extremely important insight for the rest of us who find ourselves or will find ourselves in, and in the meantime season of life. So I wanted read you, we looked at this passage about four years within a different context. If you grew up in church, you may have heard this before. If you’re new to Bible study, this may be brand new, but here’s what the apostle Paul, the ex-Christian hater, the ex-Christian persecutor who becomes missionary, here’s how the apostle Paul described his wrestling and his inner turmoil around this affliction that happened to him, that didn’t seem to go away, one that actually was making it more difficult for him to do the very thing that God had called him to do. Here’s how he explains it in his letter to the Corinthian, 2 Corinthians Chapter 12, he says this.
“Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given“, now a little phrase in order to use a little Greek, one little Greek word that lets us know that this is a purpose statement, so the apostle Paul says, “There was a purpose behind this gift.” So the Apostle Paul choses his words carefully and he says because, “In order”, there’s purpose behind this, “to keep from becoming conceited, I was given… ” Well Paul, what were given? What was this special gift that you got to open? “I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me.”
So when I read this I think, “Well, Paul, I think you chose the wrong word right here.” I think this should be “I was given a curse” or “I was cursed with a thorn, I was punished with a thorn, I had the bad part of me exposed through a thorn,” I mean this is a positive word and this is a negative word. And the thorn, the term ‘thorn’ simply means that this was a constant irritating problem, just like a thorn. A constant irritating problem, and the fact that he used this term ‘torment’, this literally means to beat somebody up. If they were going to describe what a bully did to a kid at school, this is the term they would use. This actually meant to strike with a fist. So Paul says, “To keep me from becoming conceited, I was given the gift,” thank you very much, “of a thorn that just kept beating me up day after day after day after day.” And he says it was a messenger of Satan, and translators have struggled with what this phrase means.
Some people think that somehow literally Satan did it and God used what Satan did, and I don’t know. Other people think it’s a figure of speech, how sometimes we say, “It hurt like the devil. Boy that hurt like the devil,” I don’t even know what that means, we just mean, that just means it hurt a lot. So we don’t know if this was a figure of speech or somehow this was a theological statement, we don’t know. But what we do know and what is absolutely clear from the text, is that the apostle Paul saw this thorn as a gift with a purpose, and it wasn’t going away. Some people think it was epilepsy, that while he was speaking, while he was traveling and while he was teaching, and while he was trying to position himself as an authority with the early church, that he would have these fits and wake up and be embarrassed and you know people were, “What’s wrong?” and of course they didn’t understand epilepsy back then.
Some people think it was headaches. He definitely had some eye trouble, so some people think it was a debilitating eye disease. It kept him from writing, or reading, and maybe it was painful. Some people think because of the areas he traveled in, it could have been recurring Malaria.
So, the truth is, we don’t know exactly what it was, but here’s what we do know. It was painful like a thorn. It was humiliating, and it was debilitating. It was painful, humiliating, and debilitating. This is the guy that was called by God to spread the Gospel throughout the Gentile world. And after he became a God follower and a Christian, he developed something that was painful, humiliating, and debilitating. That should make some of us feel at least a little better. So then the Apostle Paul, and I love this part, then the Apostle Paul tells us what he did when he realized that this wasn’t going away. And the great news for you and for me is he did exactly what we would do if we found ourselves with something that was painful, humiliating, and debilitating. Here’s what he says I did. “Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. I mean, I’m the Apostle Paul and I get to write half the New Testament, but I’m not like Superman. I mean when something’s bothering me, I ask God to take it away. And this doesn’t mean I added it to my prayer list on Monday, then I prayed it, I was praying it, thanking God for my breakfast on Tuesday and I said, “Oh yeah, by the way, if you get rid of this thorn… ”
This is an indication that there were probably three seasons of his life, where this thorn, whatever it was, was so unbearable that he finally fell on his knees and said, “God, I cannot continue doing what you’ve called me to do if you don’t remove this. I can’t write. I can’t be faithful. I can’t go on unless you remove this from me.” So, three different seasons of his life it was like, “I’ve had enough, God. You’ve got to do something.”
And here’s the interesting thing. Some of you have been told that the reason you’re not getting any better and you’re life isn’t changing is because you don’t have enough faith. I don’t believe that. And the reason I don’t believe that is because I believe the Apostle Paul had more faith than all of us put together. And simply trying to faith God into something we want God to do is bad theology. And the Apostle Paul, a man of extraordinary faith, pleaded with God to do something that would allow him to do God’s will in a more energetic and powerful way. “Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, but he said to me… “And I know for some of you, it would be a major, major breakthrough for you if God would just say something to you, wouldn’t it? I think this is the thing that hurts me the most on behalf of other people, this is the thing that bothers me the most on my behalf. God, if you would say something, I mean, I can even take ‘no’ for an answer, I mean I don’t know if I wanna hear it audibly at night when I’m in bed. That will freak me out. But maybe during the day when I’m outside around other people, but if I could just get somehow, some way, any kind of recognition, any kind of indication that you’re hearing my prayers and that you know what’s going on with me.
And the first time that the Apostle Paul asked God, he heard nothing, and the second time, he heard nothing, and finally during this third season of prayer where he’s begging, “God, God, you’ve got to do something for me. You’ve got to give me some relief.” he said this, “But he said to me, my grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Now, maybe the best way to understand this sentence is to interchange these two words because in this context, they really mean the same thing. You could read it this way, “My power is sufficient for you, for my grace is made perfect in weakness.” And what God said, and what God communicated to the Apostle Paul which is what some of us need to hear today is simply this, he said, “Paul, the answer is no. I am not going to remove this from you. But I am going to give you the strength, and I’m gonna give you the power, and I’m gonna give you the grace that you need to press on in spite of the fact that it’s not going away.” That literally, literally, what this phrase means is my power reaches. My power reaches its full measure. My power reaches its full measure and is perfected in weakness. That my power, my power reaches its full potential, its full measure when you are the weakest. It’s as if God said to the Apostle Paul, “Paul, I’m gonna show off my power through your weakness. So the answer to your prayer is no. This is not going away.”
So now, the Apostle Paul had a fourth thing to add to his list. It’s painful, humiliating, debilitating, and is permanent. “Oh, and by the way, Paul, I love you, and I’m gonna use you, and people are gonna name their children after you. They’re gonna name their children Paul and their dogs Nero.”
In other words, Paul, I haven’t forgotten about you. You are still right in the center of my will. But Paul, the answer to your question of, “Will you remove my adversity? Will you change my circumstances? Will you ease my pain?” “My answer to you is no. But no with a promise. My grace will be sufficient for you.” So, what do you do when you’re the Apostle Paul and God, who you’re serving with all your heart and soul and risking your life almost every day says no, and now you have an issue that’s painful, humiliating, debilitating and permanent. And what the apostle Paul writes next, I’m telling you I know for some of you you don’t read the bible, the bible is not true, the bible’s made up, the bible’s written by men and na, na, na, na that’s why your English teacher told you.
I get it. I’ve heard all that. I’m just telling you what he writes next, these are the kind of statements I just go, “Nobody would make this up. This so comes from a heart that was in tune with the will of God in the first century.” Here’s what he writes next, so we asked the question, “Paul so what are you going to do in the meantime?” What are you going to do in the meantime? What are you going to do in the meantime?” And here’s what he says, he says, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weakness so that,” here’s another purpose statement, “So that,” a little clause, “So that Christ’s power may rest on me.” If you have a different translation of the bible, this word is also translated glory. Here’s what he’s saying.
He’s saying therefore since this is not going to go away, since this is going to continue to get in the way, since this is going to continue to get in my way, since this is going to continue to be something people associate with me, since people are going to constantly say, “I wonder why God doesn’t.” Here’s what I’m gonna do with this thing that just won’t go away. Here’s what I’m gonna do. Here’s how I’m gonna respond to this adversity that I wouldn’t wish on anyone and yet God has given it to me. I’m going to boast then I’m going to glory in it to use a phrase that we talk about with our dog, I’m gonna roll around in it. I’m gonna get it all over me. I’m not gonna hide from it. I’m not gonna pretend. I’m not gonna shield it. I’m not gonna lie. I’m not gonna dodge it. I’m not gonna make excuses for it. If God has chosen this for me then I’m gonna surface it and I’m gonna embrace it. I’m gonna own it. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weakness. When people say,
“Paul, did you hear about the apostle Paul?” Yeah, but you can ask him about it. It’s not a secret. He’ll talk about it. It’s not a secret. I will boast all the more gladly about my weakness so that, because there’s a purpose. So that, because there’s a result. So that because there’s an outcome. So that Christ’s power may rest on me. So what are you going to do in the meantime Paul? I’m gonna own it. I’m gonna embrace it. I’m going to allow it to define me so that I can bounce off of it gloried back to my heavenly father. Wow. Now Here’s another way of saying the same thing. Embracing your inability is a prerequisite to experiencing Christ’s ability. That’s what he’s saying.
Embracing your inability. Embracing your inability. In other words he’s saying, “I’m not gonna hide from it run from it. I realize that in order for me to experience Christ’s power through me. In order to,” this is important. “In order to experience the grace that God has promised through this circumstance I have to embrace the circumstance. Embracing your inability is a prerequisite to experiencing Christ’s ability.” Here’s why that’s important. Because for some of you, for some of us at every stage of life when we bump up against this thing, when we bump up against those unchangeable circumstances, when we bump up against a thing that’s an embarrassment we hope nobody finds out. It’s a disability. It’s caused us to not be as whatever it was that we wanted to be. Our tendency is to hide. Our tendency is to pretend. And our tendency is to lie. And what the apostle Paul is saying is this. “When I got over all of that and I embraced this and saw it as a gift I experience Christ’s power in me.”
“This is why,” and he concludes with this, “This is why for Christ’s sake I delight in weaknesses and insults. In hardships. In persecutions. In difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” To which we say, “But that’s not the American way.” To which Paul would say, “And that’s why you are not experiencing the grace of God in the area in which you struggle the most.” Now all of that to say, I think all of this hinges on the phrase that appears at the beginning of this little piece, but important piece of literature. And it’s this statement right here.
“In order to, I was given a thorn. In order to, I was given a thorn that God had a purpose and God had a reason. And for God to fulfill his will in this world through me, he gave me a gift and the gift was a thorn. It was a gift with a promise and a purpose. But I had to see it as a gift not an enemy. I had to receive it and embrace it instead of resisting it. And once I received it as a gift, once I received it as a gift that had a purpose in order that. And once I received it as a gift with a promise my grace is sufficient. Then something powerful happened that would not have happened any other way.”
And that brings us to us. And here’s what I want to say as we conclude. This interesting and uncomfortable idea. So listen carefully. If you believe, which I believe most of you do, If you believe that somehow God could, through human circumstances or through supernatural circumstances, if you believe that God could somehow change your circumstances, heal your body, heal your son, win the lottery, whatever it would take. If you believe that somehow God could change your circumstances, but that God has chosen not to, you have the option, and I’ll come back to that word in just a minute. You have the option to receive whatever it is you’re dealing with as a gift with a purpose and a promise.
If you believe that God could if he would, change your circumstances and you’ve prayed and prayed and prayed, but it looks like that God is not going to act on your behalf the way that you want God to act. You have the option to change your attitude and your perspective about whatever it is you’re facing, and you have the option to receive it as a gift with a purpose and a promise. The purpose is yet to be made known. The promise is, “My grace is sufficient for you”. The reason I say you have the option is because I think I would be overstepping my boundaries as a pastor and a communicator to say, “You must view this as a gift.” I think this is something that people come to individually. I think that this is something that God leads us up to the edge of. I think this is almost a revelation, it’s like our eyes have to be open.
It takes that time, like it did for my friend Debbie where you struggle and you wrestle, and you struggle and you wrestle and you strive and you resist. And then, at some point you come to the place where you realize, “I think instead of striving and struggling I’m going to choose to view this as a gift with a purpose and a promise”. And if you think that’s odd, and if this butts up against the theology that you grew up with, which is if you have enough faith God will answer your prayer and the reason things aren’t going well for you is ’cause you don’t have enough faith which is not biblical, which is not New Testament which, by the way, does not reflect anything in any of the lives of the people that brought us the gospel, by the way.
If you were brought up with that kind of thinking, this is difficult, and if you think this is un-Christian and if you think is this somehow an expression of a lack of faith, I just wanna put your adversity within a broader context. Because your savior, my Savior, the Savior of the world faced a not too dissimilar situation in his own life. Because the Gospels tell us that at the end of Jesus ministry, the night before he would be crucified that he was wrestling with his heavenly Father. And here’s what Luke tells us that wrestling match sounded like. He says that he withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, and them were his disciples who fell asleep while he was praying. Perhaps you know that story.
And listen to what Jesus prayed. “Father, Father, Father, if you are willing, which means I know you are able. I know you are able. I have perfect faith that if you chose to, I have perfect faith that you have the power to. I have perfect confidence that if you chose to, you could. If you are willing, take this cup from me. Father, you have placed into my hands a gift that is anything other than a gift, and I realize that this gift has a purpose that will impact potentially every human being that’s ever born. And I know not only that it has a purpose, but it comes with a promise that someone you’ll sustain me through this. But heavenly Father, if you would be so willing, would you please take this gift away from me? Would you please take this cup away from me? But if you choose to say, “No. Yet not my will but yours be done”
And in some small way, but I think in some significant and powerful way when you choose to opt to see your adversity as a gift with a purpose and a promise in some powerful, powerful way. And I think this is why it’s so transformational for the people who do this. You enter into the sufferings of your savior, Jesus Christ. And this is why people on the other side say, “I would never choose it again, but I would not give anything for what I learned. I would never choose it again, but I wouldn’t give anything for what God used it to do in the lives of other people. I would never choose it again, and yet when I look back on the purpose that was revealed and the power of God that I felt during those down times, and those dark days and those dark moments when I didn’t think I could go one more minute. What I’ve experienced and what I’ve seen, I look back and I say, “Yes, it was a gift with a purpose and a promise”. The good news is we have permission to ask that our cups be taken and our thorns removed. The not so great news is that sometimes God says, “No”.
And every single one of us who calls Jesus our Lord, is grateful that our heavenly Father said “No” to his son in the Garden of Gethsemane. And what we learn there, and what we learn from the Apostle Paul, and what we learn from some of our friends and neighbors, is that sustaining grace, sustaining grace begins with not my will, but thy will be done. That sustaining grace, the grace that becomes the power that allows you to put one foot in front of another, one day after another, is the grace that begins with, if you’re not gonna remove it, not my will, but thy will be done.
So, if you are in an in-the-meantime season of life, I just want to offer this as an option. Would you be willing to consider, would you be willing to consider receiving it as a gift with a purpose and a promise? The purpose is yet to be revealed, but the promise is right now, “My grace is sufficient for you.” My power will be made perfect in your weakness. This is an opportunity. I believe it’s an invitation to receive what otherwise is seen as a bad thing, as a gift from your heavenly Father with a purpose and a promise.