The Beauty of Suffering
So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about ther, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
I did not get to know Billie very well. We only met a few times over the past year that I have been the pastor here. We met doing one of her favorite things, watching one of her great-grandkids play ball. After talking to friends and family, it was apparent that Billie loved her family. Everyone I have had the chance to talk to loved Billie, especially her beloved husband, David, and her children, Christy, Kimberly, Jonathan, and Ashlee.
Unfortunately, several years ago Billie was diagnosed with COPD and the past several years have been a constant battle with the disease. Several times, I went to the hospital to visit Ms. Billie, as she struggled for life against the disease. It’s apparent that Billie was suffering. We cannot escape the fact that life involves the extremes of joy and sadness, laughter and crying, pleasure and suffering. As we gather today, we gather knowing that in the life of Billie, one side of the scale seems most prevalent. Momentarily, our joy is covered with sadness, tears have washed away laughter, and Billie has concluded her long journey of suffering.
One of the challenges that we must face is realizing that joy, laughter and pleasure have not departed, but have only been veiled by this season. As the author of Revelation has stated, “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death.” ()
The journey of suffering is not an easy one. Billie knew this well, but so did her family who suffered not the physical effects of her injury, but the emotional effects of watching one they loved suffer.
That’s why I think many of you, and especially Billie could empathize with Paul, who spoke so freely about his own suffering. He spoke of the three times he received forty lashes save one by the Jews, was beaten with rods three times, was shipwrecked three times and was stoned once.
However, Paul’s worst suffering came from her “thorn in the flesh”. We do not know what his thorn was, but we do know that it was bad enough that he asked God three times to remove it. This was not a game to Paul but a very serious matter.
God’s response to Paul was not to take away his suffering, but rather to say, “My grace is sufficient for you” (v. 9) Our first impression might be that God had not taken the plea of Paul seriously, but Paul understood his circumstances as a way of making him open to Christ’s strength. Paul depended upon God in all his circumstances.
For us today, the question that comes to mind is why didn’t God heal Paul, and why didn’t God heal Billie? There certainly was not a shortage of prayer from her family nor her other churches! For the present time, that question must remain unanswered. Yet we can be assured that God took no pleasure in the suffering of Billie.
God is no sadist. The God we worship cries with us in our pain. In all circumstances He is at work for good. As our heavenly Father, loves us with an everlasting love. He knows us and sees us and desires relationship with us so why does God not bring healing immediately? We simply do not know the answer to this question. We see, as it says in , “through a glass, darkly”. We see only in part. But I do know this: One day we will see in full. God’s great promise to us is that one day we will stand before Christ and what was once hidden from us will be revealed.
As family and friends, you suffer too. Grief has turned your joy into sadness, your laughter into tears. Yet you can know that in this moment of pain, God strength is sufficient. The same promise God made to Paul, he makes to us, “my grace is sufficient for you.”
In we find this:
Behold, the Lord God comes with might, and her arm rules for him; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him.
He will tend her flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in her arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.
I cannot tell you why good people suffer. I cannot tell you why people become ill and die. For Paul and Isaiah, God came in strength during moments of weakness. In moments of pain he “carried them in his bosom and gently lead” them through the valley.
Isaiah then goes on to say all this is not in vain, that God comes to those who wait, and after a long descent of growing weary, God keeps her promise, that “they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.”
For you, this promise holds firm. If you would lean upon the Lord, he would be a source of great comfort and warmth for you. But more importantly, if you would put your faith and trust in His Son Jesus he will be a Savior for your soul. If there is one thing I know for sure it is this: If Ms. Billie was here today, after all that she has seen over the past few days, she would beg you to come to know Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. She would say to each of us, “If you don’t know Him, then accept Him.” There is no doubt that Billie wants each of you today to know Jesus as your Lord and Savior. In Romans, it says that each of us have one life to live and after that the judgment. Do you know Jesus today?
Today, as you think about Billie, ask yourselves if you know Him. If you do, thank God that His strength is sufficient to see you through the days ahead. David, Christy, Kimberly, Jonathan, Ashlee, God loves you. He hurts with you and His strength is sufficient for you. PRAYER