Thursday, August 1, 2019

A Sufficient Grace

Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. 9 And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. (2 Corinthians 12.8-9 NKJV)

When my wife and I were missionaries in Germany, we often traveled to different countries to preach. One thing we noticed about the interior of many church buildings was that passages of Scripture were written on the walls. I’ve never thought too much of that being on top of the list for interior design, but it was a common practice there. 

You don’t really see that too much in the States. Emmanuel Faith Community Church, the church we attended for 20+ years, had part of this passage prominently displayed in the lobby: “My grace is sufficient for thee.” Over the years I found the words a great comfort. This was especially true when my son and daughter-in-law lost their first child (our first grandchild), who was still born. 

I’ll never forget entering the lobby in preparation for the memorial service, grief-stricken, angry, and confused, head and shoulders slumped in despair. Looking above the sanctuary doors, I saw the answer I needed: “MY GRACE IS SUFFICIENT FOR THEE.” The reality of that word from the Lord struck me powerfully. 

Have you labored with this as well? Perhaps you’ve experienced a family crisis, a financial calamity, a prolonged sickness, wayward children, the loss of a loved one, or unanswered prayer, and you are struggling for equilibrium. Oh, dear friend, please hear these tender words from the Lord: “My grace is sufficient for thee.” 

In this passage, Paul says that there is something he has deliberately been praying for. In fact, he has prayed for it specifically three times. A lot of ink has been used to describe what this might have been. Some have said it was Judaizers, men who followed him from town to town disrupting his ministry. Some have suggested it was a physical ailment, perhaps poor eyesight. 

The point of this devotion is not to identify the object of his prayer, but rather, to see the answer to it. And of course, the answer comes from God, Whose grace is sufficient for every situation. Let’s take a moment to see what Paul did in his moment of weakness.

First, he sought the Lord. The NKJV and NIV says he “pleaded.” The KJV says he “besought.” The 
NAS says he “implored.” The word used comes from the Greek parakaleo. It is a compound word uniting para, meaning “alongside,” and kaleo, “to call.” The Greek lexicon defines parakaleo“to call or invite near, to beseech, entreat, or pray.” 

In his time of weakness, Paul passionately called out to God to come alongside him and remove the irritant from his life. Rather than the continual struggle, Paul would have preferred to have his problem removed. That’s a normal response. “Dear God, please remove this pain from my life.” 

I don’t know about you, but I have prayed that prayer many times in my 40+ years of serving the Lord. Paul, in essence, prayed, “Lord, make this thing depart from me.” The KJV and NKJV say “depart.” The NAS says “leave.” The NIV says “take it away.” The MESSAGE says “remove.” The word comes from the Greek aphistemi, defined as: to remove, desist, desert, depart, refrain, fall away, or be withdrawn. 

Now, I believe that God could have removed his “thorn in the flesh” instantly. It would have been no problem for God. He does “whatever He pleases” (Psalm 115.3). It just seems to me that if God had removed that particular problem, another one would have eventually come to take its place. I’m not being pessimistic here; neither am I lacking faith. Jesus stated that in this sin-sick world, we are going to have tribulation—you can count on it (John 16:33). In fact, He told us that each day has its own quota of evil. “So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own”(Matthew 6.34 NAS). 

So instead of removing the obstacle, Paul was comforted, as was I, with these tender words—don’t worry about it, keep hanging in there because “My grace is sufficient for thee.” I like the Greek word for “sufficient” here. It’s arkeo, an old word that seems to be a primary verb with the idea to raise a barrier or to ward off. By implication, it means to avail, or to be satisfactory, enough, or sufficient.

“Don’t worry, Paul,” God seems to be saying. “Whatever your difficulty or problem, My grace is satisfactory in warding it off. You have everything you need in My grace for protection and empowerment to deal with this or any other situation. All the help you need is right here.” Why? God told him, “My strength … .” That’s right—God brings His strength into the situation. There is no lack there. 

The Greek word for strength is dunamis, here meaning a force or mighty power, strength, or mighty work. God places at our disposal His dynamic power, which is made “perfect in weakness.” I love the fact that God reminds us that in our weakness, He is there in His mighty power. It reminds me of the first words of an old gospel hymn that says, “I am weak, but Thou art strong!” 

If you are frustrated and weary from bearing your thorn in the flesh, or if you are saddened or angry over certain events happening in your life, would you please stop for a moment and let God speak these refreshing words to your heart:My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” 

When these words saturate your spirit, it will have an effect on you as it did with Paul. See it there in verse 10? “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.” 

Paul came to the right conclusion concerning his “thorn in the flesh” and many difficulties of life. I hope you do the same!