CAN YOU HEAR ME NOW?
MESSAGES IN OUR PAIN
by Pastor Martha-Jean Fitch
July 22, 2018
TEXT: II Corinthians 12:1-10
“Can you hear Me now?” God has a love language for you and for me. Because of the Holy Spirit at work in us, God is continually reaching out to us – to speak to us and to build that personal relationship with us. God created each of us with a unique personality and He chooses to communicate with us in any way He can. For example, we know in Scripture that He spoke to Moses through a burning bush – to Balaam through a donkey and to Elijah through a still, small voice. In the same way, each of us are unique and will hear God whispering to us in different ways. We’ve heard that God speaks to us through Scripture and through other people, through our dreams and our desires and through those open and closed doors. Today, we come to hear how God speaks to us through our pain.
This boasting will do no good, but I must go on. I will reluctantly tell about visions and revelations from the Lord.2 I was caught up to the third heaven fourteen years ago. Whether I was in my body or out of my body, I don’t know—only God knows. 3 Yes, only God knows whether I was in my body or outside my body. But I do know 4 that I was caught up to paradise and heard things so astounding that they cannot be expressed in words, things no human is allowed to tell.
Now – doesn’t that sound like an amazing vision to have? We don’t know what it really means. Some people think that when Paul was stoned and left for dead, he may have had a near death experience and that is what he is describing here – a wonderful vision of heaven.
But that isn’t what Paul wants to boast in. No – he wants to boast in his weakness. Let’s continue to verse 5:
5 That experience is worth boasting about, but I’m not going to do it. I will boast only about my weaknesses. 6 If I wanted to boast, I would be no fool in doing so, because I would be telling the truth. But I won’t do it, because I don’t want anyone to give me credit beyond what they can see in my life or hear in my message, 7 even though I have received such wonderful revelations from God. So, to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud.
What was this thorn in the flesh that Paul was talking about? Paul never defines it. We know that in Greek, the word for thorn is skolopos – which is more like a long, pointed stake.4 This wasn’t just a splinter. It was a sharp stake – much like criminals were impaled upon. This stake was figuratively speaking, twisting and scourging his body - bringing continual agony.
But what exactly was his thorn in the flesh? Some have believed Paul had poor eyesight and others think he had migraine headaches or malaria. Whatever it was, it really bothered him. In fact, he suffered a great deal because of it. He prayed 3 times for God to remove that thorn in the flesh, but God didn’t do that. Instead God gave Paul the strength to endure – to cope with the pain he was living with. Paul says in II Corinthians 12:8-10: 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 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 about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
Wow! What a statement of faith! He knew how to trust God in the most difficult of times. And He could hear God speaking to him during those painful times saying, “My grace is enough; it’s all you need.”
You know, I think that Paul intentionally didn’t tell us what his thorn in the flesh was – because this metaphor could be used for any one of us. We each could relate to that thorn in the flesh that way. I am sure that if you had some time to reflect, you could probably come up with some way you have experienced a thorn in the flesh.
You see there several truths I think we must remember about pain. First – God never promised we would be without pain. We live in a fallen sinful world – and all of us, at one point or another will have pain or suffering in our life. God never promised we would live a pain-free life – but God did promise He would be with us no matter what the pain is. Romans 8 tells us that there is not any trouble or hardship, no worry or sin, nothing, not even death itself will ever be able to separate us from the love of God we know in Christ Jesus. God is always with us – even when we can’t feel Him near. And God can carry us through whatever pain and suffering we must endure here on earth.
Next, while God is able to remove and heal the pain in our life – He doesn’t always do that. As it says in a song by Scott Krippayne: “Sometimes He calms the storm, with a whispered peace be still. Sometimes He holds us close and lets the wind and waves go wild. Sometimes He calms the storm and other times He calms His child.”5
This past week I have heard and read several testimonies of how God has spoken to various people through their pain. There are so many stories, I could go on for several hours, sharing the stories. My college roommate was completely heart-broken and in anguish cried out to God, saying she couldn’t carry her pain any more – she wanted God to carry it. She was suddenly filled with a peace and calm. That happened many times in her life.
In a similar way, our daughter Mary has had an incredible sense of God walking with her as she has experienced the pain of 2 miscarriages. She writes this: During my second pregnancy, I prayed every morning and every-time I thought about my baby that God would protect my baby. That God would create a healthy baby. 9 weeks into the pregnancy I started spotting. I knew I was losing the baby. I didn't know how to pray for my baby. I didn't know how to pray to God. It felt like all the prayers I had prayed for 9 weeks were left unanswered. And I was angry!
"What is the point of praying, if it doesn't work", is what I thought. I was in so much emotional pain thinking about losing a second child, that I didn't know how to pray. And so that morning … instead of complaining to God or blaming God, all I could do was cry out, "God change my prayer. I don't know what to pray right now, so God change my prayer." I knew I could no longer pray for a healthy baby, since my baby was already gone. But I knew that my prayer needed to change, but I didn't know how. Later that day as I miscarried at home, my prayer changed. It became, "God help me to trust in your strength to get me through this weekend." It was a big weekend in the life of the church. I was preaching, singing in church, and leading an all-church ice cream social on the lawn. I didn't know how I would get through all this emotionally, much less physically. But my prayer did change. In the midst of my pain, I could have chosen to complain and blame God and really focus on how much it hurt. But instead I allowed God to carry me in my pain. It didn't take away the pain. But it helped me to find the hope that the pain wouldn't last forever. A few weeks later, I saw a picture of God holding 2 babies, and it was almost like God was telling me that one day I would see my two babies that I lost. And so I prayed that since didn't get to hold my babies on my lap and them about God, that God would hold them in His lap and tell them about me and their daddy until that day when I get to see them and hold them in my eternal home.
Pastor Rick Warren, in speaking about his own son’s suicide back in 2016, shared how he clinged to God’s promises through his horrible pain. He said, “Pain can obscure God’s promises but it can’t nullify them.”6 In the midst of the pain, we may not always see or feel the promises of God – and we may feel like we have to wait forever for them to be fulfilled – but God is still there and will keep His promises.
Our newest church member, Earl Shelton, served in the United States Army in Vietnam. In 1971, Earl became very ill and discovered that he had a brain tumor. He spent several months at the VA Hospital in Tucson, Arizona after having surgery to remove the tumor. The tumor was removed on the right side of his head and affected his hearing in his right ear – as well as the nerves in his voice box – leaving him weak on his right side. He was in ICU for 4 months and in a regular room for another 2 months, doing therapy, learning how to speak and swallow particularly.
While in the hospital, he felt discouraged and had lost his will to live. At that time, he noticed a figure in the door way of his hospital room. It was Jesus, and he was telling Earl that “This is not your time to go. Earl this is not your time.”
After this vision left him, Earl let tremendous comfort and peace. After receiving this good news and gift of hope, his health and mental state began to improve. It is this image of Jesus that has stayed with him throughout all the years since – giving him hope and peace for the future.
You see God can help us find gems in the midst of the pain that will help you for the rest of your life. If you open your eyes and heart, you can find glimpses of God everywhere, carrying you through your days of trial. That’s what Steph Line found as she has grieved the loss of three of her family members in the last three years. Steph writes: Throughout it all God has spoken to me. Most often it was through people. Placing a special nurse in our lives who sang praise songs as she cared for Dad. Sending friends and family who stuck with us and gave us extra care. Signs of God were everywhere. We just had to look. A favorite scripture framed outside a hospice room, a prayer blanket of Lynne's favorite color reminding us of the many blankets she made. Lots of music with words that soothed as it brought tears or laughter. God is good and spoke to us through those tough times and continues to do so.
One more thing about pain and weakness that I have truly learned is that: Every weakness is an opportunity to show His strength in your life. Instead of hiding our pain in silence, we have a chance to put God’s grace on display! Our lives – painful as they might be – can be a great testimony to how God is glorious even when our circumstances are not. I have had so many people ask me how I can continue to go on with a chronic headache and eye pain and I always answer: “Only by the grace of God.” I have had many opportunities to share with people how prayer is what gives me strength when I feel weak, knowing that I can do all things through Christ who gives me the strength. It is His power moving through me that gives me the ability to get through each day. And my pain is but a small part of all the suffering He went through for me. I can go through the pain knowing that He understands what it is like to be in pain. No matter what pain or weakness we may be going through – He understands. Scripture tells us that He is able to sympathize with our weaknesses – because He was tempted and suffered just like we are – but did not sin. We can go to the throne of grace and receive the strength we need – right when we need it. (Hebrews 4:15-16) And that will be an opportunity for us to display His strength and glory to a watching and hurting world. You may never know how God will use your witness in the midst of your pain to help someone else.
Think back to the story of the Apostle Paul. Remember how he pleaded with God three times for that thorn of the flesh to be removed? I heard a sermon this past week that made a connection that Jesus pleaded three times as well for the cup to be removed – that cup of pain and suffering He was to drink in dying for us. But God did not remove that cup – and Jesus experienced that thorn in the flesh – that crown of thorns that pierced his head. All because of love for you and for me…God’s purpose was accomplished through the Savior’s pain.
Could it be that God can still work today through your pain and mine?
1Daniel Ritchie, “God Shouts to us in our Pain.” https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/god-shouts-to-us-in-our-pain
2My friend Kathleen Geeseman shared this on my Facebook page on July 17, 2018.
3Colin Smith, “Weakness”. www.unlockingthebible.com
4William Barclay, Letters to the Corinthians, Saint Andrew Press, 1956.
5Scott Krippayne, “Sometimes He Calms the Storms” - http://www.metrolyrics.com/sometimes-he-calms-the-storm-lyrics-scott-krippayne.html
6 Leah Marieann Klett, “Pastor Rick Warren Discusses Son's Suicide, God's Faithfulness: 'Your Greatest Ministry Comes Out of Your Weakness’”