2nd Corinthians – Wayne Barber/Part 45
By: Dr. Wayne Barber
|By: Dr. Wayne Barber; ©2006|
|We talked about the pain of persecution last time, but this time, the prize that is hidden in weakness. In the humanistic world in which we live, the word “weakness” is not an acceptable term. This is “Suffering for the Sake of Christ” – Part 2|
The Prize of Hidden Weakness (2 Cor 11:29)
Turn with me to 2 Corinthians 11. We’ll go into chapter 12 today. We’re talking about “Suffering for the Sake of Christ,” and today we want to talk about the “Prize that is Hidden in Weakness.” Now, we talked about the pain of persecution last time, but this time, the prize that is hidden in weakness. In the humanistic world in which we live, the word “weakness” is not an acceptable term.
Now, if you’re an athlete or have been an athlete, you understand immediately what I’m about to say. You walk into the locker room. I don’t know how many locker rooms I’ve seen this sign: When the going gets tough, the tough get going. I’ve heard a coach say many times, “Suck it up, boy. Suck it up. What do you mean you don’t feel well? Get up. Are you weak? Run 10 laps, boy, and when you drop down, get up and run five more.” You see, we just don’t tolerate weakness in the humanistic world in which we live.
But I want to assert to you today, contrary to this thinking, in the Christian world it’s only in weakness that a believer has, finally, the opportunity to experience Christ’s strength in his life. When we realize we cannot do it, when we can’t, that’s the only time we’re going to realize He really can. He said He would and He can.
After illustrating the pain that Paul had gone through and persecution and then expressing his concern, not for one church but all of the churches, he says in verse 29, “Who is weak without my being weak?” The word “weak” in verse 29 is the word astheneo. It sometimes translates “sick,” but that is not really the meaning of the word. Maybe a context could couch it that way, but the word is much deeper than that. The word means a person is at his weakness point, he’s at the end of himself. Now, whether this be spiritually or emotionally or physically or all three, whatever, it’s the place in one’s journey where failure to do or failure to be has brought someone, a believer particularly, to the point of desperation.
This weakness could have come from many ways. It could have come from one’s failure to try to conquer sin in his life, knowing that victory is not us overcoming sin but victory is Jesus overcoming us. And maybe he’s trying to conquer it in his own strength and because of that has fallen back into its grasp and grip, and he’s failed. It could have come when God put an unlovable person in his life. I’ve always marveled at this. I think he parachutes them into my life—“You know what, Wayne? You need this person” —and puts them right in my life. And instead of loving them like we’re commanded to do, we try to do things in our flesh; and as a result of that we end up full of bitterness and hatred.
You see, weakness is when one is stripped of any and all reason to take any pride in himself and his own ability. But weakness is the place every believer must go if he is to enter the fullness of what Christ offers to him. For Paul to identify with another’s weakness as he does in verse 29, he would have had to have been there himself. For you comfort wherein you have been comforted. In verse 29 he reaches out to those who are weak and can do nothing. And I keep wanting to say this: when we see our weakness, something happens. When we get off of our pedestal and we stop thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought to think, and we begin to see flesh for what it is, and we begin to see the weakness and the frailty of it, that’s usually the time that we become very sensitive to the sins of our weak flesh.
And, by the way, this is the prelude to revival: When a person is brought to a desperate end, when a person comes to the point of his weakness, when a person is willing to say, “I can’t, God, I cannot do it but You can,” and begins to see the sins of his religious flesh and begins to see the sins of his rebellious flesh.
So Paul goes on in verse 29 and says, “Who is led into sin without my intense concern?” We’ve done something with these apostles sometimes that we should not have done. They’re not gods; they struggle just like we struggle. We see Paul struggle in Romans 7 when he puts himself up against the pure, perfect standard of the law. He sees his flesh. That’s the best time to see your flesh. And Paul says in Romans 7:24-25, “Wretched man that I am!” And that word “wretched” has that idea of “nobody knows the troubles I’ve seen, nobody knows but Jesus.” That’s the word “wretched.” He’s burdened down.
“Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?” It’s called the “body of sin” in chapter 6 of Romans. And then he gives the answer. The same One who set him free from its penalty will set him free from its power. “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” You see, Paul is deeply concerned with those who are weak. He’s been weak. He’s deeply concerned for those who have sinned. He’s sinned. He knows the weakness and the sickness of his flesh. And it’s in the weakened state of the believer, broken and sensitive to the sinfulness of his flesh, that he finally, finally, can open his eyes and see what Christ really offers to him.
In fact, Paul continues and says in verse 30—and this is powerful, this is so contradictory to what we see in the world today—he says, “If I have to boast, I will boast of what pertains to my weakness.” He’s learned the secret, hasn’t he? He’s learned what happens in weakness if we’ll allow it to take place. What a contrast to the arrogant false teachers, these boastful people that were plaguing the church in Corinth.
Paul’s résumé is the résumé of one who, in his weakness, not in his humanistic strength, has come to know the strength and the fullness of Christ. Rather than boast about his strengths, Paul understood now; he boasted about his failures; he boasted about his humiliation; he boasted about his weaknesses; he boasted about his suffering. He had discovered the prize that is hidden in our suffering and the consequent weakness that comes from it, which is to experience Christ.
In verses 31-33 Paul, in utter humility, shares one of the weakest moments of his journey as being an apostle. He had to flee from his enemies in one particular place, and I’m sure the shame was there because he loves to, with integrity, face his enemy. It says in 11:31, “The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, He who is blessed forever, knows that I am not lying.” That was a very appropriate thing to say in their culture, because people seem to doubt everything you say so he puts credibility behind it.
He says in verse 32, “In Damascus the ethnarch under Aretas the king was guarding the city of the Damascenes in order to seize me, and I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall,” how humbling, how humiliating to Paul, “and so escaped his hands.” Do you see him boasting in his humiliation? Let me show you. If you followed him very carefully, hopefully I’ve helped you to do that, he is countering everything that is evidently being said by the false apostles in Corinth. All their deceptive claims with false humility they were evidently speaking about how they had suffered. The apostle Paul countered it in chapter 11. He said, “I bear the marks of Christ. I’m insane thinking about you suffering for Christ.”
And then in chapter 12 that we’ll enter into in just a bit, he counters the false claims that they had which made them look more spiritual, and that was the spiritual revelations that they had. They thought they were really spiritual. If you studied 1 Corinthians, this was a huge problem. In chapters 12 and 14 they thought that anything emotional was spiritual, and if you had these great spiritual experiences in revelation you must really be spiritual. Boy, it sounds like the 21st century, doesn’t it?
But let’s remember something here: as we go through this we’re going to talk about an experience that Paul had as he counters the false teachers. Remember, tucked away, hidden in this is the prize of weakness. It’s going to sneak up on you. It won’t come up until the third point, but in the midst of all that we’re going to be talking about we can find that in our weakness Christ’s strength is made perfect.
The danger of spiritual experience
First of all, the danger of spiritual experience. “What do you mean by the danger? I want to experience Him.” I do too, and there’s nothing wrong with spiritual experience, but there’s a danger in it. Spiritual pride is a dangerous thing and it’s usually bred in some emotional, unusual perhaps, experience that we have in our journey with the Lord. Once a person has this unusual spiritual experience, unusual because he’d never experienced it before, the tendency is to think of himself as being more spiritual.
And I’ve just told you that the whole culture of the Corinthian church was based on that kind of thing. If it was loud, if it was emotional, it must be of God and he must be spiritual. Paul detested bragging about any experience he ever had with the Lord Jesus Christ. He does so very hesitantly because he doesn’t want to do this. He says in 12:1, “Boasting is necessary, though it is not profitable; but I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord.”
Now because of the gravity of the problem in Corinth, remember what we’ve been studying, and because of the false teachers’ error that they had been planting in the people’s minds, the apostle Paul feels he must go on and he must counter what they’re saying about these super revelations to show them the falseness of it in the purity of the experience that he’s had with the Lord.
It’s interesting to me: to distance himself from that which he hates to do—he hates to speak of himself, he hates to speak of his experience—he puts this whole situation, this whole illustration we’re about to look at, in the third person as if it’s happening to somebody else. He steps aside and talks about this person as if it’s someone else when it really, in reality, is Paul. Look at verse 2, “I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago—whether in the body I do not know, or out of the body I do not know, God knows—such a man was caught up to the third heaven.”
Wow, this is really interesting to me. He has not said anything for fourteen years since this incredible event took place in his life. Do you see a contrast to today? If that would be today somebody would have made a denomination out of that experience. “We’re the Third Hheavenites,” and on whatever day he had it they’d meet together on that particular day. Like Jesus when He healed somebody put mud in his eye, and one time He spoke and different things, spittle one time. Three denominations broke out of that: the Muddites, the Spittites, and the Speakites.
We have to talk about our experience, don’t we? You see, Paul is going to show you what’s much more valid in our Christian walk. “I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago—whether in the body I do not know, or out of the body I do not know.” Why did he say that? Why did he leave it so vague? Paul knew that when he shared this experience there were going to be these false teachers that were going to go through it with a fine-tooth comb. And the Greek thought was that the body was totally filthy and bad and could never become anything. And so that’s why he had to teach on death back in chapter 5, and in 1 Corinthians 15 he spent a whole chapter talking about the resurrection, bodily, of the body. And he says if you don’t believe in the bodily resurrection of Christ, you don’t even believe the gospel.
So in order to discourage any debate over how the experience happened, he focuses instead on the experience itself. And he says in verse 2, “I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago—whether in the body I do not know, or out of the body I do not know, God knows—such a man was caught up to the third heaven.” I love that word. He’s caught up to the third heaven. The term “caught up” is the word harpazo. Guess where it’s used? It’s also used in 1 Thessalonians 4:17 which is used to describe what I believe is the rapture of the church. “Caught up,” taken up to heaven.
The term “third heaven” describes in a beautiful way a picture of the “heavenlies.” Most of the time you see the word heaven it’s in the plural; it’s the “heavenlies.” When you leave the building today look up. That’s the first heaven. There’s another heaven that you can’t see until the sun goes down, and tonight look up and you’re going to see the second heaven: the stars and the moon and all of that.
But the third heaven is a little different. The first two heavens can be seen with the naked eye. But the third heaven has to be seen only by faith because it’s there and that’s where God dwells. Paul equates this with paradise: heaven with paradise. He says in verses 3-4, “And I know how such a man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, God knows—was caught up into Paradise, and heard inexpressible words, which a man is not permitted to speak.”
Now Jesus Himself equated heaven with Paradise on the cross when the thief cried out to him and Jesus said in Luke 23:43, “And He said to him, ‘Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.’” And by the way, there’s a huge teaching on this that I almost chased down the road, but I decided that’s for another time. So all of you that understand more and more about that term, just rest assured that we’ll get to it one of these days.
This is where John was taken up on the island of Patmos and he went up and he was taken up into heaven. He got to see the throne; he got to see the crystal sea; he got to see the brilliance of that place. And he got to put it in writing in the book of the Revelation. Paul was taken up into heaven—now think with me—fourteen years before he penned the letter of 2 Corinthians and had never said a word about it.
Verses 3-4, “And I know how such a man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, God knows—was caught up into Paradise, and heard inexpressible words, which a man is not permitted to speak.” He heard “inexpressible words.” That’s the word that means they were forbidden to ever be uttered after you’ve heard them. Paul goes on to reiterate that. He says, “which a man is not permitted to speak.” Whatever God told him when he was there, whatever revelation came to him while he was there, he was not permitted to share it with anybody else. Even though the experience was worth telling everyone about, Paul was not about to do it.
He says in verse 5, “On behalf of such a man will I boast; but on my own behalf I will not boast, except in regard to my weaknesses.” Can you imagine if Paul lived in today’s time and had a different mentality and took a CD and tried to record all the experiences he had with the Lord? You couldn’t put them on a CD. He says in verse 6, “For if I do wish to boast I shall not be foolish, for I shall be speaking the truth; but I refrain from this, so that no one may credit me” —I don’t want anybody to credit me with more than he sees in me. Listen carefully now—“with more than he sees in me or hears from me.”
Paul had plenty to talk about concerning his experiences but he was not about to do that. What was more important to Paul was to be judged on the basis of how he lived and by what he said. “Don’t judge me by my spiritual experiences; I’m never going to use that as a crutch to make people think I’m spiritual. No sir, you judge me by how I treat people, you judge me by the way I live. You judge me by whether or not I talk behind people’s back, you judge me by what I say.” That’s the way a man ought to be judged; not by his spiritual experience that he wants to parade and boast about. But how does he live? How does he treat the waitress in a restaurant when you order peas and they bring beans and they’re cold? How does he treat the people in traffic? How does he treat the people around him? That determines what a man is, not what experience he says he’s had. And to me that’s a profound word to people in the 21st century who say, “Oh, I’ve had all these experiences.”
Verse 7, “And because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet me—to keep me from exalting myself!” You see the danger of any spiritual experience, yes, they’re wonderful in your journey with the Lord Jesus Christ, but the danger is that you tend to exalt yourself. I do the same thing; all of us do. And that’s the danger that lurks in it. It’s like a cancer. It’s hidden in the flesh and it’s eating away. That’s the humility that we could have had if we would have just bowed in the presence of God. It eats that away and it builds that spiritual pride.
We should all desire to be judged by what we are in any given moment and by what we say rather than some illusive spiritual experience we want to boast about. “But, well, I’ve spoken in tongues. I know where you stand but I’ve spoken in tongues.” So what? “I’ve been in a healing service and I’m seeing somebody healed.” So what? God’s not impressed, why are you so impressed? He’s impressed when He looks at you and sees Himself. He’s impressed with how you live every day. Some of the rudest, meanest people I have ever met are the people boasting about some type of spiritual experience that they’ve had. It makes me want to turn and run every time I hear somebody talk about it.
I don’t care. And the world doesn’t care. What they care about is the realness of who we are as we live amongst them. What they care about is when they look at us and see the reality of an experience that took place way back in our life when we got saved and they see a growing, they see a respect, they see a reverence in our life for the awesomeness of the Lordship of Christ. That’s what they care about. That experience is just something that is very nice along the journey but it’s not what makes us spiritual. Christ is our spirituality.
The discipline of Christian experience
Secondly, the discipline of Christian experience. That’s a good word. God knows the danger in any spiritual experience. He leads us in His journey and He’ll give us experiences that will just be utopia in our minds. Like the Mount of Transfiguration when Peter, James and John were there. He’ll give certain situations in your life, and it’s different in different people’s lives. But there’s a discipline. He’s way ahead of us. And He puts this discipline in our life to keep us from doing what some people evidently choose to do.
Verse 7, “And because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me—to keep me from exalting myself!” God knows how vulnerable we are when we have these deep spiritual experiences and as I said, He’s always faithful. God is faithful all the time. He’s always faithful to keep us depending on Him.
Somebody asked me one day, “How do you stay humble?” You have about three hours? God’s the One who keeps us humble. God’s the One who keeps us in that place that keeps us from exalting ourselves. Paul alludes to the awesome experience when he says, “Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations.” What he’s saying here is, “This experience in my life tops anything I’ve ever experienced except for my salvation on the Damascus Road. For this reason, to keep me from exalting myself.”
See, the purpose is very clear why the pain had to come into Paul’s life immediately after having this awesome experience with God: “there was given me a thorn in the flesh.” This is so interesting to me. The word “thorn” is the word skolops, and it’s something pointed. It is something like a stake that you’d drive into the ground. It’s something like the point of a fish hook. It’s something that brings excruciating pain.
I think it’s so wonderful that Paul doesn’t tell us what that thorn is. Oh yes, there are a lot of opinions about it. Let me tell you some. Some people think it’s a physical ailment, probably an eye because there’s a statue they tell me in Italy somewhere that has a drooping eye; and the reason they think that is because of Galatians 4:14-15. Paul says to the Galatians church, remember they met him and he had a physical problem and he describes it. He said in verse 14, “and that which was a trial to you in my bodily condition you did not despise or loathe, but you received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus Himself. Where then is that sense of blessing you had? For I bear you witness, that if possible, you would have plucked out your eyes and given them to me.” They think that this is what he’s talking about. There was a terrible eye disease during that time and it would cause pus to just run out of the eye, and you could lose that eye.
In Galatians 6:11 they use that verse: “See with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand.” That’s a very good argument that that is what his problem was. Something physical that he had to deal with that slowed him down and kept him depending upon God.
Others think that it was a person that was in his life that just didn’t let up. I’ve always told you there’s a school for mean people and they train them and send them wherever I pastor. Actually I usually tell that as a school for mean women. But there could be a person. Why do they say that? Because the word “messenger” there, aggelos, is sometimes translated that way: a pastor or person. Remember, there were a lot of people that really gave Paul a hard time. Alexander the coppersmith said, “Watch out for that guy, Buddy, he gave me a hard time.” Called him by name.
Others think it was a temptation in his life to a particular sin. Not that he succumbed to it, but he just couldn’t seem to get around the corner of it. Remember in Hebrews it says to lay aside the sin that does so easily beset you. And perhaps it was a besetting sin. Maybe it was his religious fervor that he used to have, trying to do things his own way, and God had to deal with him over and over and over about it.
I don’t know what it was, but whatever it was Paul called in a “messenger of Satan to torment me.” The word “torment” is the word that means to strike or hit with a fist over and over and over again. Paul was not interested in identifying the thorn. He leaves it wide open; but rather, in showing the purpose of the thorn in his life, he says, “And because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason”—very clear, “to keep me from exalting myself—“there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me—to keep me from exalting myself!” He mentions “to keep me from exalting myself” twice. That’s his point.
The word “exalting” is the word huperairo, and it means to exalt above measure; to think of oneself as more spiritual as others. Why? Because “I had this experience and I really am spiritual.” That’s exactly what God doesn’t want. I hope we’re hearing this. People sometimes walk up and say, “Brother Wayne, in my quiet time this morning God spoke to me.” Some people think that these types of things make them more spiritual. No, sir! It’s Christ that is our spirituality. It’s how we live. It’s how we allow Him to be who He is in our life and what we say and how we walk.
This thorn, whatever it was—a physical disease, a hateful person, a sinful temptation, whatever it was—kept Paul in a weakened state. It kept him depending upon God and steered him away from pride and arrogance and self-dependency. Paul saw this thorn as the instrument of Satan; but really, you know this, don’t you, that Satan is on a leash. He’s only got temporary authority. God, when he goes too far, just jerks that chain. He said in the book of Job, “You can do this, this, this, and can’t do this—can’t kill him. And don’t you even think about it.” He’s on a leash and He conquered him when He came into our life. So really, it was God’s discipline even though He used a wicked man, even though He used a terrible way, still God was in control to keep Paul from exalting himself.
Someone once said to a patient who had walked with God and was stricken with a disease in his body, lying in pain and helpless in his bed, he said this and I’ve never forgotten it: “We are not laid aside to illness. But we’re called aside to stillness.” It’s in those still moments that we see our weakness. It’s in those still moments that we realize our desperation. It’s in those still moments that God keeps us from exalting ourselves. God keeps us in that humble position of saying yes to Him.
So the danger of spiritual experience is that one thinks that he’s more spiritual than other people; exalts himself. The discipline is that God will put something in our lives that keeps us depending upon Him, that keeps us from exalting ourselves. That’s the beauty of God’s faithfulness.
The desperation of spiritual experience
But then thirdly, the desperation of spiritual experience. Watch this point carefully, because this is where the prize in the midst of weakness sort of appears. The pain of this thorn was so great that Paul cried out to the Lord in anguish. You’re talking about desperation. You talk about a man who had been lifted into the third heaven, a man who had been into the heavenlies and had seen what’s there, just like John. And then immediately, he’s in such anguish that he cries out to God and he says in verse 8, “Concerning this I entreated the Lord three times that it might depart from me.”
This is a short verse but there’s so much packed into it. Three times he implored, my translation says, “the Lord”. The word “implored” there is the word parakaleo. It can be translated “came alongside, encouraged, etc.,” but this is a different word. In this context it means “to cry out for help.” Three times he cried out “Help me, God; help me, God.” And what was the obvious answer that God gave back to him? “No,” three times no. I can just picture this—and I know this is not sanctified imagination, but it is imagination—“God, this is Paul. This is not anybody else. You know, the greatest missionary in the whole New Testament. The one You took into see You in the heavenlies. You have all power over Satan, God. I’m asking You. I’m asking You as Paul, to take this thorn out of my way. It’s getting in my way. I’ve got things to do and places to go.” And God says no. “God, listen.” “No.” “But…” “No.” “But God, I’m your greatest apostle. I’m going to do great things for You.” “No.” That’s interesting, isn’t it?
Here comes the prize in the midst of his desperate cry. Right in the midst of it; crying out imploring of God, it says in verse 9, “And He has said to me,” if you don’t love these words you just need to get right, “My grace is sufficient for you.” “What you need is Me. Whatever is over your head, Paul, is under My feet. Experience Me, Paul, experience Me. Don’t just talk about Me, don’t just sing about Me, don’t just pray to Me. Experience Me. Experience My living grace. Experience My divine ability in the midst of your frail human weakness. Cry out to Me, Paul, cry out to Me.” “My grace is sufficient for you.”
The word “sufficient” there is the word arkeo, which is the word which means “that which fully satisfies a person.” It’s that which enables a person to do whatever is demanded in his life. It’s divine ability in the midst of desperate weakness. It is everything one needs to bear up under and to press on in the midst of excruciating difficulty. This sufficient grace found only in Christ is hidden in the midst of suffering and appears only when one realizes his weakness.
Let’s get this down to where we live. Manley Beasley who was such a great friend, used to say to me, “Listen, you’ll never walk by faith until you’re at the point of desperation.” Weakness is where God has to get every one of us. He has to get us there His own way. I don’t know what the thorn is that He’ll put in our life. I don’t know what He’ll do to render us weak, but until you get weak you can’t have a clue what we’re talking about; about Jesus being Jesus in your life.
You see, the biggest problem that most of us have is our strength. We can do, we can it. If we just have this program; if we just have this plan; if we just strategize the right way, we can impress God. We can get the job done. And God said, “I am not in any way impressed. You’re not weak enough yet for Me to be able to do what I’m yearning to do in and through your life. My grace is sufficient.” I’ve had people tell me, “I haven’t experienced it yet.” I know, because you’re not weak enough.
I remember one day when I was pastoring and I was the only one left there at the church. That’s a bad thing. When somebody has a need and somebody walked in and said, “Can anybody help me? I’ve got a problem.” I said, “Well, I’ll try.” “Who are you?” “I’m the senior pastor.” “That’s who I’m looking for.” I’m thinking to myself, “I don’t think so.”
He told me a story that would just make some of the soap operas look bad. It was the worst thing I’ve ever heard in my life. And he said, “What am I going to do?” And I said, “Well, praise the Lord.” “What do you mean ‘praise the Lord’?” I said, “Man, for the first time in your life you’re at the end of yourself. For the first time in your life you’re a candidate to see God do something in your life.” “Is there anybody else in here that can help me?”
You think people want to hear that? You wonder why people aren’t flooding in the doors. You wonder why people don’t come to this message. Because they don’t want to hear it. They don’t want to go to the cross. They don’t want to be weak. They don’t want to be desperate. They don’t want to have to cry out in anguish and say, “Oh God, help me.” And God says, “I’m going to help you, but in a way you never thought about.”
There’s a prize that is hidden in your weakness. Have you discovered it yet? And the prize is that when you listen to what God is saying, in my weakness, in my weakness His strength is made perfect in my life. You say, “Wayne, there’s so much here, you haven’t touched it.” I know. That’s why I’m going to come back to it. We’re going to camp out here for while, folks. This is the essence of how we learn the message. And if a person can’t see that, there is still too much of them and they haven’t realized the prize and they’re going to be bitter, they’re going to shake their fist in God’s face. They haven’t bowed yet in their weakness and received the strength that only God can give them in the midst of their circumstance.
The danger of spiritual experience. Boy, there’s a big danger. You think of yourself as more spiritual than other people. You say, “I’ve never done that.” Well, I can’t identify with you because I have. Look down your nose on people because they don’t understand the Word. Look down your nose on people because they haven’t studied this. Listen, that has nothing to do with it. It’s how you live every day. How do you live every day?
Secondly, the discipline of spiritual experience is a thorn. God is so awesome. He knows our hearts, He knows exactly what our flesh is like, and therefore He heads us off at the pass. But some people misinterpret it. Some people think it’s a curse and some people think it’s this or that. They have to call it something else. They don’t want to look at it as that which God is using to bring them to their place of weakness.
And then there’s the desperation of spiritual weakness, when people finally get to the end of themselves. There’s no place else to turn. There’s no plan B. They’ve exhausted every other avenue and now what a novel idea: they turn to God and they say, “Oh God, I’m weak, would You be my strength.” And that’s when they begin to learn what the Christian life is all about. Weakness is a good word. Not a bad word.
I talked about Manly Beasley awhile ago. He’s in heaven today. He’s one of those guys in his prime, when he was young, healthy, good looking, I don’t like people like that. Had that dark hair and just a nice looking guy, big built, muscular. Could get anything done. Became the greatest preacher on faith when he got his first terminal disease. Ended up having 14 different terminal diseases that could have killed him at anytime. God just decided not to let him go yet. He got to where the last three years of his life, if you ever heard Manley, you had to help him to the pulpit, literally help him to the pulpit. And right at the very end he had to sit down. But when he’d get up to the pulpit he’d fall over on the pulpit and everybody would just gasp and think, “Can he make it?” And then he would get into the Word and buddy, when he got into the Word, you’re thinking, “Where’d that come from?” In the midst of the man’s weakness Christ spoke. This is one man who is changed by the message that he spoke. I’m telling you, he touched people that he’ll never know about. He knows it now because he’s in heaven.
Manley was asked to go into a hospital room of a lady who had also had a terminal disease and she was suffering deeply and gravely. And they said, “Manley, you’re one who could minister to her. You’ve been there.” And so he went into her room and she looked up at him and she said, “Brother Manley, will you pray for me?” If you know anything about brother Manley, he may and he may not. He said, “I don’t know if I will, don’t know if I won’t.” He said, “Let me do something first. Tell me about you and Jesus during this time of suffering. I want to hear what He’s been doing in your life.”
And for about an hour, with tears streaming down her face, said it was the greatest time in her whole entire Christian walk because in the midst of those dark hours, in the midst of those weak moments, she cried out to her Savior and He was there, just like He said He would be. And He did in her life what she’d never experienced before. And when she finished, Manley said to her, “Are you sure you still want me to pray for your healing?”
We’ve got it backwards, folks. We’re doing everything we can do to stay down here. God’s doing everything He can do to get us up there. We’ve got it so upside down it’s incredible. We get all we can, can all we get, sit on the can, and poison the rest. We don’t realize God gave us the funds to give to missions and to take care of others. Everything we do is backwards. That’s why we can’t understand weakness. When you’re at the end of yourself, the encouragement this message will be is to somebody who is in this auditorium this morning and you’re going through a time that you’ve never known before and you don’t understand it. God says ‘You don’t have to understand it. You just trust Me. Cry out to Me. You let Me be to you, you let My Word come into your mind and you’ll understand it like you’ve never understood it before if you’ll yield to Me.’
You can go one of two ways when you get in this spot. You can turn cold and hard and bitter, or you can turn and yield and experience Him like you’ve never known Him before. He said, “Paul, there’s a prize, there’s a prize. In your weakness, My strength is made perfect. Everything you need, I am. Would you like to experience Me, Paul?”
Would you like to experience Him this morning; know Him like you’ve never known Him before? Just open up to Him, lay every agenda you thought you had down and say, “God, it’s all about You.”
It’s not Him being your co-pilot. You get in the trunk of the car, hand Him the keys, shut the trunk, and say through the little light in the keyhole, ‘God, You put any kind of gasoline You want in this car and go anywhere You want to go. I just trust You.” That’s what it’s all about. Are you there today? It’s not a onetime thing because once you get there and you think you’re more spiritual God keeps you there. He’s always ahead of us.
What’s God saying to your life today? What’s he saying to you today?