The message of popular culture is clear: “You have what it takes. Dig deep, persevere hard, and reach for the stars.”
There’s value in encouraging people to have confidence to seek to make a difference with their lives. But the whole message of self-sufficiency is misleading.
Conversely, mature, clear-minded Christians wake up every day with an awareness that they don’t have what it takes to make a success of the day. They know that they can’t be and do all that God has for them that day or the rest of their lives without the grace of God.
There is nothing that reveals our need for God’s grace like a trial. One of the very reasons God allows difficulties and even failures into our lives is because He desires for us to learn the sufficiency of His grace.
On Sunday mornings at Lancaster Baptist Church, I’ve been preaching a series titled “Trusting God in Tough Times.” This past Sunday, I preached from 2 Corinthians 12:1–10—a passage that encourages us with God’s sufficiency in our times of trial. You may remember from this passage that it describes Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” and God’s promise to him of sufficient grace. In this passage, the apostle Paul teaches us that trials and infirmities can lead us to understand the sufficiency of God and to depend on the reality of His grace.Trials and infirmities can lead us to understand the sufficiency of God and to depend on the reality of His grace. Click To Tweet
From Paul’s example and God’s promise to him we learn three ways God uses trials to give us what we need:
He Directs Our Spiritual Growth
Paul had much in which he could boast. He received direct revelation from God and a spiritual experience in seeing the third heaven—the very Heaven of the presence of God—that no one else has had the opportunity to see (1 Corinthians 12:1–5).
Yet, God allowed Paul to also experience a continual reminder of his need for God in the form of a “thorn in the flesh.”
And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. (2 Corinthians 12:7)
It is remarkable that Paul recognized that this thorn in his life—whatever it was—was not without purpose. For Paul, the specific purpose was to keep him from pride. It was a daily reminder of his need for God’s grace.
God’s grace is always available to us. But on our good days, we tend toward a self-sufficiency that forgets our need for God’s grace. When we are proud and self-sufficient, we resist the very grace we need. But when we come to God in humility, He gives us His grace.
But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble. (James 4:6)
From a human perspective, trials seem meaningless and random. From a divine perspective, they are directed and full of potential for spiritual growth. Knowing that God knows exactly what we need and that He has a purpose in our trials is encouraging.
He Gives Us His Grace
If God had answered Paul’s request to remove the thorn, Paul never would have discovered the daily reality of God’s all-sufficient grace.
For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.… (2 Corinthians 12:8–9)
The Greek word for grace, charis, describes God’s undeserved favor to us. Of course, we first experience God’s grace at salvation. But God desires to continue to give us His grace. It is a dynamic force at work within us. It is a disposition created by the Holy Spirit that gives hope and strength in the inner man. And it totally transforms our lives.
In Paul’s life, it was a daily thorn that daily drew him to Christ in dependence on God’s grace. Without difficulties in our lives, we would never know our need for the Lord. And so, each day we have trials…and each day we have matching grace.Each day we have trials, and each day we have matching grace from God. Click To Tweet
In theory, we all know our need for God’s grace. But in reality, we have a tendency to think more highly of ourselves than we should. So God brings us enough difficulty to draw us to Himself, and then God gives us enough grace to live in His strength. God never calls us to be strong in ourselves. And He uses times of weakness in our lives to expose just how much we need His might.
For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; … That no flesh should glory in his presence. (1 Corinthians 1:26–27, 29)
He Provides Us His Power
In addition to God’s grace, Paul received the power of God descending on and working within him to give him strength.
…Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9–10)
It is an amazing blessing when we recognize that God is not attracted to our strengths but to our weaknesses. It is in our weakness that He is strong.
As Paul realized the provision of God’s power in his life, he actually praised God for all the weaknesses in His life: infirmities, reproaches, necessities, persecutions, and distresses. And in this realization and praise, Paul could say, “for when I am weak, then am I strong.”
And here we come full circle from where we started: you and I don’t “have what it takes” to serve God and live a life of eternal significance for Him. We don’t even have what it takes to get through the various trials of life with joy and resilience.
But every day God offers us His grace to live the Christian life victoriously. As we turn to Him in humble dependence, He gives us His extravagant grace and equipping strength. And through Him we can live in the power of His sufficiency.