Sunday, July 25, 2010

Deliver Me From Tribulations

Have you ever noticed that during prayer meetings, small groups, or mainline church services, the majority of prayer requests and subsequently offered prayers are those to be delivered from the trial and tribulations of illness, failures in business, martial relationships, kids rebelling, or any other thing which seems to be plaguing the believer and his or her family? Why is that?

What I mean is why do we as Christians, children of God, want the "bad thing" to go away? And just why do we perceive the trial or tribulation brought by the hand of God to be a "bad thing?" But, most importantly, why do we want it to "go away" and for it go away as fast as possible? If the number of prayer requests made at gatherings of God's people for "deliverance" is any indication of how the trials and tribulations in our lives are regarded, then this is a subject worth a moment of consideration.

In November 2009, in our adopted country of Mexico, we began attending a new church. In this assembly of God's people, I was sharing in an informal conversation with a few of the men the issue of my chronic and incurable illness with which I have been afflicted for more than 20 years. I have a disease called Fibromyalgia Syndrome. This is a pain, fatigue, and sleep disorder that more or less tortures me with unrelenting pain, fatigue, and sleep disturbances night and day. The symptoms never go away. The meds I take sometimes control the symptoms, but mostly they work very minimally.

As I explained to this small group of men, the illness with which I must contend, God's thorn in the flesh for me (2 Corinthians 12), I could tell that they were entering into a state of horror from the looks on their faces. Then after I finished with the explanation, one of them said something to the effect, "The church will be in prayer for your healing." To which I responded, "This illness teaches me humility and dependence upon God, why should I want to be healed from that?"

Their collective looks of horror that I had been suffering with this illness for more than 20 years turned into looks of abject disbelief. You would have thought that I had just uttered a denial of Christian Historical Orthodoxy itself and uttered heresy. That was my perception of the situation at the time.

In the following weeks and months as I listened carefully to the prayer requests offered by this congregation during the prayer part of the service, almost all the prayer requests, with very few exceptions, were to be healed of an illness for themselves or a loved one. Not once did I hear (nor have ever heard) anyone ask God to use the illness to develop godly character in his or her life. Never once did I hear (or have ever heard) any of the congregation "thank God" (1 Thess 5:18) for bringing the illness into their lives. Not once.

This most certainly makes one ask the question, "Why not?"

In all fairness to this church, I must mention that I have seen this throughout all the churches I have belonged to over the past 40 years. People in general, even professing believers, want quick deliverance from the pain and agony of trials and tribulations. Now, I get this, I really do. If my wife became ill, seriously ill with a life-threatening disease, I would want God to heal her. I could not bear even the thought of losing her to an illness. I cannot begin to imagine the pain and heartache of someone whose child was afflicted.

But, even in something as dire as a life-threatening illness, what should be our attitude? What should the Christian do?

One more point is that during church prayer meetings, how many times have you heard someone get up and ask prayer for a habitual sin in their lives and to ask for prayer to "put to death that deed of the flesh" (Colossians 3:5-10)? How many times? We want instant relief from illness but we don't even mention our struggle with habitual sin as a thing worth requesting prayer.

The Apostle Paul was sick or had an incapacitating injury. We are not told exactly what was wrong. When you read Paul's account of this illness in 2 Corinthians 12: 5-10, you read:

"And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure." - verse 7

Paul honestly makes the proclamation that to prevent him from boasting in pride of the richness of revelation God had been giving him through Divine inspiration, God afflicted Paul with a "thorn in the flesh" to prevent any self-aggrandizing or self-exaltation. Paul calls it a messenger of Satan.

"Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me." - verse 8

Now we see that Paul did pray for healing or deliverance of this thorn in the flesh or messenger of Satan. Paul wanted this illness or injury to "depart from me."

"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." - verse 9

Do not miss the two parts of this verse: Rather than healing Paul, the great Apostle to the gentiles, God said to Paul that "My grace is sufficient for you," and that "My strength is made perfect in weakness." Then Paul says, "I would rather boast in my weakness so that the power of Christ may rest upon me."

You simply do not hear this in church prayer services! You do not hear anyone get up and thank God that they are sick, proclaim God's grace is sufficient for them in this illness given to humble them, and a boasting in their infirmities so that the power of Christ may rest upon them. You just don't hear this.

Then, in verse 10, you hear Paul's conclusion. It is something that makes me wonder if an entire congregation could be made to swoon hearing it uttered in modern day churches:

"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." - verse 10

Paul's conclusion, his "therefore" signaling to the reader that this is how he sums it up, was that he takes pleasure in infirmities. But he doesn't stop there. He mentions his pleasure in reproaches, needs, persecutions, and distresses for Christ's sake. And his reason is, "For when I am weak, then I am strong."

Tell me when the last time you heard someone get up in a prayer meeting and say all that?

Paul did pray for healing or deliverance, but when God said "no," Paul settled down into a thankfulness of heart that enabled him to see why God was not, anytime soon, going to relieve him of his infirmities, whatever those were. He came to the Biblical conclusion that "power" is made perfect in weakness. If he needed the power and the strength, to endure the infirmities, then he would take pleasure in the weakness of the illness so that the power of God may be manifest in his weakness.

"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."

I wonder why professing believers do not understand that if they claim to be justified by faith in Christ why they do not glory in their tribulation?

"Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us." (Romans 5: 1-5)

Because of our justification by faith alone in Christ alone, we have peace with God. No matter the circumstance, no matter the trial or tribulation, we have peace with God. Our justification by faith in Christ and the resultant peace with God is bigger than anything life can throw at us.

"Not only that," says Paul, "but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope."

Again I ask, when was the last time you heard someone stand up during a church prayer meeting and glory in his or her tribulation?"

Tribulation, whether a life-threatening illness, losing your job, or whatever, produces perseverance; perseverance produces character; character produces hope.

And yet, we get up in a prayer meeting and ask God's people to take the tribulation from us.